Saturday, February 13, 2016

Edward Issler and other things

Well, yesterday was the birthdate of this chap:
Len Spencer(maybe from c.1900? I don't actually know, but it's not from 1896-1898)
I did not do a post specifically on Spencer because I speak of him so much on this blog, I think just playing a bunch of his records yesterday will do. 
I have been thinking a little of Edward Issler this afternoon:
Yes indeed, that somewhat mysterious pianist who dominated the piano accompaniment on most records made from 1890 to 1896. Many record collectors wonder what his real role was in the recording industry, with the assumption that he did more than just play the piano. Many sources and experts have often said that Issler was also a recording engineer in the studios at Edison, North American, and Columbia. What specifically did he do? Piano balancing? What? It's hard to know, but we do know that he was a master at getting a piano correctly balanced, as just take a listen to some of his parlor orchestra's records!

Those somewhat few cylinders by Issler's orchestra that exist now are among the best sounding cylinders from the 1890's. They sounded great when they were new, and they still sound just as full and clear as they once did. Most are not as loud as they once were, but every note is still there. Even the deep bass notes on the piano are still very clear. From how great they sounded, Issler must have had some special skills with recording and balancing. Even when Issler was behind a singer, he still came through beautifully on all of those records(yes, I know that this was before the era of duplication, so most of these Issler cylinders are original masters), more so than Hylands did, most of the time anyhow. Now whatever it was that he did, he did a better job than the recording engineers that were there regularly, well, with the piano specifically. Everything else must have been done by the studio workers. 
That picture that I use often on this blog:
Yes, that one. 
This picture actually is a little more interesting than one would think. Why so? Well that pianist is actually not George Schweinfest, not Fred Hylands, and not Fred Gaisberg. Who is it then? Well, it would have to be Edward Issler. Here's my theory as to why I think it's Issler. First of all, see that faint beard? Yep, that pretty much give it away. Secondly, the shape of the one ear that's visible is the same as the one you can see in that picture of him I put toward the beginning of this post. Also, the physique matches none of the other pianists I listed. just to give you an idea if ever having to identify a pianist in an early studio picture, here's a little guide:
Ed Issler: About 5 and a half feet tall, with a full beard, long note that flares out a little at the bottom, ears that were slightly pointed at the ends, a slight build and no glasses(just like the picture above pretty much)

Fred Gaisberg: five foot 3, dark eyes, dark hair, a moustache slightly curled, kind of small hands, and a bent but long nose. 

George Schweinfest: Short in height, broad shoulders, almost flat forehead, long nose, large shapely ears, small blue or green eyes(more likely to be blue though), a wide moustache that was well-curled upward at the ends, did wear glasses regularly, but you won't always find him in a picture wearing them. 

Fred Hylands: Very tall(when I say that, I mean at least 6 foot 3), with copper or blondish hair, light-coloured but somewhat thick eyebrows, intense, wide and expressive eyes(that were almost certainly steel blue), a very long bent nose, ears that looked each a little different, sometimes wore gold reading glasses very long legs, long hands, rounded forehead, slicked back hair, you get the rest, I think I've explained this before. 

I wish there was know more about Issler, as we don't even know what happened to him after he ended recording in 1900. That's why every source you will find that has any information about Issler, you will see his dates as 1855-?, and that's all. It makes sense, as not much was known about him when he was popular anyway. He certainly was a fascinating character, that more needs to be known about for sure. 

I find it hard to stay on a single subject this evening, so I feel that this would be a good point to share some of these theories I have about these great recording stars. Not all of them are ones that I would openly share, just to be kind and moderate, but there are some I can share openly here. Here are some:

-Many friends of mine in the record collecting community have come to the notion that Len Spencer was certainly one who had his share of wild parties and late nights. As he not only looked as so, several little things in The Phonoscope and from other friends of his, he was a drinker, and did certainly love the frivolous side of being a "Rag-Time" singer. I do not want to get further into this subject writing here, sorry. That's all I will say, allow your imaginations to wander from here. 

-I have a notion that Frank P. Banta was a much more complicated character than he was said to be. It is certainly true that Banta was a "workaholic" type, who couldn't stay away from the studio, and getting his own music and arrangements written. It is uncertain what sort of troubles Banta had, but they probably weren't too bad, as his family did live in a very nice part of New York City and had house servants, sounds great! But Banta didn't take advantage of this life though, he still lived like a working class employee by working more than he actually had to in the studio, and coming home to write out more arrangements. It's hard to know, as it was hard for him, living with asthma, and having a very intense job. It's hard to know what was behind that very kind and soulful man. 

- I know that I speak of Fred Hylands very much here, but I have the notion that the might have been somewhat bi-polar. Why? Well there must have been a side to him that was never spoken of, as all of those recording stars that were interviewed later never mentioned him(or very rarely did), so there must have been a reason why. What was it? I don't really know, and no one I have asked about it does either. They always praised him for his ability to fill a room with his presence, and his non-pareiled charm. Being a genius type, he was certainly slightly unstable mentally, so he must have been a great manipulator(with people that is). By this, I mean that he could control what people thought of things easily, and that he also could keep someone convinced with anything he believed in. He was hypnotizing if you will. Kind of bizarre to think of it that way, but the analogy works if you think about it. That's what some geniuses can do. 

-I wonder about how Ossman treated the stage partners he had. Such as this one here:
We know that Ossman was a narcissist, and that he had a terribly short temper. How did he treat his stage partners? Other than Frank P. Banta, and Tommy Glynn, Ossman hadn't really very many other people share the stage with him
 (and no, I am not forgetting George and Audley Dudley!), which in itself sounds about right, considering who he was. Ossman did have to be just an accompanist sometimes, like when he worked with Len Spencer, or Arthur Collins. He was probably very unjust with stage partners, probably doing underhanded deals with the stage managers(one of whom was probably Fred Hylands in 1897!) to make sure that he get paid more money than his partner, regardless of their role with him. He must not have ever told the people he played with about these, and if they found out, that's probably why they split with him. In fact, that's part of the reason that Ossman split with the Dudley brothers in 1908, as George Dudley's wife recalled that it was Vess' sly financial injustices that caused them to finally severe their relationship with him at last. This must have also been part of why Banta kindly told him to not have tours with the two of them after 1897. Hylands wouldn't have taken any of that crap! So who knows what he did with him...

I hope you enjoyed this! 

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