Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fascinating new Theories

After conversing with Ryan Wishner last evening, we came to some interesting conclusions and notions that had not previously been discussed. Before I get into all that, I must revise some of what I said in the last post, and add to it. It seems that with a little help, we've been able to find some more on these two:
All-right, so it seems that we've figured out the birthdates for everyone in Issler's orchestra! Now that's better than collectors have known for many a decade! So, lets list them in chronological order, birthdate and deathdate:

David Brown Dana(1850-c.1914)

Edward Issler(1856-1943)

George Schweinfest(1862-1949)

William Tuson(1864-1943)

Got it! It seemed really surprising to Charlie Judkins and I to find that not only was Dana older than the others, but he was older than everyone had expected, and than all the old recording sources gu-estimated. With his birthdate being 1850, Dana would have been 39 when he began recording with Issler. He would have been in his 40's when recording regularly with Issler which is very unusual for the time, and really puts it in to an interesting perspective. Also, something to correct from the last post, Dana was not originally from Patterson New Jersey, that's where he was in the 1880's, he was originally from Rhode Island. Something interesting to note, Dana's father John was a machinist. This fact further cements the strange connections of machinery/engineering and musicians in general. If there's an engineering mindset in a family, there's going to inevitably be a musician in the family somewhere, it's just how it happens. 
Think about it,
Ben Harney was a fantastic mathematician before he found music.

Hylands' father was a Locomotive engineer. 

Dana's father was a machinist.

Banta tuned and repaired pianos as a child

It's all starting to fit together. Finally was have somewhere to start with Dana, though we don't know when he died. The guesses that many sources online state are actually not too inaccurate, since from what we can find, he certainly died in the mid-1910's, but the exact year is what we can't find. Either way, he was in his sixties when he died, which was certainly better than average in the era. We found Tuson's dates, which were much more exact than expected, since these Issler members seem to be a real project in terms of piecing together. Tuson lived a long life like Schweinfest, at almost 80 when he died, that's nearing Issler and Schweinfest's age(they were both 87 when they died). Not much else was found on Tuson, though the dates were really what we needed to start, since no one seemed to have found them before then. 
Now that we got that out of the way...

Now back to the beginning of the post. 
So last evening, many of these new theories we discussed were some that need to be shared. Most of these seem as though they were completely wild and outrageous. To begin, we go back to that strange connection in the last post between Thomas Hindley and the Issler crew. 

It's likely that the only reason this piece was recorded so many times in the 1890's is because Hindley was a close friend of the studio musicians. By that, I mean the first studio musicians, Issler and his orchestra. The sole fact that Hindley was mentioned in a single section working in the same pit orchestra as Dana and Tuson suggests a direct connection between "Patrol Comique" and the earliest recording stars. It does seem a little strange that such a somewhat obscure piece like that was recorded so many times in a short period, by essentially all the popular studio musicians. 

This brings me to another theory, what about Hindley directly? What if...he  was in the recording studios? It wouldn't come as a shock if Hindley just happened to be one of those studio pianists for the more obscure record companies early on(1889-1894). Really think about this, what is the composition of "Patrol Comique" like? Well, if you were to ask me, I would say it sounds an awful lot like the style that was associate with Fred Hylands, and only Hylands in this matter, because it doesn't really sound like Issler as much as it does Hylands. Okay, here's the piece as written:
Not only do we see well founded syncopation, we see alternating an ever-interesting left hand playing. Hmm...
I'm not saying that Hindley is on any of those dozen or so takes of "Patrol Comique" out there, but with all of this being said, there's a slight possibility of this being so. Of course, the likelihood of this is so slight that it shouldn't be well-noted. However, the possibility of such a pianist as Hindley being a studio star is a little more than just a coincidence. After doing some digging on Hindley, he appears to have been the music director of the famous fifth avenue theater in New York in the 1880 in to the later-1890's. 
Here's a not-so-great drawing of him from a New York Theatrical Paper, dated 1891(though the picture's probably from c.1887)
It was stated that oddly enough, Hindley was from Manchester England, and he emigrated to the U. S. in 1870. Okay, so it seems he was probably around Dana's age, because it says that he got work in orchestras out in the U. S. by 1871. It seems that he was a cornet and piano player, which is an odd combination, but makes sense since he was mentioned as working with Dana, who was also a cornetist. He seemed to be mentioned in theatrical papers similarly to Hylands, since they were both music directors, and worked in various popular orchestra pits in vaudeville. Funny to think that Hindley was likely connected to the recording studios, as well as being a pit rival and director of Hylands, and even a musical writer! Wow. Seems we've kind of found a Hylands double! Well, he was doing all of this a little earlier than Hylands was, but the amount of parallels seem to be surprising. 
Wow! The similarities between Hindley and Hylands are astonishing!
It must be noted that Dana was in Newark NJ in the 1870's, as well as Issler, and Hindley just the same. So without a doubt it seems that these characters knew each other, and were likely friends from working in similar pits and with similar companies. While more unfolds about Hindley, I will report in coming blog posts, since this strange connection of him maybe being a studio pianist is not just a small crazy thing. We need to keep this in mind when listening to brown wax. There's not much we can do with this information as of now, but we need to save it for when more unfolds. 

Okay, now to another fantastic theory. 
We certainly know that freaky chap. Yes indeed, Len Spencer. So, his beginnings in recording may seem pretty clear on the surface, but in reality, they're missing a lot of the essential pieces of information. First of all, the dates are often a little fuzzy, some people say 1889, 1888, and even 1887. Why the hell does this matter? It's just a date.

Well, I'll tell you why it matters. 

This may seem a little outlandish, but think about this. I firmly stand on 1887 as the date he began working with the phonograph. Only because he must have started having to run errands for his father to fix the new-fangled machine(phonograph) owned by the college. The local company in Washington at the time(1887) was Bell and Tainter. Of course, during this time, the boys(Bell and Tainter) were working on all sorts of strange sound devices, though their latest triumph over Edison was the Graphophone. They also invented the idea of wax cylinders(Ha! take that Edison!). 

With this being said, young busy teacher Len Spencer had to run some errands for his old dad. Think of it like how young people now have to often help old people with their cell phones. Same thing. Len's curiosity soon boiled over for this graphophone thingy. But of course, since Len was curious, he soon got to a different idea. Doing something different from office dictation(what it was intended for). Spencer recorded sound effects like tapping a pen on a table, hitting a wine glass with a spoon, and soon wondered, "What do I sound like?"

There you go folks. In 1887, Len Spencer was likely one of the first to ever think that recording music was a good idea, and had public potential(NOT JUST AS EXPERIMENTS!!!) and therefore likely made the first commercial recordings of popular music. This is Len Spencer folks. Just before Columbia  was formed, he was already pitching the idea to Bell and Tainter that the future of the graphophone was music! Oddly enough, it was around 1888 that Bell and Tainter began experimenting with recording music for their contraption. Well, there you go, because of Spencer, Bell and Tainter(who in 1889 fell into Columbia) became the first commercial recording company. We know that Spencer recorded commercially by 1889, but it's likely that in 1888, he was doing the same he did for Columbia, for Bell and Tainter. Thanks to Frank Dorian, we know how Spencer started, at Columbia that is. 

See there's your issue. Dorian didn't know about his association with Bell and Tainter, which would HAVE  to have been what he was using if he was conducting all of those experiments in 1887 and 1888. Columbia was not selling their own machines under patent until 1889(ish). Spencer likely made trips to the Volta Lab several times in 1887 and 1888, until he learned of Columbia getting set up at their famous Lab on Pennsylvania Avenue:
Thinking of dandy Spencer, he probably rode a fancy bicycle to the Volta and early Columbia labs to buy and steal parts and pieces from them for his experiments. Of course sooner than later Master Easton took to the young man and allowed him to record and conduct his experiments under their roof rather than awkwardly doing so at the business college. It also must have been out of the fact that the slim management Columbia hired at the time were well-interested in Spencer's curious desire to promote recording music. We know that in 1889, that was when recording music took off for all the record companies. Spencer's influence was no longer present after that. 
We also know that 1889 was when studio musicians were hired for the first time, since recording music was the future at that point. In about early March of 1889, Ed Issler became the first studio pianist, and around the same time, Issler brought in his newly-formed parlor orchestra.

Whew! With all of that being said, I'll save the Rag-time theories for the next post. Those were just as important as these listed above, but will make this post too long. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 


  1. Some really neat information here - I'm glad the Issler Orch. personnel info is becoming clearer, and I was curious as to who might be the pianist here -
    The comments show I'm not the only person curious, either...

    1. Ah yes, well, the Issler fans are rare and well-hidden. Though more collectors ought to pay respect to these fantastic and one-of-a-kind musicians. They were the first studio musicians anyhow.

      You know, those Lamberts are always the worst for piano identification. I listened to that about a half hour ago, and after several listens still don't really know where to stand, though I will say that it sounds more like Banta than anyone else on the surface.

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