Larry Elgart, Who Kept Swing Up to Date, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com

Larry Elgart, Who Kept Swing Up to Date, Dies at 95 - NYTimes.com


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Larry Elgart, Who Kept Swing Up to Date, Dies at 95
By WILLIAM GRIMES August 31, 2017
By WILLIAM GRIMES

Larry Elgart, a bandleader who, with his brother, Les, recorded the theme song for the long-running television dance show “American Bandstand,” and who later scored a surprise hit with “Hooked on Swing,” a medley of swing classics set to a disco beat, died on Tuesday in Sarasota Fla. He was 95.

The death was confirmed by his wife, Lynn Elgart.

After playing alto saxophone with Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey and other bands, Mr. Elgart teamed up with Les, his older brother, to record a series of successful albums for Columbia that brought swing music into the 1950s and beyond.

Taking advantage of advances in recording technology, he developed a distinctive “Elgart sound, which emphasized tight choreography between the silky-smooth saxophone section and the rich, brilliant horns, to which he added two bass trombones. He lightened up the rhythm section, replacing piano with guitar, and cut back on improvised solos.

“The end result was a conversation,” Mr. Elgart wrote in a memoir, “The Music Business & the Monkey Business” (2014), written with his wife. “The saxes spoke and the brass answered, then they all talked together. Having no doubles with clarinets, flutes, etc., in the reed section, the band had even more clarity.”

 

The album “Sophisticated Swing was released in 1953, with the band touted as “America’s College Prom Favorite.” The Les Elgart Orchestra, renamed the Les and Larry Elgart Orchestra two years later, found a lucrative niche performing at school dances, a role reflected in their albums “Prom Date” (1954) and “Campus Hop” (1954).

 

In 1954, while touring the country to promote their records, the brothers met Bob Horn, the host of “Bandstand,” a teenage dance show in Philadelphia. Les Elgart proposed that the brothers record a theme song. “Bandstand Boogie” was the result. Two years later, Dick Clark took over as host of the renamed “American Bandstand,” and ABC picked up the show for national broadcast. “Bandstand Boogie” became an anthem for generations of teenagers.

In 1982, Mr. Elgart rode the disco wave with “Hooked on Swing.” Heading an ensemble called the Manhattan Swing Orchestra, he blended “Cherokee,” “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “A String of Pearls” and other big-band standards into a tasty disco stew that cracked the Top 40.

“Many people tell me that they listen to it while running, walking or doing water aerobics,” he told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., in 1999.

Lawrence Joseph Elgart was born on March 20, 1922, in New London, Conn., and spent most of his childhood in Pompton Lakes, N.J. His father, Arthur, and his mother, the former Bessie Aisman, worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet during the Depression.

 

Larry took up the clarinet at 9 and later taught himself to play the flute, but it was the alto saxophone that was his ticket to fame. After studying with Hymie Shertzer, the lead alto with Benny Goodman, he was hired at 17 by the bandleader Charlie Spivak.

 

In 1945 he and his brother, a trumpeter, formed their own ensemble, paying top-drawer talent like Nelson Riddle, Bill Finegan and Ralph Flanagan to write their arrangements. The band failed commercially, and after selling their arrangements to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the brothers returned to being sidemen.

 

While playing in the pit of the Broadway show “Top Banana” in 1951, Mr. Elgart met the composer and saxophonist Charles Albertine. The two collaborated on the experimental album “Impressions of Outer Space,” released by Brunswick in 1953.

That record did not sell, but it caught the attention of the producer John Hammond, who paved the way for Mr. Elgart to sign with Columbia, bringing Mr. Albertine along as his arranger.

The brothers drifted apart and reunited several times over the years. “I never agreed with him musically,” Mr. Elgart told The Morning Call. “He was more trouble than anything else.”

In the early 1960s, however, they found a new formula for success by reworking pop hits on such albums as “Big Band Hootenanny” (1963), “Elgart au Go-Go”(1965) and “Girl Watchers” (1967). Les Elgart died in 1995.

Besides his wife, the former Lynn Walzer, Mr. Elgart, who lived in Longboat Key, Fla., is survived by two sons, Brock and Brad; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.

Correction: September 1, 2017

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the number of great-grandchildren who survive Mr. Elgart. There are four, not two.






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