A member of our group, someone new to the music of the 1930s and ‘40s, recently asked me what was the difference between swing and sweet music. Keeping it pretty basic, while the instrumentation may be, sweet music lacks the rhythmic intensity and drive of swing music and generally does not include jazz improvisation. It is music for polite dancing and was often featured in hotel restaurants and ballrooms. I realize that I have not featured much sweet music simply because of my bias toward big-band jazz. Time to correct this situation!
Born in December 1895, Vincent Lopez had an illustrious musical career leading a dance orchestra from 1917 through the 1950s. The band appeared on stage and screen, radio, recordings, and television. Lopez was a radio favorite and his theme song “Nola,” and the familiar greeting, “Hello, everybody, Lopez speaking,” would be instantly recognized by listeners.
Lopez’s trombonist Morty Bullman was a friend of mine – he is identified on screen in the trombone section – and he related to me, “The Lopez band had been booked to play at the Aquacade, at the New York World’s Fair. This was Billy Rose’s venture, and we were pleased to get the job. This would mean that we wouldn’t be on tour and could lead a settled life in the city. We were there when we made the Soundies.”
“After that fair closed, we moved to the Taft Hotel, in the Grill Room, at 51st [Street] and Seventh [Avenue], and it was another good job. No, a great job. We rarely left the place and the job paid fairly well, with little traveling, and no one-nighters. And the job ended early every night, well before midnight. There was a radio line, and we broadcast every day; publishers would bring stocks and we would play them. No rehearsal, just read them off the music paper. Lopez wasn’t always happy with what we had to play, but that’s what leaders did, so just ‘grin and bear it.’”
Sunny [Skylar] sang the ballads. He composed, too. His big hit was “Gotta Be This or That” for Benny Goodman. Lopez had a good band, mind you, but not really a jazz band or swing band—not at all—but a group of real pros playing music that everyone seemed to enjoy.”
This is pleasant music, no doubt, and if the sound is somewhat sedate and dated by today’s standards, let’s not forget that Lopez was immensely popular with dancers. And while tastes change, the professionalism of the musicians deserves our respect and listening, if only once.