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Jack’s Musings: Paul Lavalle

Paul Lavalle and the Cities Service Band of America

Jack Kopstein

Paul Lavalle
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Paul Lavalle was a conductor, composer, arranger and performer on clarinet and saxophone. He was born Joseph Usifer on September 6, 1908 in Beacon, New York, and died in Harrisonburg, Virginia on June 24, 1997.

Lavalle’s parents were Ralph and Jennie Usifer, both Italian immigrants. Graduating from Beacon High School, he planned to study law at Columbia University. After winning a scholarship there, Lavalle studied music at the Juilliard School and was a student of composition of Joseph Schillinger. He performed in many 1930s bands, including one in Havana, Cuba. In 1933, he became an arranger and clarinetist in the NBC Symphony Orchestra when it was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His first composition to be performed with this orchestra was Symphonic Rhumba (1939), conducted by Leopold Stokowski on December 6, 1942.

Paul Lavalle has combined an ability in organization with a solid background in music performance, conducting, and composition. As the conductor of the Cities Service Band of America during eight years of weekly broadcasts over NBC Radio, beginning in 1948, his name became known in millions of American homes. With the help of his brother, Michael Usifer, conductor of the town band, he learned the fundamentals of most of the instruments, but preferred to perform on clarinet and saxophone. After graduating from Beacon High School, he began majoring in law at Columbia University, but upon winning a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music during his freshman year, he abandoned law for music. After leaving Juilliard he performed with a band in Havana, Cuba, followed by a series of concerts with the NBC Symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. In addition to the famous Band of America–selected as the official band of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair–Lavalle founded the Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, the Stradivari Orchestra, and the NBC Highways of Melody Orchestra. In 1966, he organized the McDonald All-American High School Band. In 1968, he became director of music for the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, and in 1981 he began conducting the Wilton, Connecticut, Chamber Orchestra. Throughout much of his career, he guest¬conducted school and professional orchestras and bands in various sections of the United States.

Recipient of a number of honors and awards, Lavalle’s showy and energetic style of conducting won the approval of most audiences–as well as the criticism of a few more conservative conductors. Living in Wilton, Connecticut, for many years, Lavalle, learned to counteract a busy schedule in New York and elsewhere with hobbies, including gardening and golf.

Lavalle wrote a variety of musical works for band and orchestra, and several scores which he composed while driving into New York City each day. In addition to tone poems,  instrumental concertos and features, and symphonic arrangements, he  composed  a number of marches. All-American High School Band, Ballyhoo, Band of America, and Good Fellowship are listed in the 1982 Band Music Guide. Other marches included: Be Prepared (for the Boy Scouts); The Big Brass Band; Big Joe the Tuba; Boys Club of America; Bugle Calls A-Plenty; Dwight D. Eisenhower (built on the notes D-D-E we featured during the 1952 presidential campaign); The Merrymakers; and United Press.

Paul Lavalle applied for the conductor’s position of the Cities Service Band of America in 1948, and he won out over a number of other highly qualified applicants, including  Frank Simon, conductor of the well-known ARMCO Band in the 1920′s . Every Monday night for the next eight years, millions of Americans heard the introduction over NBC Radio begin with: “Forty-eight states . . . forty-eight stars …forty-eight men marching down the main street of everybody’s hometown! Here comes Cities Service Band of America, conducted by Paul Lavalle!” During the series of over 400 entertaining and stimulating broadcasts, this professional band entertained a vast radio audience, produced a number of record albums for RCA, and served as a beacon for school bands across the United States. He became instantly recognized and newspapers across America, including the Appleton Wisconsin Crescent,  suggested that “Maestro Paul Lavalle Walks in the Shoes of Sousa.”He became the inspiration for young band musicians across the USA and Canada. He travelled extensively performing and his recordings were snatched up immediately when they were released.

Lavalle worked on numerous radio programs, including The Dinah Shore Show (1939-40), The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street (1940-44), Plays for Americans (1942) and Highway of Melody with the Band of America (1944-56). On his radio shows he collaborated with Victor Borge, Mario Lanza, Robert Merrill and Dinah Shore. In November 1944, his jazz composition “Always” made it to number 29 on the top 40 charts. In 1940, The New York Times described him as “NBC’s ubiquitous music maker” and said he was “of small size, dynamic, dark haired…” Lavalle told the reporter, “Music is my life, and I am happy that it is so.”
In 1949, Lavalle and the band became one of the first musical groups to appear weekly on television. Beginning in 1964, the Band of America toured extensively and also became the official band of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, an engagement that lasted into 1965.

Lavalle guest conducted many orchestras, including the ABC Symphony, CBS Symphony, NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1967, he was instrumental in forming the 100-member All-American High School Band (by 1968 known as McDonald’s All-American High School Band) which participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Tournament of Roses Parade.

Actress Muriel Angelus met Paul Lavalle while she was performing on the radio, and they married in 1946. She retired from acting to raise a family. They maintained an apartment in Manhattan and a Colonial home in Connecticut. Their daughter Suzanne Lavalle Bothamley was an NBC reporter and became a realtor for Coldwell Banker Funkhouse. Paul Lavalle died June 24, 1997 in Harrisonburg, Virginia at the Rockingham Memorial Hospital

•     Paul Lavalle’s compositions

•    Band of America March (1949)
•    Big Joe, The Tuba March (1950)
•    Boys’ Clubs of America (Marching Song) (1948)
•    Dwight D. Eisenhower March (built on the notes D-D-E; the official theme of the 1952 campaign)
•    The United Press March (1952, composed for United Press International)
•    United States Overture (1951)
•    (Information from Paul Bierley, The Instrumentalist, Marquis Who’s Who., and The New York Time )and Appleton Wisconsin Post Crescent, The Beckley Post Herald W Va)and Wikipedia,Encyclopedia

If you were influenced by the Lavalle broadcasts please feel to blog, we would love to hear from you.

28 comments. Leave a Reply

  1. JOHN A. Johnson

    The article on Lavalle/yusifer was very interesting. Lavalle consistently and vehemently denied the Yusifer name. I think the main reasin that he got the job was because he was already associiated with Cities Service with a long running prog. called the Lower Basin Street Music Society. The band was terribly unbalanced. It had only 12 reeds total. 4 tubas, 4 horns, 3 euph. 6 trom. and a lot of trumpets. The band sounded great on air bexause they had a good eng. in the control room. If you were in the audience (I was at least 10 times) the balance was terrible. Quite a few of the men were friends of Lavalle that were not classically inclined musicians. Many of them were staff musicians at NBC. Others were NY studio men.

  2. Gene Duman

    I have most of the bands recordings. Similar to what Mr. Johnson says above, the band had two dynamic levels – loud and really loud. Two basic tempi – fast and far too fast. But, they did bring band music to an wful lot of radio listeners.

  3. Gentelmen:
    many thanks for your insight into Paul Lavalle’s work. It is interesting because I listened on WJR from Detroit as I lived in Windsor Ontario across the river. The sound of the band(on my little white Crossley)was great but as you mention the proliferation of brass made it really loud. Regardless of that as with many others of my generation it was the real beginning of a career as a band musician. I studuied in Detroit and at 18 joined the Canadian Navy bands. many thanks to you both for your restrospective on the Cities Service band of America.
    Thanks for taking time to read our newsletter.
    Very Best wishes
    jack

  4. wm. e. nelson

    I remember as a high school kid, I always listened to the Cities Service Band of America. Would anybody have any idea where I could get recordings of the Cities Service Band of America music? Are there any web sites that I could download some of his marches more especially his Band of America march. A fellow musician

  5. Rex Sagle

    I met Paul in 1955, but made sure I was by the radio when the broadcast started.
    The Pasadena,Tx band now called The Gulf Coast Concert Band had a
    Tribute to Paul Lavalle in about 1993, Our Guest Soloist was none other
    than my dear friend Harvey Phillips who was a tubist with the Band of America along with the late Don Butterfield, William Bell, William Lewin,
    Joe Tarto and more. Harvey performed the Carioca, and all of us stood in front and performed Big Joe The Tuba, The Band also Played The United Press March and The Ballyhoo March.
    I recently performed The Happy Farmer which is a Paul Lavalle arrangement for Tuba Solo with Band Acc.
    I heard William Bell play this selection in 1949 and went to school the next day and told them I wanted to play the tuba which I did.
    We met at Dr Grady Hallman’s home for a great lunch and we all spoke to Paul on the phone, I asked him where the arrangement was for The Happy Farmer he told me it was located in the library of the University of Wyoming, I ordered it from them, it was still in manuscript with a note to
    stating Bill Bell 11:00 N.B.C.
    It was a great time for america and what a great show he had every week.
    I still have contact also with the great Trumpet player Raymond Crisara.
    Harvey is 80 years old now and his health is not the best, but his mind certainly has not lost a thing
    Thanks for this site, I have most of the albums made into cds and recently sent copies to the Great Tubist Don Harry from Eastman School
    of Music who loved The Band of America.

  6. Rex Sagle

    I and four other Tubist will play Big Joe The Tuba May 4th 2010
    with the Livingston,Texas Area community Band.
    We will also open the program with The Band of America March.
    When I played with the Air force Band we performed Big Joe The Tuba
    twice a day for five days for the sesquicentennial in the Endicott, New York area.
    The Crowds love the march.

  7. linda

    i’m trying to find where i can listen to Paul Lavalle Service Band of America “Spirit of Freedom” can anyone pleeeease help me?

  8. @Linda, I searched and could not find any music in our database by the Paul Lavalle Service Band of America. I’m sorry we couldn’t help you out, but we’ll leave this posted so that hopefully someone else will come across it and can direct you to the some of their music!

    Thanks,
    Eric Scism

  9. Paul Niednagel

    I am trying to find a CD recoding of a march that I came to love, that was played by Paul LaValle and the Cities Service Band of America,…….. “Under the Double Eagle.

    I would be so appreciative,

    Paul Niednagel
    pauln2@cox.net

  10. Paul Niednagel

    Does anyone know how I might obtain a CD recoding of “Under the Double Eagle”, conducted by Paul LaValle and the City Service Band of America?

    Respectfully,

    Paul Niednagel
    pauln2@cox.net

  11. Blaine Pruitt

    I have all the recorded music of the “Cities Service Band of America” Including the “Green and White Quartet”.

  12. Rex Sagle

    Linda:
    I have a recording I copied from a record, and transferred it to a cd.
    One of the selections on that cd is Spirit of Freedom.

    I made most of the records into cd’s and still love to lsten to them.
    Harvey has left us now, he passed away in Oct,2010 that leaves none of the tuba players, and only Ray Crisara there great solo trumpet left alive.

  13. Ron Chan

    My favorite march is KING COTTON MARCH played by Paul Lavalle and the Cities Service Band of America and I have been searching for many years for a copy of this great rendition. Is there anyone that can help me obtain a copy of this in mp3 format or info on how I can get a copy of
    Lavelle’s version of KING COTTON MARCH? Much appreciated! : )

  14. James Choate

    I remember having to listen to these broadcasts on the car radio, as Mom and Dad had another program “favorite” which was broadcast at the same time! Would love to be able to get some of the recordinds…one in particular (of “Il Guarany”) was played for us by our high school band director, which I would particularly enjoy getting, if anyone can help…? choateband at aol will find me…?

  15. j robert maxwell

    I remember “the Klaxon” march, the Col Bogey march, washington post,
    and a number of others… if anyone has this album (it was a 10″ 33rim recording) I would like to know how to obtain a copy for my iTouch…

    bob maxwell

  16. Merrily Whitfield

    Seeking a recording (pref CD) of Spirit of Freedom march played by Paul Lavalle or other.

    Thank You

  17. Unfortunately, Altissimo does not have this march. Hopefully someone reading this post can help! I would also suggest to search on iTunes.

  18. Steve

    Paul Lavalle was my father (Larry) – father… (my grandfather). I only saw him a few times after we moved to Canada in the early 1970′s
    But I do remember going to Radio City Music hall with my grandmother and watching his orchestra practice. I was only about 5, but we had the whole hall to ourselves.
    My brother has most of his recordings, on 78 format.

  19. David

    Linda, check out my sight on youtube. (luvrecords1) I posted the “Spirit of Freedom March”

  20. Here is a direct link to the Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWnZ0JfoUjU

  21. Bill G

    Does anyone know where I can get some recordings of the Cities Service Band of the Air programs? I listened to them on the radio when I was a kid in the 1950s and they were great.

    Thanks,
    Bill
    k5wg at swbell.net

  22. Bill G

    I just located a complete set of all of the Cities Service Band of America radio programs in MP3 format from OTRCAT.com. It’s on a single CD and is only $5 plus $2.50 for shipping. The URL for the CD is:
    http://www.otrcat.com/cities-service-band-of-america-p-49213.html

    FYI – MP3 CDs will play on a computer and some walkman-type players but will not play on most car radios or regular stereo players.

    Bill G
    Tulsa

  23. Thanks for sharing, Bill! This is a great find!

  24. I’ interested in getting score and sheet music for “Band of America March”, by Lavalle. Is it in print? I know his papers went to Univ. of Wyoming. I find book references. No info on how to contact them re: actual USE of the material.

    Thanks for any help.

  25. Rex Sagle

    I have purchased many comositions from the University of Wyoming, however, I was informed today there is a restriction on researchers on the BOA arrangements, I wanted the arrangement of When Yuma plays The Rhumba on the Tuba Down in Cuba, which my dear friend Harvey Phillips performed on the album Paul Lavalle, his Woodwinds, and His Band,
    I do not know who requested the restriction, I have my ideas, but also know that Paul would never go along with such a request.

  26. Jerauld Vaughan

    I have just read Dr. Paul Bierley’s biography of Henry Fillmore, _Hallelujah_ _Trombone_. In it, we are told that tthe then-future Dr. Fillmore conducted the Cities Service Band of America on three occasions, the most-significant of which probably being on 5 August, 1951, when he substituted for Maestro LaValle, who was on a fishing vacation in Canada at that time. Dr. Bierley tells us that the audience was _Electric_ that evening, even causing Fillmore to have to lift his hands for silenceso that Mr. Bond could make his closing announcement! I also have bbecome aware of otrcat.com’s MP3 disc of CSBA recordings, but they are unable to tell me if this particular episode is included on their disc. If you, who wrote of it above, bought it, is that episode included? I feel confident that the one Fillmore march which was mentioned, “The Clapton,” should be “The Claxon.”

    With many thanks and best wishes,

    J. V.

  27. Gerald Richardson

    Chatfield Brass Band Library, Chatfield, Minn, 55923 has arrangements of some Paul Lavalle charts.

    I listened to the Cities Service Band of America after Adams (NY) Legion Band rehearsal in the ’50s sitting in my Dads car. Amazing solo talents. Listen to the Mocking Bird, Old Oaken Bucket and especially Big Joe the Tuba.

    Wonderful incentive to further my musical involvement.

  28. Willis Traphagan

    Gerald Richardson — I was a member of the Adams (NY) Legion Band, late forties, early fifties, playing mostly trombone, even though I was already playing tuba. Like you, I listened to the Band of America (seems to me it was on Monday nights) and it was a great incentive to me also. I attended Pulaski HS — don’t encounter many folks from there, especially former members of the Legion Band. Would love to correspond if we can figure out how to exchange emails….

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