Arranger and composer Van Alexander (b. 1915) is considered by many to be the dean of contemporary music arrangers; he also knows how to tell a joke. Among his colleagues, he is considered to be one who did it all, from big band, stage shows, television, film, and records, yet through it all, has enjoyed an enviable family life and extended circle of devoted friends and admirers. Finally his memoirs have been written, with Stephen Fratallone, and published by Bear Manor Media (www.bearmanormedia.com and on Amazon).
With a forward by Alexander’s former student and dear friend, Johnny Mandel, the book is a chronicle of the music end of the entertainment business of the 20th century. Alexander leaves little out and includes the good, the bad, and (even a few moments about) the ugly, but with grace and a deep appreciation for the charmed life and career he has. The writing style is light and breezy, as if he was regaling us with these stories in person over a drink in a favorite night spot, not bogged down with unnecessary detail, bitterness, or regret.
Van Alexander formed his own band in the late 1930s and played theaters into the 1940s. He was hired by Bob Crosby in the late 1940s to work in Hollywood and Alexander worked extensively as a composer, arranger, and conductor for film scores.
As one would desire, the book is full of fascinating stories about people he has known and with whom he worked: celebrities Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, Benny Carter, Dean Martin, Les Brown, Kay Starr, Tex Ritter, Mel Blanc, Bob Crosby, Morey Amsterdam, Gordon MacRae, along side the not-so-famous, yet talented musicians who should not be forgotten, including the guys who played in his bands. The photographs from Van’s personal collection are reason enough to take a look at this book. Preparing a memoir like this is a labor of true love and a lovely gift to his wife of 70 years, Beth, his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. But is also a gift to those of us who fervently hope that 20th century music makers continue to be appreciated and the dynamic American music legacy is well documented for future generations.
Thank you, Van. You make us all proud. [Published originally in The Overture, September 2009.]