Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


FARNON, Robert

(b 24 July 1917, Toronto, Ontario; d 23 April 2005, Guernsey) Composer, arranger, conductor; perhaps the most influential arranger since WWII of what is called 'light music' in the UK, used to be called 'mood music' in the USA. From a musical family, he played drums, then cornet, then trumpet; he studied with Louis Waizman (b Ludwig Waizmann, 6 Nov. 1863, Salzburg, allegedly in the same house where Mozart was born; d 24 Aug. '51, Toronto), a composer who was a staff arranger at CBC; another pupil was Percy Faith, for whom Farnon played trumpet in CBC Music by Faith series (he also wrote arrangements for vocal group). Dizzy Gillespie said that Farnon was the best trumpet player in Toronto: 'He knew chords and played notes you just didn't hear other trumpet players play.' He sat in at Minton's and Eddie Condon's in NYC; played in the Happy Gang on radio (the comedy/music show was a Canadian institution for many years) and had his own CBC show plus work on commercial stations. His first symphony '41 was played in Toronto, Philadelphia and New York; second '42 on CBC. He joined the Canadian Army '43; led the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF): George Melachrino led the UK band, Glenn Miller the US one; though the best Canadian players were in touring units, some thought Farnon's was better due to his writing (Farnon himself said Miller's was better). He listened to shortwave radio from America, copied songs off the air harmony and all, so that his band had the new songs before anybody else.

He wrote film music in the UK and settled in Guernsey '59: about 30 soundtrack scores included Captain Horatio Hornblower '51, Where's Charley? '52, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes '55, Cliff Richard film Expresso Bongo '59, the last Crosby/Hope film Road To Hong Kong '62; also TV mini-series A Man Called Intrepid '80, etc. He wrote for UK bands Geraldo, Ted Heath, Ambrose; signed with Decca '46, arranged and conducted for Gracie Fields, Anne Shelton and Vera Lynn; also accompanied Frank Sinatra (Great Songs From Great Britain '62), Sarah Vaughan (Vaughan With Voices '63, aka Blue Orchids, made in Copenhagen); and Tony Bennett: Snowfall -- The Tony Bennett Christmas Album '68, Get Happy '71 with the LPO in London's Royal Albert Hall, With Love and The Good Things In Life '72: all the Bennett albums charted in the USA, the first three on CBS, last on MGM-Verve. Also with vocal group the Singers Unlimited, Lena -- A New Album '76 with Lena Horne on RCA, On Target '82 with George Shearing on MPS/Pausa; Love Is... '84 with tenor José Carreras '83 on Philips; with Pia Zadora: Pia And Phil '85 ('Phil' is the London Philharmonic; the LP made the Billboard pop chart early '86), I Am What I Am '86 on CBS, another was planned (Zadora, b '56, got over terrible notices as an actress to get good reviews as a singer). He made a single '72 with underrated pop singer Tommy Leonetti (d 15 Sep. '79; biggest hit was 'Free' '56, top 30 USA on Capitol), albums with Tony Coe, UK singer Ray Ellington, many more. He would have made LPs with Peterson and Gillespie in Berlin '62, but musicians' unions prevented it.

His compositions included suites for Shearing and Oscar Peterson; Saxophone Triparti '71 for three saxes and orchestra; arranged folk song 'Blow The Wind Southerly' for Gillespie and the American Wind Ensemble '78, Canadian Impressions (the ten-part suite recorded '55 included 'A la Claire Fontaine', a folk-song setting which has been described as Canada's Finlandia); short pieces included 'Jumping Bean'/'Portrait Of A Flirt' (his first 78 '48, the last later used as part of Peterson's suite), 'How Beautiful Is Night', 'Manhattan Playboy', 'Malaga', 'Melody Fair', 'Lazy Day', 'Country Girl' (based on Wordsworth poem 'The Solitary Reaper'; recorded by Bennett), many more. André Previn described Farnon to Johnny Mercer as 'the greatest arranger in the world'; arrangers admitting to his influence included Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, Roger Kellaway, Neal Hefti, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mandel, John Williams, Pat Williams. Marion Evans wrote for Bennett, Steve Lawrence and others; taught J. J. Johnson, Torrie Zito etc requiring them to study Farnon's series of LPs on Decca (London USA), later all out of print, including Flirtation Walk '54, Two Cigarettes In The Dark '55, Something To Remember You By '55 (music of Arthur Schwartz), Together '57 (music of DeSylva, Brown and Henderson: US title Sunny Side Up), From The Highlands '57, From The Emerald Isle '59, Gateway To The West '59 (American themes), Symphonic Suite: Porgy And Bess '66. Compilations, reissues of 78s etc on Decca's USA Richmond budget label included Stardust ('50-5 tracks), Cocktails For Two ('54), By A Waterfall ('54).

In 1958 Everest Records commissioned a set of compositions (including 'Goblin's Gavotte') from Tony Tamburello (d 1992 aged 72) and hired Farnon to record them. Music Tailored To Your Taste (arrangements by Bruce Campbell) was recorded in London, but Farnon's name could not appear on the album for contractual reasons; the orchestra was called the Everest Concert Orchestra, and the conducting credited to producer Derek Boulton, Farnon's manager.

 A Hornblower concert suite and a Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra were recorded '59, on Delyse UK, Citadel USA; The Music Of Robert Farnon '60 included Rhapsody, Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra (with Tommy Riley), other short pieces on Baby Grand in USA. Later instrumental LPs on Philips included Sensuous Strings Of Robert Farnon '62, Conducts My Fair Lady And Other Musical Bouquets '65, A Portrait Of Johnny Mathis and Plays The Hits Of Sinatra '65; also Showcase For Soloists '73 on Invicta, In A Dream World '74 on Rediffusion. Pye LPs from '74-6 were Sketches Of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra '76 (including 'Country Girl'), Robert Farnon And The London Philharmonic Orchestra At Royal Festival Hall '74 ('My Fair Lady' medley, 'Porgy And Bess' suite, 'Farnon Fantasy' on his own tunes, plus 'Laura' and his own 'Colditz March', a TV theme that won an Ivor Novello award).

Later projects included arrangements for Marian McPartland and for George Benson, instrumental At The Movies With Robert Farnon '86 on a Horatio Nelson label (formed by Boulton). Plus: How Beautiful Is Night with the George Shearing Quintet '92 and Here's To Life with vocalist Joe Williams '93 (both on Telarc) and Tangence '94 with J.J. Johnson on Gitanes ('Lament' won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement); an album with Eddie Fisher was said to be on the way. Farnon has recorded a great many items for Chappell Music for use as background and theme music etc, some of these now compiled on a UK Glasmere label with incidental music for TV plays, and a two-CD set was promised from Conifer. A Farnon discography was compiled by Alan Bunting for the the Robert Farnon Society; it ran to 200 A4 pages. His brother Dennis Farnon played trumpet and trombone at Chicago's Club DeLisa with the Red Saunders band '49, wrote arrangements for the first Maynard Ferguson band; Dennis's TV/film music included Mr Magoo cartoons, serious works under the name Paul Gerard included a violin sonata. Another brother Brian was music director for Nat Cole and led an orchestra in Lake Tahoe.