My Top 5 Past Orchestrators – Robert “Red” Ginzler

No. 2 – Robert “Red” Ginzler 

Robert Ginzler and Family

Born Seymour Robert Ginzler (A name he hated and was known as Red or Robert to friends) in Leechburg, Pennsylvania in 1910, Ginzler was a stammering, shy and soft-spoken man. Yet, few knew he would  become one of a handful of arrangers responsible for creating a host of new and bold sounds in the pits of broadway in the late 50’s and early 60’s, with his orchestrated shows still receiving revived success to this day.

Growing up in a non-musical family it is hard to see where Ginzler picked up his musical talent, with his elder brothers becoming doctors and lawyers. But, when his parents split during the early 1920’s he moved to Detroit and picked up a trombone in the school music cupboard. However, now being the only trombone player in the school band, he learnt the hard way and taught himself during band rehearsals, no doubt with awkward glances and glares from the flute section!

He soon found his feet, mastered the trombone and at the age of 16, he packed up and hit the road with the Jean Goldkette Band in 1926 (see picture below). After a two-year stint the band disbanded and Ginzler found more work with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. After meeting his future wife Ida on a tour of Canada, they married in New York and headed back to Toronto where for the next decade Ginzler found work playing for major bands and orchestras, including principle trombone for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1930 at the age of just 19.

Robert Ginzler, Jean Goldkette Band
(The Casa Loma orchestra outside the Casa Loma Hotel. The band was managed by Jean Goldkette c.1928. Robert Ginzler: far left, front row)

For the next 10 years, Ginzler dabbled in arranging, creating arrangements for national radio as well as swanky hotel and club bands. It was also during this period that Ginzler met one of his future protégés, Robert Farnon (Who later went on to be one of the world’s finest arrangers and composers of so called ‘light’ music). The outbreak of World War II marked the end of Ginzler’s Canadian adventure, and due to being a foreigner, he became ineligible for payed employment. With this loss in income, he headed back to the the Big Apple in 1940.

In New York, he found work as a pit musician on the recommendation of Don Walker, whom he had met earlier in Toronto when Walker had a brief stint as a conductor in one of the hotel orchestras. As well as this, Ginzler found work acting as a copyist for Walker and also ghosting* on his shows too. Ginzler’s life changed dramatically, when a just-out-of-the-army Sid Ramin (Of West Side Story orchestration fame) asked for his advice. Two years later, Ramin was offered a lucrative role orchestrating The Milton Berle Show, a weekly one hour TV show. Ramin, remembering Ginzler, immediately invited Red to join him. In addition, Ginzler now looked to Broadway and again, Don Walker, for extra work, becoming his assistant in the for numerous musicals in the 50’s.

It was at this point, in the mid 50’s, that the sound of broadway changed remarkably, due mainly in part to Walkers arrangements, but also that he was assigning more numbers and important songs/ dances from shows to the faster worker and grafter, Ginzler. One such number was ‘Steam Heat’ from The Pajama Game. The song perfectly demonstrates Ginzler’s unique grasp of jazz – with sassy and blazing trumpets and heart thumping drum solos. Ginzler also orchestrated jazzy numbers for Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, including: ‘Conga’ and ‘Ballet at the Village Vortex’. But why on earth was Walker giving away the important numbers when he was lead orchestrator? Ramin answers “Don knew (Robert) was good at jazz, it would make his shows better” (A typical cold Don Walker explanation)

(‘Steam Heat’ from The Pajama Game. Before the 50’s, broadway wasn’t used to large brass sections, 3 at most. This was double – 3 tpt 3 tbr, effectively planting a dance band in the pit) 

Ginzler took on these assignments with or without credit and was sometimes lucky enougt to get a credit in the gloomy back pages of a Playbill. With Walker, he also contributed to orchestrations on Silk Stockings, The Music Man and Frank Loesser’s four hour monster, The Most Happy Fella. 

Hot off the success of orchestrating West Side Story, Sid Ramin was asked by record label RCA to orchestrate Jule Styne’s (Gypsy, Gentleman Prefer Blondes) cast album Say, Darlin that had previously only been  arranged for two pianos. Ramin invited Ginzler to join him (without credit). After hearing the overture in the control booth, Jule Styne play fainted and fell on his back in amazement. Ramin states, “He had no idea that he was going to hear what he heard”. Naturally, Styne hired the pair to orchestrate his next musical, Gypsy!

Now, Gypsy has to be one of most finely orchestrated shows I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. It punches right up their with West Side Story  in terms of creative orchestration. What came out of the pit back in 1959, was an explosion of sound, swirling around the theatre like a vortex of colour and texture, sending chills down the audiences’ spines! Audiences were not accustom to this bold sound that seemed to endlessly fizz and bounce around. Ginzler and Ramin were given free reign with the orchestrations, unlike West Side Story, where Bernstein was practically breathing down Ramin’s and Kostal’s neck, standing at the ready with his red pencil of doom. With the Gypsy, Ramin and Ginzler could set their minds free and do what ever they wanted . The resulting orchestration? 5 reeds (all doubling on sax and clarinet), 7 brass, 11 strings (no violas – a Sid Ramin thing from West Side), piano, harp and percussion. Below are some of fine examples of Ginzlers work from the show.

The sound of broadway quite literally changed an opening night…

(Widely considered as the greatest overture ever. This is what greeted audiences as the lights dimmed! The three horn notes at the end are marked “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop”)

(Orchestrated mostly by Ginzler. He show’s off his knack of being sympathetic towards the singer, reinforcing the melody in the strings. Really nice buoyant woodwinds too)

(In this song, completely orchestrated Ginzler, he shows he is equally talented at writing delicate and glossy string parts as well as his trademark CAPOW! jazz)

By the way, I’ve used the recordings from the 2008 revival due to them being more complete than the OBC recording as well as saving you all from Ethel Merman’s voice on the original. There’s only so much I can take.

Ginzler was a much faster worker than Ramin, and like Irwin Kostal during West Side Story, Ginzler would often write down Ramin’s ideas that he dictated. Although, Ginzler wrote more note for note, he received inferior billing, with it being read as “Orchestrations by Sid Ramin with Robert Ginzler” with Ginzler’s name a type face smaller. Sid Ramin  later regretted this and was doing it out of precedent, as Bernstein had done the same to him and Kostal in West Side Story, later rectifying it to equal billing.

I was lucky enough to hear these orchestrations live at the Savoy Theatre in November during the shows revival. However, although they were very much the same orchestrations as the original, I was disappointed that the instrumentation was reduced to have no stings at all, more of a bandstration than orchestration. Sadly, this is what we expect to see more off in the future as producers throw their axe at the music.

Gypsy only marked the start of the Ramin/Ginzler collaboration and set the bar high for future orchestration. They went on to orchestrate two more shows together, which were all considered flops – The Girls Against The Boys and Wildcat. After these shows, Ginzler had made a name for himself and with the arrival of Charles Strouse’s Bye Bye Birdie, Ginzler was finally on his own orchestrating.

RIVERA_Chita_phA-305x210

(Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera during a recording session for Bye Bye Birdie. Photo courtesy of Don Hunstein)

Bye Bye Birdie (1960) truly showcases Ginzler’s remarkable talent. It sparkles with inventiveness from all sections of the pit, especially woodwind and brass. The musical starred an up-and-coming and barely known Dick Van Dyke (Luckily for us Brits, he played an American) . It also starred, Chita Rivera, who had gained notable fame for originating Anita in West Side Story. 

(One of most memorable numbers in show. Ginzler’s inventiveness is highlighted at the very beginning, which is scored for four flutes!)

(Similar here, the beginning is scored for five clarinets! Real standout orchestrations from the show and one of my favourite numbers. And great heavy brass responses from 1.18 onwards) 

(Ginzler also proved his worth in arranging great vocals. Here, he uses members of the cast as a barbershop quartet to great effect and adds a haunting alto flute counter line.)

The musical director for the show, Elliot Lawrence, mentions that Red Ginzler worked his butt off on the above number. Quoting him as saying, “I worked so hard on putting every note in the right place, that’s the labour of love in this show”. He was possibly alluding to the fact that he didn’t make that much money on this number due to it’s short running time. Orchestrators were and still are paid per a page (4 bars of music), hence why slow 4/4 numbers aren’t gold mines, but fast, cut time dance scores can make you a thousand dollars!

It was around this time that Ginzler gained another protégé, Jonathan Tunick, who now has legendary status himself, having practically be Sondheim’s arrange of choice for decades. Sid Ramin mentions “Jonathan worshipped Robert…he thought he was the best. He would hang around our office when were doing a show”.

The show catapulted Ginzler from the shadows as an anonymous orchestrator to a full blown credited orchestrator who began to be embraced by Broadway. Bye Bye Birdie, was the first of ten musicals to be orchestrated by him solely over the next two years. Quite a feat! He caught the eye of a Broadway legend, Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella), who asked him to orchestrate his next show, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This show, like Gypsy and Birdie, is bursting with with inventiveness and wit that reflects the changing styles of the early 60’s. He used kazoos in the pit and on stage to create the sound of shavers in the number “I Believe in You”. I really suggest listening to all of the above mentioned soundtracks, the music and orchestrations are truly first rate.

The other musicals in this period were sadly second rate, but Ginzler’s orchestrations add a touch of class and showcased his wild diversity. You would never know the show’s were flops from Ginzler’s orchestrations. For example, Charles Strouse’s follow up musical from Bye Bye Birdie, All American, was a codified flop, but Ginzler’s orchestrations are phenomenal!

(As soon as heard the first few bars of this Overture, my face was beaming from ear to ear) 

Sadly, in December 1962, during rehearsals for a new musical, Ginzler suffered a massive heart attack and passed away, aged 52. His death threw a shadow over the Broadway world, but his legacy lives on to this day. The shows he was involved in may not have been the best in the world, but with his intuitive instinct and skill of orchestration,  he bought many shows back from their foreseeable graves. His brass and woodwind parts in every show are ridiculous, they sound so racy and fizzy, you could never get bored of hearing them let alone playing them. His writing helped to break through the traditional broadway barrier of sound, his orchestrations envied still by many, including myself! Also, Ginzler was important to Sid Ramin and other orchestrators. Ramin credits him with being the go to guy when anything got difficult, “He always knew what to do”.

I am also pleased to have discovered rare photos of Robert Ginzler. After a lot of digging, I discovered them in family photo’s in the US national archives database. So finally, there is a face to this great and supremely talented orchestrator.

I leave you with the words of Red Ginzler, “The more music you know, the more music you love”

Thank-you for reading!

Jack

*The uncredited act of helping out an orchestrator who cannot complete all of his assignments for a show within the deadline.

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7 Responses to My Top 5 Past Orchestrators – Robert “Red” Ginzler

  1. Josh says:

    Let me guess, your Number One Past Orchestrator: Robert Russell Bennett.

  2. Pingback: Review: Bye Bye Birdie (Drury Lane Theatre) | Chicago Theater Beat

  3. Nick Dellow says:

    The 1928 photo isn’t of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, it’s actually the early Casa Loma Orchestra, which was managed by Jean Goldkette’s organization. I have three other photos of the band from around the same time, and they all show Ginzler. One has him sitting in the brass section with his trombone alongside. All three photos were taken at the Casa Loma Hotel. Best wishes, Nick Dellow

    • jackcampey says:

      Hi Nick,

      Many thanks for your comment and welcomed corrections, I’ll make sure to change it ASAP. It would be great to have another photo of Ginzler (This man needs to be celebrated, not sitting in the dusty books of history), so if you are willing to share a photo then that would be great. And of course you will be credited. Please let me know your thoughts. Many thanks again!

      Jack

      • Nick Dellow says:

        Hi Jack, I’d be happy to send you three photos I have of the Casa Loma Orchestra, all taken in 1928 at the Casa Loma Hotel. But how do I get them to you? I could send them as email attachments, but I don’t have your email address.

  4. jackcampey says:

    Hi Nick,

    That’s very kind of you! Yes email should work. jackcampey@live.co.uk

    Thanks,

    Jack

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