By Douglas Yeo
The history of trombone solo recordings has yet to be written. This puzzles me. How is it that an enterprising trombone-playing doctoral student, looking for a worthy dissertation project, has not yet entertained the thought, “What was the first audio recording of a trombone solo?”, and then set out to explore the situation? But to my knowledge, this hasn’t happened. [A caveat: Edward Bahr’s DMA document, “A Discography of Classical Trombone/Euphonium Solo and Ensemble Music on Long-Playing Records Distributed in the United States” (University of Oklahoma, 1980) was limited in scope and did not cover the pre-LP record era.] With all of my current research and writing projects on my plate, I don’t have the time to undertake this study, but the subject interests me enough to keep an eye out for information that might be useful in informing the arc of recorded trombone solo history. That said, “first claims” are not really so important in the big scheme of things. What is of greater importance is what the solo playing on early recordings tels us about musicianship and trombone technique at the time.
Trombonists are aware (or should be aware) of solo recordings made by Arthur Pryor, the celebrated trombone soloist of John Philip Sousa’s Band. Pryor made dozens of recordings as a trombone soloist for various companies, and many more as a conductor. He was also a prolific composer. The Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR), which is maintained by University of California Santa Barbara, lists over 1300 recordings when one searches for “Arthur Pryor.” This number includes recordings of Pryor as a trombone soloist, as a conductor, and recordings of his works by others. The 26 tracks of Pryor playing trombone solos that were released in 1983 on Crystal Records as Trombone Solos Performed by Arthur Pryor (Crystal LP S451) and in 1997 as Arthur Pryor: Trombone Soloist of the Sousa Band (Crystal CD CD451) include just a small sampling of Pryor’s trombone solo discography, and they feature recordings that he made between November 1, 1897 and September 21, 1910 on Victor, Berliner, and Monarch records.
The Crystal recording includes copious notes about the recordings, the music played, and Pryor, including what claims to be a complete discography of Pryor’s trombone solos, duets, quartets, and sextets. This list, which relied in part on the listing of Pryor recordings in James R. Smart’s The Sousa Band: A Discography (Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1970) lists several cylinder recordings that Pryor made “c. 1895” for Columbia and the Chicago Talking Machine Company. To my knowledge, copies of these wax cylinders have not been found (for an insightful discussion of why so few of these early Columbia have survived, see this article on the ARSC—Association for Recorded Sound Collections—blog) or at least their discovery has not been made public. The dates of these recordings are not known with certainty, although the Columbia recordings were listed in a Columbia Records catalog in 1895 (for an updated listing of Columbia recordings, see The Recordings of the Columbia Phonograph Company, 1889-1896 , compiled by Mason Vander Lugt for the National Recording Preservation Board, 2017). Clearly, Pryor made or planned to make some wax cylinder solo recordings by 1895 but in the absence of having actually found one, it is possible that the Columbia catalog published recordings they were planning to make and, for one reason or another, they were not recorded, manufactured, or distributed.
The evolution of recorded sound from wax cylinders to records occurred in the late 1880s, with the production of single-side 5-inch diameter records by the Berliner Gramphone Company. Emile Berliner is credited as the inventor of the gramophone record. For a superb summary of Berliner’s pioneering and influential work in the nascent recording industry, I recommend James R. Smart, “Emile Berliner and Nineteenth-Century Disc Recordings,” The Quarterly Journal of the LIbrary of Congress (Summer/Fall 1980, Vol. 37, No 3/4, 422-440). Also of interest is the article on the Library of Congress website, Berliner Recordings at the Library of Congress. Among Berliner’s early 5-inch discs (which were manufactured between 1889 and 1892 before he switched to 7-inch discs) is Berliner 116, a recording of an unknown trombone soloist playing an unaccompanied version of the German drinking song, Im tiefen Keller. A fragment of this recording, which is one of the earliest records ever made (the exact date of the recording is not known) may be heard HERE (click on “To listen” on the linked page).
Paul Charosh’s book, Berliner Gramophone Records: American Issues, 1892-1900 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995), is the most comprehensive resource of information about Berliner records. With Charosh’s book in hand, one can put together a timeline of Berliner trombone recordings, and the DAHR database of Berliner recordings provides additional information. From this, we can see that Arthur Pryor’s first recordings on disc were made on July 2, 1897, when he recorded Sweet Lorena Ray (Berliner 3300), Exposition Echoes (Berliner 3301), and The Palms (Berliner 3303).
In December 2021, my friend Kevin Mungons—with whom I co-authored the new book, Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2021)— told me of an auction of Berliner records—part of the Hazelcorn Phonograph Collection—that was taking place at Donley Auction Services in Union, Illinois.
Berliner 3303, a 7-inch diameter record featuring Arthur Pryor playing The Palms (Gabriel Faure), recorded on July 2, 1897.
Among the offerings at the auction was a copy of one of Arthur Pryor’s Berliner recordings, The Palms (3303). Since this recording is well known to collectors (and a transfer is available on YouTube), I did not feel a need to acquire this record (it eventually sold for $300). But there was another record at the auction that caught my eye.
Berliner 62Z, a 7-inch diameter record featuring Romance for Military Band with Military Band, Washington, D.C., recorded on May 27, 1897.
Berliner 62Z, a 7-inch diameter, single-sided disc, was listed as Romance for Trombone, performed by “Military Band, Washington, D.C.” But what got my attention was the date of the recording that was etched into the disc: May 27, 1897. This date was more than a month before Pryor’s first Berliner disc recordings. I began looking around and I found a transfer of a copy of Berliner 62Z at Yale University. The page about Yale’s copy didn’t have any more information about the recording but as I listened to it, it didn’t sound right. Something was wrong. Still, hearing it told me that I really wanted to obtain this copy of Berliner 62Z at the auction. It was clear to me that this was one of the earliest trombone recordings ever made on a record (as opposed to a wax cylinder). Also, while the soloist was unidentified, the band was not named with much specificity, and the composer’s name was absent, I liked the piece. So, I placed a bid with the auction house and waited. I won.
Kevin and I traveled to Donley Auction Services to pick up the record. It was in rough shape, very dirty, and it had a few divots as well. But Kevin thought it would clean up nicely so I left the record with him for him to make a transfer. He has excellent equipment to make this kind of transfer from an early record—something he did many times during our research about Homer Rodeheaver—and I knew he would do what he could.
While Kevin was preparing to make the transfer, I started looking around for more information about Berliner 62Z. Having established that the record was made over a month before Arthur Pryor’s first records, I thought that I had just purchased an important part of trombone history. The first thing I set about to do was to identify the piece. With only the title Romance for Trombone to go on, I began thinking of all of the trombone solos I know that have that title. Of course, there is the Romance for trombone by Carl Maria von Weber which, actually, probably was not composed by Weber. The Yale recording of Berliner 62Z instantly showed that it was not that Romance. Berliner records could only hold two minutes of music; the piece attributed to Weber was much too long, anyway. And it wasn’t the Romance by William Grant Still, a piece that Still had composed for saxophone and piano (and orchestra) that I transcribed for trombone solo at the request of Still’s daughter, Judith Anne Still. Berliner 62Z had to be something else.
Entries for Romance for Trombone (versions for band, and orchestra and piano) by Charles William Bennet, from the Catalogue of Copyright Entries: Part 3: Musical Compositions, New Series, Volume 12, Part 2, Last Half of 1919, Nos. 8-13.
I then decided to look through the Catalog of Copyright Entries, a valuable resource I’ve used many times to track down copyright and publication dates of musical compositions. A long search ensued to find a piece titled Romance for trombone with band that was composed before 1897. I found a piece with that title in the Catalogue of Copyright Entries: Part 3: Musical Compositions, New Series, Volume 12, Part 2, Last Half of 1917, Nos. 8-13.
The composition was by C. W. Bennet, and it had been published by Carl Fischer. But why was it listed in the 1917 catalog? The piece was listed as having been first copyrighted on December 13, 1889. The 1889 catalog is not available online, but Romance was up for copyright renewal in 1917, hence its listing in the 1917 catalog. So, I had a candidate for the piece, but I needed the music to make a positive identification.
I then went to Worldcat, the comprehensive database of library collections around the world, and I found several libraries that had a Romance by Bennet. A band version was held by the Chatfield Music Lending Library in Chatfield, Minnesota, and a version for trombone and piano was held by University of Arizona Libraries. I first turned to Chatfield. The Library provides a tremendous resource to researchers and conductors by loaning out sets of music from their large collection. I had used their services while researching my recently published eight-part series of articles for the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal, A Comprehensive History of Tubby the Tuba: More than a Melody—More than Oompah. Chatfield had provided me with music to an arrangement of The Tubby the Tuba Song that was available nowhere else. Chatfield’s catalog didn’t mention that their copy of Romance was a solo for trombone but I decided to order the set and see what came my way. The staff at the Chatfield Music Lending Library could not have been more helpful—especially Library Manager Jerel Nielsen—and it was only a matter of hours before I had the answer to my question: Berliner 62Z was a recording of Charles William Bennet’s Romance for Trombone.
The conductor score/Solo Cornet part to the band arrangement of Charles William Bennet’s Romance. Courtesy of the Chatfield Music Lending Library.
The first (solo) trombone part to the band arrangement of Charles William Bennet’s Romance.Courtesy of the Chatfield Music Lending Library.
I then ordered the copy of Romance for trombone and piano from University of Arizona via Interlibrary Loan. The music arrived in a week—it was a match to the piece that Chatfield had. But I noticed one thing right away: Look at the trombone melody line in the first measure of the Agitato section. In the band version, the third note is a G-natural. But in the earlier version for trombone and piano, that note is a D-natural. On the recording, the soloist plays G-natural. Since Bennet had preserved his copyright at the time the band version was published, we can probably assume that Bennet made the change himself—although the change was in place as early as 1897, as evidenced on the Berliner 62Z record—and it’s hard to argue with his decision. Keeping the melody in an ascending line seems to heighten the tension of the Agitato section.
The trombone solo part to the trombone/piano version of Charles William Bennet’s Romance. Courtesy of University of Arizona Libraries.
Now that I had the music, I knew the key of Romance. The published music was in F-major. Now I understood why the Yale recording didn’t sound right to my ears: their transfer was made at the wrong speed. Many people assume that early records were recorded and played back at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). However, according to James Smart’s article, Berliner records were made at between 66 and 72 rpm. The Yale transfer of Berliner 62Z played in A-flat, a minor third higher than Bennet’s published key of F-major. Yale made its transfer at 78 rpm which was much too fast. However, since I published this article, I have been in contact with Yale University’s Collection of Historical Sound Recordings. The Director of the Collection, Mark Bailey, has informed me that they are aware that some of their Berliner records were digitized at the incorrect speed and they are at work on a speed correction project. This is welcome news, since Yale’s collection of over 700 Berliner records is such an important resource in our understanding of these early recordings.
Kevin cleaned the record and when I saw it, it seemed like a completely different disc. With the dirt and grime removed, it was clear that the record grooves were still there, even in the divots, and with the key of the piece firmly established, he made a transfer at 66 rpm. The result was a transfer that played in F-major.
The transfer was revelatory. While there was a lot of hiss and surface noise which is typical of recordings of the period, the performance—in the correct key of F-major—sounded more settled than the Yale transfer in the wrong, higher key of A-flat major. And it was clear that the trombone soloist was a good player. I sent the recording of the raw transfer to another friend of mine, William Conant, who plays E-flat bass (tuba) in the New England Brass Band, a group for which I was music director from 1998-2008. Bill has helped me on many occasions by applying gentle noise reduction to transfers of old recordings that has been useful in bringing out more of the sound of the original performance. After a few tries, he came up with a version of Berliner 62Z that allowed both the band and the soloist to be clearly heard.
One interesting thing immediately jumped out to me. When looking at the music, it was evident that in order to fit the performance of Romance onto a Berliner disc that could contain only two minutes of music (Kevin’s transfer of the record at 66 rpm clocks in at 1:57), a four measure interlude in the middle of the piece had been cut from the performance. Cuts like this were common in the early recording era in order to fit a piece on one side of a disc, and it was interesting to see one applied to the Berliner recording of Romance.
Having established the name of the composer, obtained the music, learned the key of the piece, and with a great transfer of my record in hand, there were still more problems to solve. Who was Charles William Bennet? What was the band, and who was the soloist? The record simply said, “Military Band, Washington D.C.” There was more work to do.
I found a little information on Bennet. The Wind Repertory Project, citing the Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music, reports that Bennet was born, raised, and died in Massachusetts (March 19, 1849-May 24, 1926). He served with the 56th Regiment-Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteers during the American Civil War where he began playing cornet. He eventually played euphonium, and enlisted in the United States Navy, serving for 30 years. In 1909, The Musical Observer (New York) printed a business card for William Charles Bennet on its “Directory” page (below). The Chatfield Music Lending Library has 32 of Bennet’s compositions. Bennet seems like a forgotten but interesting person and composer. We need more research to understand more about him, his life, and work:
Directory entry for Charles William Bennet, The Musical Observer, Vol. III, No. 7, July 1909, page 1.
Paul Charosh’s book on Berliner records speculates that the “Military Band, Washington D. C.” was probably Haley’s Concert Band, and the DAHR database, citing Charosh, makes the same conclusion. Charosh and the DAHR database show four issues of Berliner 62 – two recorded on May 27, 1897 (Berliner 62 and Berliner 62Z) with “Military Band, Washington D.C.,” one made on December 29, 1898 with an anonymous band (Berliner 62X), and one with no take number or date, but listed as recorded by “Haley’s Concert Band of Washington D. C.” I needed to learn more about Haley’s band.
I began a lengthy search to see if I could find any references to Haley’s Band around 1897. The first reference I found was from the Washington Times of December 1, 1895, an advertisement for the band’s first concert. The conductor was listed as Will[iam] A. Haley, and his group was called “Washington’s New Military Concert Band.”
Advertisement for the inaugural concert of William Haley’s Military Concert Band from the Washington Times (Washington DC), December 1, 1895, page 4.
An article in The Evening Star (Washington DC) from March 4, 1897, gave a brief biography of Haley, who was born in Washington DC in 1857 and played flute and piccolo in the United States Marine Band. He left the Marine Band in 1877, then played in several groups around the country, and subsequently formed his own band in 1895 composed of ex-members of the Marine Band. Haley also led an orchestra that played at the inauguration of President William McKinley in 1897. Another article in the Evening Star from November 27, 1897 referred to Haley’s band as the “Washington Military Concert Band.” Connecting the dots, it did not take much to lead to the reasonable conclusion that the “Military Band, Washington D.C.” that performed on Berliner 62Z was Haley’s “Washington Military Concert Band.”
Article about William Haley’s Military Concert Band with a mention of the band’s trombone section members, from The Evening Times (Washington DC), November 27, 1897, page 6.
But who was the trombone soloist on the record? I’ve found several clues. In an Evening Star review of a Haley Band concert from April 5, 1897, the trombone section of Messrs. Stone, Kruger, Meilhausen, and Thierbach were singled out for their fine playing in an arrangement of Meyerbeer’s Les Hugenots. On November 27, 1897, The Evening Times (Washington DC)—see the image above— featured an article that promoted an upcoming concert by Haley’s Band in which it announced another performance of the Meyerbeer arrangement, “by the great trombone section, Messrs. Stone, Kruger, and Muellhausen [this name is variously spelled “Meilhausen,” “Muehleisen, and “Muellhausen” in contemporary newspaper articles]. With the names of the trombone players in Haley’s band identified in April and November 1897, and Berliner 62Z recorded in May, 1897, it seems logical that the same players participated in the April, May, and November 1897 concerts and recording. And, since the players were not listed in alphabetical order, it’s likely that the players were listed in their order of position in the trombone section, with Mr. Stone playing first trombone.
Article from the Evening Star (Washington DC), November 28, 1896, page 24.
But there are more clues about the identity of the trombone soloist. After I first published this article, I continued looking for more information about the trombone section of Haley’s Washington Military Concert Band. I found several references to the band’s trombone soloist, Harry A. Stone, in announcements and reviews of Haley Band concerts. The newspaper announcement above, from the Evening Star (Washington DC) on November 28, 1896, mentions H. A. Stone, trombone soloist with Haley’s band, “who is said to be fully equal to Arthur Pryor on the trombone.”
Advertisement in the Washington Times (Washington DC), November 29, 1896, page 12.
The next day, November 29, 1896, a small advertisement (above) for the forthcoming concert by Haley’s band mentioned Harry A. Stone as the concert’s featured trombone soloist.
Review of a concert by Haley’s Washington Concert Band, the Evening Star (Washington DC), November 30, 1896, page 10.
Two days later, a review of the concert (above) appeared in the Evening Star which waxed enthusiastically about “Mr. Harry A. Stone, the trombone soloist of the band . . . Mr. Stone’s work on the trombone showed his complete mastery of the instrument.”
Announcement of United States Marine Band Concert, the Evening Star (Washington DC), July 10, 1886.
Announcement of United States Marine Band Concert, the Evening Star (Washington DC), July 31, 1886.
Digging a little deeper, I learned that Harry Stone was a member of the United States Marine Band under the leadership of John Philip Sousa. In July 1886 (clipping above), he was soloist in a performance of Cujus Animan from Rossini’s Stabat Mater. A few weeks later, he played Let All Obey by Michael William Balfe. (clipping above). Stone’s performance on July 10, 1886 may have been his first appearance as soloist with the Marine Band. I reached out to Master Sargent Kira Wharton, Chief Librarian/Historian for the United States Marine Band, and she filled in some more information about Harry A. Stone. He went by two names – Henry A. Stone and Harry A. Stone. As I’ve continued to research Stone, I have found only a few references to him as Henry, including his Marine Band muster roll records, and the program, below, from a concert the Marine Band played on October 2, 1890 in Washington DC for at a banquet at the annual meeting of the National Wholesale Druggists Association.
Program for a United States Marine Band Concert featuring Henry Stone, trombone soloist. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the National Wholesale Druggists Association, Arlington Hotel, Washington DC. October 2, 1890.
Harry Stone enlisted in the Marine Corps on May 6, 1886, served in the Marine Band from 1886-1893 at which time he left the band (he was among many players who left the band after John Philip Sousa left the Marine Band to form his own band in 1892), played in William Haley’s band from its establishment in 1895 to 1899, and rejoined the Marine Band in 1899, serving there until retiring in 1917. An article in the Washington Times (July 2, 1899)—below—mentioned that Stone was originally from Massachusetts, and he “has the honor to be the first trombone soloist who played the principal part for that instrument upon a slide trombone, the previous custom having been to employ a valve instrument for that place.” I asked Sgt. Kira Wharton about this—was Stone the first Marine Band trombonist to use a slide trombone?—and she said that photos of the Marine Band from the 1880s show players with slide trombones, so the article probably refers to Stone playing slide rather than valve trombone in the 21st Infantry Band.
An excerpt from an article about the United States Marine Band that writes about Harry Stone, principal trombonist of the Band, the Washington Times, July 2, 1899.
An article in the Evening Star (April 1, 1899)—below—stated that Harry Stone was rejoining the Marine Band, having left in 1893 after John Philip Sousa left the band.
Article about trombonist Harry Stone rejoining the United States Marine Band, the Evening Star (Washington DC), April 1, 1899.
There is more to Harry A. Stone. A search of census records found him in the 1900 United States Census, below.
Cropped image from United States Census, 1900, Washington DC, showing the entry for Harry A. Stone (line 47)
The Census record tells us several things. First, he called himself Harry, not Henry. He was a boarder, 41 years old (born in November 1848), single, and a musician. He said he and his parents were born in Canada, that he immigrated to the United States in 1861, and he was not a US citizen. I puzzled over this for a bit as I wondered how a non-US citizen could be a member of the United States Marine Band. But then I remembered research I had done on the mouthpiece and musical instrument maker Vincent Bach, who was born in Austria (his name at birth was Vinzenz Schrottenbach; he changed it to Vincent Bach while in England at the outbreak of World War I. Bach immigrated to the United States in 1914 and played associate principal trumpet in the Boston Symphony. Then (quoting from my entry on Bach in my new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Tuba, and Euphonium Player), “In 1916, despite not being a United States citizen, Bach was inducted into the U.S. Army where he served as a sergeant and bandmaster for the 306th Field Artillery Band at Camp Union, New York.” He became a US citizen in 1925. Further communication with Marine Band Librarian/Historian Sgt. Kira Wharton confirmed that citizenship was not a requirement for membership in the Marine Band or the military in general at the time Stone was in the band.
A paragraph about Harry A. Stone from an article about United States Marine Band members who are also composers, the Washington Post (Washington DC), September 17, 1906.
News articles also made mention of Harry A. Stone’s Canadian ancestry , as evidenced in the paragraph (above – Stone is referred to as “French Canadian”) in an article from 1906 about U.S. Marine Band members who were also composers. It also seems that Stone’s compositions were performed on numerous occasions, as evidenced by the review of a concert by William Haley’s Band from April 1897—below— that mentioned a performance of Stone’s march, Matinee Girls as well as a fine performance by members of the the Haley Band’s trombone section.
Review of a concert by William Haley’s Band with a mention of Harry Stone as the composer of The Matinee Girls, the Washington Times, April 5, 1897.
As an aside, United States Marine Band Historian Master Sergeant Kira Wharton also told me that Louis M. Kruger, who played trombone in Haley’s band with Harry A. Stone, had also been a member of the U.S. Marine Band. Kruger served as a trombonist in the Marine Band several times, from 1874-1897, 1880-1885, 1891-1895 (he then joined Haley’s Washington Military Concert Band where he played alongside Harry A. Stone), and again from 1898-1917. Kruger also apparently played viola on outside gigs.
In 1905, Harry A. Stone was advertised as a featured soloist with the U. S. Marine Band in a concert on December 3, 1905 (below). This is just one of many examples of advertisements of US Marine Band concerts that featured Stone as trombone soloist.
Announcement of United States Marine Band concert with Harry A. Stone, trombone soloist, the Evening Star (Washington DC), December 3, 1905.
In 1907, Harry A. Stone was appointed to the faculty of the University of Music and Dramatic Art in Washington DC (below).
Announcement of the appointment of Harry A. Stone as trombone teacher at the University of Music and Dramatic Art, Washington DC, the Evening Star (Washington DC), September 22, 1907.
Of particular interest was the discovery of a photograph of Harry Stone (below), from an article published in 1902 about the the United States Marine Band.
Photograph of trombonist Harry Stone, part of an article, “Will Washington Lose the Marine Band?”, the Washington Times (Washington DC), March 9, 1902.
After I discovered this photo of Harry Stone, I asked U.S. Marine Band Librarian and Historian Sgt. Kira Wharton if the Band archives had any photos from Stone’s years of service in the Marine Band. She sent two photos of the band that were taken during Stone’s first enlistment in the band (1886-1893) which I include below with her permission.
United States Marine Band in Philadelphia, 1887. Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.
This photo (above) is interesting on several levels, including the presence of a helicon in the center, back row, an instrument that was used in the band before the invention of the Sousaphone in 1895. Based on the verified photo of Harry Stone that appeared in the Washington Times in 1902, Sgt. Wharton and I believe that Harry Stone, who is identifiable by his square chin and small, cropped mustache, is seen standing in the front right of the photo.
Trombonist Harry A. Stone (cropped from the larger photo, above, of the United States Marine Band in Philadelphia, 1887). Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.
A second photograph of the band (below) was taken in 1891 for publicity for its 1892 tour. Sgt. Wharton and I believe Harry Stone is shown standing at the left end of the group of four trombone players, in the back row. He does not appear to have a mustache in this photo.
United States Marine Band in Washington DC, 1891 (publicity photo for the Band’s 1892 tour). Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.
Trombonist Harry A. Stone (cropped from the larger photo, above, of the United States Marine Band in Washington DC, 1891). Photo courtesy of U. S. Marine Band Archives.
There is more research to do and one should not jump to conclusions, but at the moment, I believe a reasonable preponderance of the evidence allows us to conclude that Berliner 62Z, recorded on May 27, 1897, featured the Romance for Trombone and Band by Charles William Bennet, performed by Harry (AKA Henry) A. Stone, the first trombonist of the Washington Military Concert Band of Washington DC, conducted by William Haley. This record is certainly one of the earliest records to feature a trombone solo with an accompanying ensemble.
As I continued my research, it became clear that Berliner Records thought that Romance for Trombone was a significant piece and that their recording of it was an important entry in their catalog. In late 1897, an article about Berliner Records appeared in several popular publications. This article was more like an “infomercial,” a paid advertisement in the guise of an article, replete with photographs and drawings, designed to entice readers to add Berliner Records and a Berliner Gramophone to their home. The article by Cleveland Moffett, “Through the Needle’s Point,” appeared in The Cosmopolitan (Vol. 23, No. 6, October 1897), Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (Vol. 44, No. 5, November 1897), and Scribner’s Magazine (Vol. 22, No. 6, December 1897).
“Through the Needle’s Point” by Cleveland Moffett. Scribner’s Magazine, Vol XXII, No. 6, December, 1897. Advertising supplement, pages i-ii.
Moffett’s article includes a list of 18 Berliner records arranged as a program that one could play at home for family members and guests “for pleasure, for instruction, and for general benefit.” Among the 18 records are three that feature the trombone: Berliner 62Z, Romance of the Trombone [sic], Berliner 3310, Happy Days in Dixie, recorded by Arthur Pryor on July 27, 1897, and Berliner 826Z, Adeste Fidelis (O Come, All Ye Faithful), recorded on July 22, 1897 by a quartet of members of Sousa’s band that included Walter Pryor (brother of Arthur) and Henry Higgins, cornet, and Marcus Lyon and Arthur Pryor, trombone. Clearly, the Berliner 62Z recording of William Bennet’s Romance was thought of highly enough to include in this list of select Berliner records, a list designed to appeal to a broad audience of potential home listeners.
What does Berliner 62Z add to our knowledge base of early trombone playing and recordings? Certainly the soloist, who my research leads me to I believe was probably the Washington Military Concert Band’s first trombonist, Harry A. Stone, does not exhibit the kind of technical prowess shown by the great Arthur Pryor in his recordings of The Blue Bells of Scotland and other such works, despite newspaper reports that Stone was “fully equal to Arthur Pryor on the trombone.” But Bennet’s Romance is a piece that emphasizes musical expression and drama. And the soloist communicates that, even over its short, two-minute length. Listeners will notice that Stone plays some of the eighth notes as sixteenth notes, thereby heightening the motion of the musical line. He also seems to be struggling a bit with his breath control, but we must keep in mind that both the soloist and the band were closely gathered around a recording horn and were playing loudly so they could be picked up by the recording equipment. The piece has a modest two-octave range, but Harry A. Stone always plays with appropriate style; his vibrato is never overdone.
By now, you’re probably thinking, “OK, Professor, all of this is really interesting. But can I hear the record?” Yes. I’ve just uploaded the audio file with images to YouTube and you can hear and view it HERE:
Berliner 62Z offers a window into the early years of trombone solo recording while at the same time it brings back to life a piece that has been long forgotten, William Charles Bennet’s Romance. Bennet’s Romance was published by Carl Fischer, a major music publishing house, which indicates that it was considered to be a worthy addition to band concerts and trombone recital programs. Berliner also considered the piece to be significant enough that it promoted their recording of Romance among its most highly recommended releases, a record that families could enjoy at home while assembled around the Gramophone. As one of the first records to ever feature a trombone solo with an accompanying ensemble, it is an ancestor of the plethora of superb trombone solo recordings that are with us today.
I want to express my thanks to Kevin Mungons, William Conant, Sgt. Kira Wharton, and Gary King for their assistance in my research about Berliner 62Z, Harry A. Stone, and the preparation of this article.