|This program's guest is clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider, who recalls The Casa
The group began as the Orange Blossoms in 1927 and this is how it all came about. In the late 1920s burgeoning Detroit suddenly needed more dance bands. To help satisfy this need Jean Goldkette, already a well-known band leader and local musician, and businessman Henry Horvath, contracted dance bands and sent them all over the eastern states as well as Detroit. One of these bands, the Orange Blossoms, was dispatched to play a six month season at the palatial Casa Loma Hotel in Toronto. The band was nominally led by one Henry Biagini and the saxophones were led by Glen Gray.
During the 1928 residency financial catastrophe hit the Hotel management and the band was stranded in Toronto. Glen Gray phoned the Goldkette office in the hope of getting some means of returning. Incredibly, disaster had also struck the Goldkette and Horvath empire at the same time and no funds were forthcoming. Somehow the Blossoms managed to struggle back to Detroit to find it had become an entertainment desert. Meanwhile Cork O'Keefe, a very shrewd judge of musical talent, emerged from the Goldkette/Horvath debris and had set up his own booking operation in New York just as the roaring twenties were about to end with the Wall Street Crash. Gray, acting as spokesman, appealed for O'Keefe's assistance in getting the band - now renamed as the Casa Loma Orchestra - some work. In 1930 the band moved to New York where it was incorporated with the bandsmen as shareholders and Gray and O'Keefe as President and Vice President respectively.
O'Keefe went to work and soon had the Orchestra playing all over with successful appearances at Atlantic City, New York's Roseland Ballroom, and most importantly secured a foot hold in the depression-proof society hotels and college dance circuit. They became a very disciplined group and mostly played in white tie and tails. There was a recording contract with Brunswick and soon the Casa Loma Orchestra became the hottest dance organisation in the country with radio broadcasts helping to spread the music. Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and prosperity now seemed a possibility.
Gene Gifford, banjoist/guitarist with the band since Toronto, created the music style and with strange staccato arrangements such as "Casa Loma Stomp", "Buji", "White Jazz", "Black Jazz", "Maniacs Ball", and "The Goblin Band", made it popular with both jazz fans and the dance set. The band boasted fine hot soloists in trombonist Pee Wee Hunt, clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider, and tenor saxman Pat Davis. Gifford left in 1935 to be replaced by Larry Clinton who introduced a less frenetic but equally danceable music style which was entirely appropriate for the dawning of the Swing Era with his "Study In Brown", "Zig Zag", and "Shades of Hades".
By late 1936 the Casa Loma Orchestra was seriously challenged by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey and as the decade ended was no longer regarded as the hottest band in the land. Nevertheless, with ballad singer Kenny Sargent, and soloists like trumpeter Sonny Dunham and multi-instrumentalist Murray McEachern, hits like "No Name Jive" enabled the Orchestra to retain a place in America's Hotels and Ballrooms until it disbanded in the late 1940s.
Glen Gray, who had remained the leader until the end, was recalled by Capitol records in the mid 1950s to again lead an all-star orchestra and recreate the Casa Loma hits and indeed those of the entire era. Gray died in 1963.