Lest anyone think that concert-noise problems began in the rock era, consider the dreaded Bunny Hop: “3,000 people pounding on the floor at one time makes a pretty thunderous sound, besides what it can do to the structure of the building,” says bandleader Ray Anthony, who popularized the hopping dance in the early ‘50s. “We were recently asked to do it in Santa Cruz, but we didn’t dare. We were on the second or third floor, and we didn’t know what was holding the building together after the earthquake.”
Anthony’s 1952 recording of “The Bunny Hop” became the biggest hit in a 50-year career that includes more than 100 album releases, and it still sells between 5,000 and 10,000 copies a year, he reports. The 68-year-old trumpeter begins a six-day engagement at Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza on Christmas day and won’t feel slighted at all if no one requests the tune.
“That’s because there’s nothing to it,” he said, reached by phone recently at his Beverly Hills home. “The music is not very inventive. It’s just a very simple riff that would fit the dance. So you do get tired of it, just the way most bands get tired of playing ‘In the Mood,’ but the demand is still fantastic, so you have to play it.”
At age 18, Anthony began two years of as a member of “In the Mood” originator Glenn Miller’s band. Though Miller’s sound was to have a significant influence on Anthony’s own bands, the two, to quote George T. Simon’s “The Big Bands” jazz history, “never hit it off especially well.”
Simon “knew what he was talking about when he said that,” Anthony agreed. “Glenn Miller fired me twice . I was 18 years old when I joined him and he was at his peak, so he wasn’t about to put up with some young upstart. The reason he rehired me after he fired me the first time was that I obviously did a job for that band. I had a lot of energy and I played lead trumpet, and when he fired me he heard the difference in the band, and it was just about four days later that he rehired me. I don’t know to this day what the reasons were in his mind when he fired me (a second time), but sometimes enthusiasm and excitement can be misinterpreted.”
In the Navy during World War II, Anthony formed his own band to entertain the troops, which in turn voted it the hottest band in the Pacific islands. After the war, he started a civilian outfit which became popular while incorporating, he said, the sax sound of Miller’s band with the trumpet sound of Harry James and trombone sound of Tommy Dorsey’s band.
Over the years, Anthony’s sound became more defined by his own trumpet style, which was noted for a gutsy emphasis of the horn’s lower register. “My musicians sometimes kid me that the high register on my trumpet is still brand new,” he said with a laugh. In further describing his sound, he said, “I always like to think that I play a melodic kind of jazz rather than just putting out a lot of notes and energy. I like to feel that I play a very warm, emotional type of ballad.”
Whatever he does, it pulls in a loyal following. Anthony said that a number of hard-core fans invariably see him every night of his regular week-long Disneyland engagements, arriving hours before show time to secure seats. “And to do that at the ages of some of these people, that’s really a tribute,” he said.
Along with his old-time fans, Anthony pulls in younger listeners with the sound of his music, making for an age spread that’s also reflected on his bandstand.
The oldest member of his 18-piece outfit is 78-year-old alto sax legend Marshal Royal, and the band also includes Anthony’s brother, Leo, and other members who go back several decades with him. Others are vets of the bands of Count Basie, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Miller, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich. Anthony said there is also no shortage of good young players available to swing bands.
His group regularly features a number of 30-ish players, including Orange County saxman Eric Marienthal, who also has a steady gig with Chick Corea and a successful solo career (Marienthal isn’t expected to make the Disneyland shows). “Eric is sensational. To find a guy as good as he is at our kind of music as well as at everything in the current crop of music--obviously what he does with Chick Corea is not what he does with us--he’s an example of the more outstanding young players.”
Citing the new listeners that Linda Ronstadt brought to big-band music with her Nelson Riddle-orchestrated albums and the recent success of Harry Connick Jr., Anthony thinks the big-band scene is looking brighter than it has in many years. He also has played no small part in increasing its audience. A decade ago he formed “Big Bands ‘80s,” an operation run out of his home that is dedicated to promoting the music. He claims it has greatly increased the amount of radio play that big-band music receives, and Anthony now has a sizable cottage industry on his hands, making the often hard-to-find music available to listeners by mail order.
“We’ve got up to about 1,000 stations playing big-band music as part of their format now. Then the people that heard those programs wanted to buy records and the shops weren’t carrying big band music to any extent. Most stores only had a small area for it, and the people that enjoyed the music wouldn’t go into those stores, because they were being handled by young kids who knew more about rock ‘n roll. So we thought we’d start a sort of one-stop (record distributor) where they could get just that particular type of product. We started with a couple of shelves and cabinets, and now we have our whole studio enveloped in compact discs, LPs, cassettes and what have you.”
Tired of dealing with youth-bent record labels that would rather “gamble to sell either millions or nothing than take a sure shot at selling 200,000 albums,” Anthony instead releases his albums on his own label, Aero Space Records. He recently issued a CD, “Swing Back to the ‘40s,” that contains 19 standards of the era.
In his heyday, Anthony also was in a number of films (including some with current Newport Beach resident Mamie Van Doren, to whom he was married for three years) and several television programs. He bore a strong resemblance to Cary Grant then, and he says he still keeps in shape. He never drank or smoked, and has an unforgiving method of keeping himself on track: “My bathroom is completely mirrored, so I can see what I look like all the time. That keeps you aware of yourself, and I think as a result of that you just don’t overeat or over-do.”
His lip, he says, is in top shape, and, “fortunately for me, I’m the leader, and if anything goes wrong, I can just point to one of the guys and say ‘Take it.’ ”
It’s good that he’s so fit, since Anthony has no plans of leaving music. “Until death do us part, I guess, because anyone who has retired in show business, particularly the musical part, has regretted it. Remember when Frank Sinatra retired? After one year, he couldn’t stand it any longer, and as you can see, he’s still going now and he’s celebrating his 75th birthday.
“As long as you’re able to keep doing it, I don’t think there’s any point in retiring. I know in my early days I thought I’d retire at 30, then it’s 40, then 50, and after that, you just sort of say ‘Forget it.’ ”
Ray Anthony and his orchestra appear Tuesday through Sunday Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza, 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Shows nightly at 7, 8, 9:40 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets: $27.50 general, $22.50 for children 3 to 11 (park admission includes all rides). Information: (714) 999-4565.