Julien Labro (accordion); The Bijou Orchestra.
American Fantasy is the first CD produced by The Bijou Orchestra in 2005. The recording features authentic original salon orchestrations of popular classics by Strauss, Dvorak, Victor Herbert and others. It also has several popular songs from the 1920s including “Jalousie” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” There is an added bonus with gifted accordion player Julien Labro performing as a guest on his own arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion.”
During the half-century preceding the stock market crash of 1929, tens of thousands of musicians were employed in the “legitimate,” vaudeville and silent movie theaters of America. The largest venues in New York and Chicago employed entire symphony orchestras, while the smallest places made do a pianist or sometimes an organist. Evan small theaters would often engage an extra wind player or two along with a violinist and perhaps percussionist for Saturday nights.
Solo keyboard players in these settings were free to improvise, but ensembles, regardless of size, needed printed music. Operettas, musical, and even a few silent films had originally composed scores, but most of the music played consisted of arrangements of established classics, popular songs, dances, piano rages and marches. There was nothing approaching a minimum theater orchestration, and publishers of theater music made extensive use of cross cues, doubling, and the all-important piano to cover key parts. In this way, the essential outline of the original was always audible regardless of the performing forces at hand. Faithfulness to the original score was not very important as long as the spirit of the music was clear. Sometimes, when parts were missing, players made them up as they went along. A theater musician had to be flexible and it helped to have a good imagination.
Imagination was important for the audience, too. A handful of players could never re-create the wall of sound envisioned by Wagner, Verdi, or Sousa, but that didn’t stop the “little” orchestras from playing big repertoire. Conviction was a satisfying substitute for volume when a handful of players threw their energy into a rousing favorite by Herbert or a romantic waltz by Strauss. It was live music – a luxury in our time, but a way of life in the “good old days”.
*Guest on the selected track
© 2005 Bay Musical Arts, Inc.