The Magnificent CNE Grandstand Orchestra

The year was 1953 and I had just started my new role as music director of the CNE Grandstand Show. My very first task was to hire a new orchestra. I knew these musicians would have to be first class because of the tight time demands that would be placed upon them.

Rehearsals for the performers began in mid-July, giving them a month to get it right. But because the orchestra was large (61 players), there would be a high cost attached to each day of their rehearsal. To keep expenses manageable, the orchestra was brought in only 4 days before opening. Therefore, I needed top players who could sight read quickly and form into sections smoothly. Today, getting the best players all together in one summer show would be almost impossible, because they would be booked elsewhere. But two things played in my favour back in the 50s and 60s: The Toronto Symphony contracts didn’t cover the summer months, and studio work was mostly in hiatus. The best musicians in town were available for me to hire – and the resulting ensemble was spectacular.

How good were these men? The American agents (and the stars they booked for us) named it the best light orchestra in North America!

One thing that did not sit right with me at the beginning was the way the musicians were credited (or rather, NOT credited) in the Grandstand program. The audience could read the names of almost everyone involved in the show – the dancers, the vocalists and in one case, even the supplier of Jimmy Durante’s hat! But the musicians were only listed as “The CNE Grandstand Orchestra.” For players as fine as these, I had to get this changed.

Today, 60 years later, I still have a few old programs. The image below (from approximately 1956-57) shows how the musicians were finally listed.

Cut from a CNE Grandstand Show program (1956-57)

Cut from a CNE Grandstand Show program

Do you recognize any of these great players? Leave a comment below if you have a memory to share about any of them.

*This is Part 2 of 2 (Find Part 1, “CNE Grandstand Show Introduction” here)


Filed under CNE Grandstand Show

30 responses to “The Magnificent CNE Grandstand Orchestra

  1. Pingback: CNE Grandstand Show Introduction | Howard Cable Remembers

  2. typosintheline

    Those last names are fascinating; as is the entire piece.

  3. Diane Nelsen

    What wonderful memories, Howard! I joined you in 1960 and the stars were Victor Borge and Jon Vickers. We did a fantastic scene of Johann Strauss Jr. “The Blue Danube”. Thanks so much for bringing back these days/nights for us.

  4. Richard Hornsby

    Wow! What a great group. Were there ever any recordings made?

  5. Diane, I remember that show! I’ll try to do a blog post about it one day.

  6. Yes, Richard, luckily the CNE sound people recorded every show from the stage as it was being played. The recordings are currently kept at the CNE Archives building. I had the pleasure of listening to some of them several years ago. The orchestra sounded phenomenal.

  7. Charlotte Moon (Robbins)

    It warms my heart to see the names of so many of the musicians who were very kind to a young harpist who arrived in Toronto in 1975. Thanks, Howard!

  8. Richard Hornsby

    That is great that they were recorded. I teach a Canadian music course and it would be great if I could use a clip. Do you know someone i could contact there to see if that would be possible? Thanks Howard

  9. Richard: I’ll email you with that information. H

  10. Hi Charlotte: Didn’t I book you to play Tony Bennett at the Royal York in 1975? Nice to see you on the blog. Stay in touch.

  11. Hap Roderman

    Wow-what a trip down memory lane! Thanks so much Howard. Almost every name provokes a memory for me. BTW- I have a pic of you in cowboy gear (for the Roy Rogers show-which I attended as a very happy 5 year old). When I find it I’ll pass it along. Best wishes for 2014

  12. Howard, thank you for sharing this!
    – Susan Piltch (Bernie’s daughter)

  13. Susan Piltch

    Amazing to see this! Howard, thanks so much for posting this. -Susan Piltch (Bernie’s daughter)

  14. Charlotte Moon (Robbins)

    Yes! Also, you booked me for my very first gig in Toronto–Joey Heatherton at the Imperial Room–for which I got a mention from Wilder Penfield III in the Toronto Star! Thanks again, Howard.

  15. Hi Susan:
    I have great memories of Bernie. He was such a key player for me.
    So good to see you on the blog. Keep in touch.

  16. Peggy Feltmate

    My gosh, WHAT a line-up! So many great memories! I remember Howie Reay in a Beatles haircut and John Lennon glassses visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake. Of course dear friends Bernie and Erich. Peter Appleyard’s good cheer – and Silver Cloud Rolls! The gentle Murray Lauder. Vair Capper with a grey ponytail – and I seem to remember him in overalls?? Did he play for your Theatre in The Square summer series in Gravenhurst? And didn’t Abe Galper draw the wonderful cartoon of you?

  17. Tom Skublics

    OK…I was born in 1957 and studied with Abe Galper in 1973 for a few years; and began my “full-time” music career in roughly 1984. It is amazing and I feel very fortunate that so many of those great musicians continued to be active then, and I had the chance to play with them. I have always felt that the time I had playing in the Imperial Room was like ‘graduate school’ after Humber College. Thanks Howard.

  18. When I was a student at Humber College (’78 – “80) Ron collier was my arranging and composition teacher, it was a fabulous opportunity to have private time with such a talented and inspirational musician.

  19. Peggy:
    I’m not sure about Vair’s overalls, but I certainly do remember his ponytail. And yes Abe drew this (and a few other) caricatures of me. One day I’ll make a blog post of all his Cable cartoons.

  20. Tom:
    I certainly remember “Count Skublics”. Do you?

  21. Scott:
    Ron was a wonderful musician and teacher. One of the best!

  22. Richard, if you do get a reply from them in the positive, see if they might be amiable to placing that collection online somewhere like! Would be an amazing resource to have available.

  23. When I was a student in Toronto in the late 70’s I’d see a lot of these names (and/or their kids) at either of the CBC live-studio up on the second floor of the mall at Cumberland & Bay or late nights at the Mother Necessity Jazz Workshop (another Canadian institution that could sure do with some ardent historical journalism!)

  24. Hi Gary: That era was one of the BEST for hearing the great musicians of our country. So pleased that you were able to experience it.

  25. It seems Vair often wore overalls when he was lugging gear in and out, and always the half-gloves

  26. In 1978 Ted Moses recorded the Mother Necessity Big Band, CBC published the album, titles ‘More Than Ever’. I was playing tenor in that band, as well as a regular with Howard at the Royal York. It was fun running from one gig to the next.

  27. mrG

    Really?!! Oh I’d love to hear it! Harvey, any chance you still have a copy of that LP? At least knowing now the name, the years and label (which makes sense, Katherine Moses recorded on CBC as did many others from that social circle) it gives me something to search up. Thanks for this tip!

    it is also always comforting to have corroboration on the existence of the MNJW; there are times when I begin to think I only dreamed it.

  28. Kenneth Hodge

    I studied at Humber College in 1980 to 1981and went to Don Johnson for breath coaching and he sent me to Nick Kilburn for bassoon lessons. I know the children of many of these players and play a number of Eddie Graf’s arrangements in John Liddle’s bands.

  29. Sarah Muzzatti

    My grandfather was Jim O’Driscoll of the Nice and Easy Band. One of the recordings of “what are you doing with the rest of your life” from the CNE was my wedding song. He was long retired once I came along but his music always lived on in our house. So happy to find this.

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