Sound Fountain



Alec Templeton (1909-1963)


Templeton's "Rhapsodia en Blue" on Spanish Regal records. RCA 78s























Templeton on RCA 78s









The popular Templeton on Atlantic 45 RPM









Remington R-199-158
































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Jack Hylton
Drawing taken from an old Dutch Radio Encyclopedia.








Margaret Humphrey, a piano teacher in Newport near Cardiff (Wales, Great Britain) had many pupils. One day, in the early nineteen twenties, a small, blind boy was presented to her. He came from a deprived background. Margaret immediately recognized his talent, took him under her wing and gave him lessons for free. The young boy's name was Alec Templeton.


Benny Goodman and His Orchestra play Bach Goes To Town.
Alec Templeton is soloist in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Andre Kostelanetz conducting.

Some music lovers know Alec Templeton as the composer of "Bach Goes To Town". And if their knowledge goes a bit further they also may recall "Mozart Matriculates" and even "Scarlatti Stoops to Conga", but they may not be aware that he composed serious music also.

Templeton was known as the radio and TV celebrity who, in the nineteen forties and fifties, regularly appeared on shows hosted by Bing Crosby, and who later had his own show called "It's Alec Templeton Time" (June 3rd - August 8th, 1955).

The more serious collector, while consulting a record catalog for references of specific recordings, may have seen the entry under Gershwin of blind Alec Templeton's recording of "Rhapsody in Blue" with Andre Kostelanetz for Columbia first listed in the 1942 edition of The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music. The recording was issued on two 12" shellac discs (CX-196; C-DX1045/6) and later dubbed to vinyl LP ML-4455 and was listed in Columbia's catalog next to the famous recording of Oscar Levant with the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Eugene Ormandy.

NOTE: The recording by George Gershwin himself with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra on one Victor 12" disc (V-35822) and on Columbia in Great Britain (C-1395), was the abridged version.

Although Levant mastered both the "Rhapsody" and the "Concerto in F" with insight and skill as hardly anybody else did, Templeton - being a talented improviser also - had a good rhythmic feeling for Gershwin's syncopated music, while his Rhapsody in Blue clearly shows that his technical skill was somewhat limited.

Alec Templeton at the time of his NBC radio broadcasts for Alka Seltzer.
Postcard image editied by R.A.B. (From the SoundFountain Archive)

Templeton's radio and TV fame was a good reason for Don Gabor to have a recording made of the improviser which was released on Remington R-199-158 - Alec Templeton plays improvisations on Offenbach and Strauss.

The uniqueness of this record was that Alec Templeton - who himself wrote the liner notes for this recording - improvised and when the takes were played back, he improvised once more. So in fact you will hear him play twice and you will hear four hands playing. Ray Ericson of High Fidelity magazine ended his review in the September 1954 issue: "Clean sound, low price make this a good bet for those who like smart-cabaret duo-pianism."

In the season of 1951-1952 Alec Templeton concertized with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with success. Laszlo Halasz and Don Gabor established good relations with the orchestra and its conductor Thor Johnson. Several recordings for the Remington label were scheduled with this orchestra, recordings to be supervised by both Gabor and Halasz (recording director and former director of the New York City Opera Company). The recording engineer was Robert Blake. Gershwin's Concerto in F with Alec Templeton was to be recorded in Cincinnati's Music Hall.

Gershwin's Concerto in F on Remington R-199-184.
Cover by Curt John Witt.

NOTE: By 1950 there were three performances of the Concerto in F available on record. There was Jesús-Maria Sanromá and Arthur Fiedler with the Boston "Pops" (Victor), and Roy Bargy with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra in an abridged version (Decca). Both were recorded in the 78 rpm era and were available on shellac discs only. The third was recorded in the new Columbia technique. It was the performance by Oscar Levant with André Kostelanetz conducting the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra.

For several years Levant's disc was the only LP available. It would be difficult to challenge this recording. But by the time other labels realized that Gershwin's Concerto was making money (also because of the new interest in Gershwin's music provoked by the "complete" recording of Porgy & Bess on Columbia), they scheduled recording sessions of the Concerto.

In August of 1953 two new recordings were released: Leonard Pennario with the Pittsburgh Symphony under William Steinberg (Capitol), and a recording by a pianist named Reims with the "Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra" on Eli Oberstein's Allegro label (the label with mainly obscure bootlegged recordings; Reims was also the alleged pianist in Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto and this was actually Moura Lympany's recording as Ernst Lumpe pointed out.)
In November of that same year (1953) Alec Templeton recorded the Concerto in F with the Cincinnati Orchestra under Thor Johnson. The disc was released one year later, in the Fall of 1954.
- R.A.B.

Alec Templeton was a popular artist and known by many Americans who had heard the radio shows or were watching his TV appearances. There was a market for one more important recording by legendary Alec Templeton with orchestra. Despite the fact that he is not a virtuoso and does not play the demanding - and at times highly complex piano style - impeccably, Templeton's is an outstanding interpretation. The treatment of the rhythmic sections are very original, his phrasing is beautiful, and the accentuation is well chosen. The blues in the second movement (Andante con moto) is soulful, foreboding the dramatic, expressive lamentation at the end of the movement.

Warren De Motte evaluated Templeton's playing and Johnson's conducting in The Long Playing Record Guide where it was listed next to the Leonard Pennario (Capitol) and Oscar Levant (Columbia) discs. About Levant's performance Demotte wrote: "Levant has lived with this concerto for many years, and he does it full justice, even if Kostelanetz is a trifle overwhelmed by the splendors of the New York Philharmonic."
In many instances in the score Oscar Levant may well be the better pianist, also because he had known Gershwin personally and may have discussed the work with George and certainly knew out of first hand what Gershwin was expressing and how it should be played. Though the Levant Kostelanetz performance has its own greatness, it seems that Johnson lifts the score to a more serious level and puts it in the category of classical piano concertos.


The third issue of Levant's recordings on Columbia ML-4897 from around 1955.

Many were convinced that Templeton and Johnson turned Gershwin's composition into a piano concerto, exempt of the sentimentality brought in by some performers who want to show us that they have feeling for jazz but at the same time want to remind us too much of the showbizz aspect of most - but not all - of Gershwin's music. Those performances may be witty, yet most of the time they are false.

In the Remington recording there is the fact of Alec Templeton's blindness. You have to be a very good pianist to play this concerto. But you also have to be a very good conductor to cooperate and make it all happen. One could easily say that the synergy between Templeton and Johnson is perfect. If Templeton was more following Johnson, or Templeton indicated at certain instances to Johnson what to do (he may have lifted a hand, or just may have nodded his head), there is an understanding that pulsates in the right direction, in every movement.

It is sure that after one has grown accustomed to a specific recording and has played it many times, it is not easy to let it be replaced by another, possibly better rendering of the same work. But even after listening to many, many recordings, it is difficult to deny the qualities of the first recording one got to know. Thor Johnson and Alec Templeton never will fail to let the listener enjoy the music. That is certainly what Warren De Motte meant when he evaluated the Remington recording in The Long Playing Record Guide in a single phrase: "Templeton-Johnson enjoy their musical romp and are well recorded."

Dutch critic Ralph N. Degens mentioned Templeton's somewhat restricted technique, but praised the outstanding musicality of Templeton and he wrote: "...his interpretation as well as the orchestral part are very compelling." He also referred to Robert Blake's successful sound recording: "The sound transmitted by this record has a flabbergasting clarity and naturalness; especially the sound of the piano is a surprise." That review was written in 1955.

As with the recording of the Prokofiev concerto played by Jorge Bolet and the same orchestra, here too the grand piano was most certainly a Baldwin.

Alec Templeton around 1953.
(Picture taken from R-199-158. Edited by R.A.B.)

Alec Andrew Templeton was born on July 4th, 1909 in Cardiff (Wales, UK). Dutch "Encyclopedie van de Muziek" published by Elsevier in 1959, mentions 1910 as his year of birth.
Alec Templeton was blessed with absolute pitch. At the age of four, he composed his first piano composition and earned his first money when playing at a children's concert. He began his musical studies at an early age in his hometown and as a teenager auditioned for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and played for them until 1935. Meanwhile he studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, both in London. He held degrees for both institutions.

At eighteen he composed "Trio for flute, oboe and piano" for which he was complimented by composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. On Counterpoint/Esoteric 5533 Alec Templeton plays his "Trio" together with Julius Baker (flute) and Albert Goltzer (oboe) and on side two The Phoenix Quartet plays Templeton's "Quartet Pastorale" which is his Quartet No. 2. The Trio was recorded by Robert E. Blake Jr., Don Gabor's recording engineer.

One trait of Templeton was his English humor. That is why his compositions have such witty names as "You and I On Our Lanai", a Hawaiian song, or - on the more serious side - one can but smile at the title "Pocketsize Sonata" for clarinet and piano. (He wrote a No. 1 and a No. 2).
Templeton's compositions are available as sheet music and can be found on the web, and are also appreciated by music students who are constantly searching for uncommon repertory.

Jack Hylton and His Orchestra. He took his vocalists and arrangers to the United States, formed an American Orchestra and played at the Drake Hotel, Chicago and also for Commercial Radio.
Image from the cover of Joy Records D 267/Decca Eclipse ECM 2046.

Jack Hylton, British bandleader, who with his jazz orchestra had played in the Paris Opera, brought Alec Templeton to the United States when Hylton was to broadcast a series of radio programs for the Standard Oil Company. The liner notes of Remington R-199-158 state that "Templeton soon established himself as an incomparable and sincere artist."
In addition to his imaginative creativity when 'modernizing' the classical masters, Alec Templeton composed serious works for piano, for orchestra, string quartet, and for voice. Templeton: "Good music need not be ponderous to be good. It can be everything from Bach to jazz." His style of composition is close to the idiom of British folk songs.

For many years Alec Templeton and his wife Julie lived in Greenwich (Connecticut). In the house was a large collection of musical boxes which made music by means of perforated steel discs. Chimes were hanging from trees in their garden and, when moved by the wind, made music. Even their limousine had a license plate 'MUSIC'. Several records were issued with the sound of Alec Templeton's mechanical music boxes and chimes.

NOTE: Dr. John Bertalot, Cathedral Organist Emeritus (UK), told me about the role of Margaret Humphrey and when she celebrated her jubilee as a music teacher in 1949, Alec traveled to South Wales (Great Britain) to give a recital in her honor. Alec Templeton also invited her to spend a holiday in America as a thank you. Because of personal circumstances, Margaret Humphrey was unable to make the visit, but of course she appreciated the generous invitation very much.

It was in Connecticut where Alec Templeton died, only 52 years of age, on March 28th, 1963.

Rudolf A. Bruil, page first published fall 2001

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