Riveted by Music
I was about nineteen, newly married and very much in love, when I happened to pass by a music store one day, and was stopped in my tracks by the most glorious sound I had ever heard. I stood there on the sidewalk, leaning against the plate glass window for support, with my eyes closed; transfixed and impervious to impatient shoppers trying to pass by me, until the last strains of “I Only Have Eyes For You” had died away, and I could breathe freely again. Then I went in and pleaded for the entire 78 rpm record to be replayed … over and over again! Never had I heard anything so exquisite that it almost hurt, and it was a blessing that my husband, a talented musician himself, was soon hooked to the same extent that I was.
He had come home from the war in Malta and North Africa to join a commercial airline, but still played in the busy, very popular family orchestra on a regular basis. Sadly, only three weeks after we became engaged, his father died, very suddenly, and I was thrown in at the deep end to take his place at the piano. Needless to say, every "Freddy Gardner" (as we referred to those melodies) was unfailingly included in our repertoire, and it was fortunate that the two of us, as well as the sax player, could play by ear, because, in any case, it was not possible to buy the sheet music in Johannesburg at the time.
So we played on, rejoicing in the remote possibility that no other band knew “I’m in the Mood for Love” or “Valse Vanité” as yet, and blissfully unaware that we could very likely have been infringing on copyrights. We reveled in the almost deafening applause at the end of each set; at the same time yearning to sound more like Peter Yorke’s orchestra, the shining star of which was Freddy Gardner — of course! When, in time, we were able to splurge on our first record player, we would occasionally add one or two of our favourite classical recordings to our collection, but no matter what else we bought, whatever “Gardner” was available topped the list. My daughter, a toddler then, and now a grandmother, vividly recalls the unmistakable sound of that saxophone.
An Incredible Improviser
Gardner — said to have been comparable to Rudy Powell, Benny Carter, Alix Combelle, Russell Procope, Ken Mackintosh, or Willie Smith — was the most incredible improviser. He had performed regularly over the radio in Britain, but, living thousands of miles away as we did, it was not until after he began to play and record with a larger ensemble that included in its ranks trombonist and future bandleader, Ted Heath, that I finally heard him on that memorable day, and almost swooned with ecstasy. How he could make the melody soar to thrilling heights, seeming to turn somersaults in the air, before it swooped down again to take one’s breath away!