Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Louis Katzman: His Musical Life and Times

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Louis Katzman: His Musical Life and Times

Article excerpt

This paper discusses the musical career of Louis Katzman, a musician, conductor composer, arranger-orchestrator, and music-businessman/manager during the first half of the twentieth century. This article is based on an extensive collection of published and unpublished material, records, orchestrations and ephemera related to his career.

Few people today are familiar with his career, (e.g., Groppa, 2010, p.139). Yet there is still interest in him; the more than 20,000 "hits" for 'Louis Katzman and music' on Google and various search-engines or the more than 6,000 listings for "Louis Katzman records on YouTube" belie the 'little remembered appellation. And what would Walter Benjamin have thought of the concept of mechanical reproduction if he were aware that one could download snippets of various Katzman recordings as ring-tones?

Katzman's musical career spanned and contributed to the rise of the modern recorded music industry. From the quasi/pre-vaudeville music hall, through Broadway shows, as recording soloist, session player and orchestra leader, as radio luminary, as music director of Brunswick Laboratories and various radio stations, to prime mover in the idea of Broadcast Music Inc., Katzman was in the forefront of a rapidly changing industry. Many young musicians owed the start of their careers in Katzman recorded and radio orchestras.

Viewing the career of Louis Katzman supplements the academic and popular literature on such major musical figures as Berlin, Gershwin, Armstrong, Whiteman, Henderson et al. His experiences offer another way of viewing and understanding the transformation of music and the music industry in the early-twentieth century.

This article reviews Katzman's career by focusing on some key facets of that career. Though this article separates different aspects of his work, his musical career was coherently integrated. His arranging and orchestrating talents were an overarching characteristic of his musical career from his early vaudeville days to his last work with Broadcast Music, Inc. His recording successes and radio work were closely aligned; his concerts and live performances, Broadway musicals, transcription recordings and business ventures all contributed to an integrated musical life. Along the way he discovered, mentored and advanced young artists from opera to jazz. Thus it is difficult to explain why he is so little remembered today.

Early Days: Musical Apprenticeship to Vaudeville

Music was the Katzman family trade. Prior to emigrating to the I J.S., Katzmans played in some of the major orchestras in the Russian Empire. Louis Katzman claimed to have been trained as both an artist and as a classical musician in Moscow and elsewhere during the first decade of the twentieth century. According to Veidlinger's 2009 Jewish Public (Culture in the Late Russian Empire. Jewish musicians played in most of the major and regional orchestras in Russia, including major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg and smaller cities such as Kishinev and Odessa. Katzman s father, Philip, was an orchestra member of one of the Moscow Opera Companies and trained his eldest son on the violin and his own instrument, the cornet, both in Kishinev (Louis' birthplace) and in Moscow. Louis also claimed to have studied at an Odessa conservatory. At the same time Louis attended an art school near Moscow, and was trained in oils and other media--a background he found useful after immigrating to New York. He recounted that, at the age of 13, in 1903-1904, he was sent out to work with a traveling band master.

The family emigrated from Kishinev to New York. The first members came in the 1890s (including Louis' uncle Abe Katzman) followed by most of the others in period 1906 to 1908, after the Kishinev Pogroms of 1903 and 1907--Philip Katzman emigrated in 1905 and Louis arrived in 1907. Louis was naturalized as an American citizen in March 1916.

At first Louis could not find full-time work as a musician. …

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