Milt Gabler

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Milt Gabler
Born(1911-05-20)May 20, 1911
DiedJuly 20, 2001(2001-07-20) (aged 90)
AwardsMember of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Musical career
Occupation(s) Record producer
Labels Commodore Records

Milton Gabler (May 20, 1911 July 20, 2001) [1] was an American record producer, responsible for many innovations in the recording industry of the 20th century.

Record producer Individual who oversees and manages the recording of an artists music

A record producer or music producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer's music, which may range from recording one song to recording a lengthy concept album. A producer has many, varying roles during the recording process. They may gather musical ideas for the project, collaborate with the artists to select cover tunes or original songs by the artist/group, work with artists and help them to improve their songs, lyrics or arrangements.


Early life

Gabler was born to a Jewish family [2] in Harlem, New York, the son of Susie (née Kasindorf) and Julius Gabler. His father was an Austrian Jewish immigrant (from Vienna), and his mother's family were Jewish immigrants from Russia (including Rostov). [3] [4] At 15, he began working in his father's business, the Commodore Radio Corporation, a radio shop located on East 42nd Street in New York City.

American Jews Ethnic group

American Jews, or Jewish Americans, are Americans who are Jews, whether by religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Today the Jewish community in the United States consists primarily of Ashkenazi Jews, who descend from diaspora Jewish populations of Central and Eastern Europe and comprise about 90-95% of the American Jewish population. Most American Ashkenazim are US-born, with a dwindling number of now-elderly earlier immigrants, as well as some more recent foreign-born immigrants.

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Rostov Town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia

Rostov is a town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, one of the oldest in the country and a tourist center of the Golden Ring. It is located on the shores of Lake Nero, 202 kilometers (126 mi) northeast of Moscow. Population: 31,792 (2010 Census); 34,141 (2002 Census); 35,707 (1989 Census).


Commodore Records label for Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (1939), named Best Song of the Century by Time magazine Strange-Fruit-Commodore-1939.jpg
Commodore Records label for Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (1939), named Best Song of the Century by Time magazine

By the mid-1930s, Gabler renamed the business the Commodore Music Shop, and it became a focal point for jazz fans and musicians alike. In 1933 Gabler began buying up unwanted copies of recordings from the record companies and resold them, making him the first person to deal in reissues, the first to sell records by mail order, and also the first to credit all the musicians on the recordings.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

Mail order buying of goods or services by mail delivery

Mail order is the buying of goods or services by mail delivery. The buyer places an order for the desired products with the merchant through some remote method such as through a telephone call or web site. Then, the products are delivered to the customer. The products are typically delivered directly to an address supplied by the customer, such as a home address, but occasionally the orders are delivered to a nearby retail location for the customer to pick up. Some merchants also allow the goods to be shipped directly to a third party consumer, which is an effective way to send a gift to an out-of-town recipient.

Gabler started up a specialty label UHCA (United Hot Clubs of America) in about 1935 to reissue selected 78 r.p.m. sides previously released by other companies. He was able to secure many important jazz records including the 1931 Joe Venuti-Eddie Lang all star session (from ARC), Bessie Smith's final session (from OKeh), a number of Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, and Miff Mole sides (also from OKeh). These reissues were from the original 78 stampers and were instrumental in spreading the concept of collecting classic performances from the past. A number of Paramount and Gennett sides were dubbed from clean copies and issued on UHCA and the sound was surprisingly good for a dubbing.

Joe Venuti jazz violinist

Giuseppe "Joe" Venuti was an Italian-American jazz musician and pioneer jazz violinist.

Eddie Lang American jazz guitarist

Eddie Lang is known as the father of jazz guitar. During the 1920s, he gave the guitar a prominence it previously lacked as a solo instrument, as part of a band or orchestra, and as accompaniment for vocalists. He recorded duets with guitarists Lonnie Johnson and Carl Kress, with jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and played rhythm guitar in the big bands of Paul Whiteman and Bing Crosby.

Bessie Smith American blues singer

Bessie Smith was an American blues singer. Nicknamed the Empress of the Blues, she was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and was a major influence on fellow blues singers, as well as jazz vocalists.

In 1937 he opened a new store on 52nd Street, and set up a series of jam sessions in a neighbouring club, Jimmy Ryan's. Some of these he began recording, setting up his own record label, Commodore Records. His role as a music producer soon superseded his other activities and he recorded many of the leading jazz artists of the day. One regular customer, Billie Holiday, found her record company, Columbia, resisting her appeals to release the song "Strange Fruit", so she offered the song to Gabler. After getting the necessary permission, he released her recording on Commodore in 1939, boosting her career and issuing what, 60 years on, Time magazine named Best Song of the Century.

52nd Street (Manhattan) street traveling west to east across Midtown Manhattan, New York City

52nd Street is a 1.9-mile (3.1 km) long one-way street traveling west to east across Midtown Manhattan, New York City. A short section of it was known as the city's center of jazz performance from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Commodore Records record label

Commodore Records was an American independent record label known for producing Dixieland jazz and swing. It is also remembered for releasing Billie Holiday's hit "Strange Fruit".

Billie Holiday American jazz singer and songwriter

Eleanora Fagan, better known as Billie Holiday, was an American jazz singer with a career spanning nearly thirty years. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and music partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz music and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo. She was known for her vocal delivery and improvisational skills, which made up for her limited range and lack of formal music education.


Milt Gabler (left) with Herbie Hill, Lou Blum and Jack Crystal at the Commodore Music Shop (1947) Commodore-Music-Shop-1947.jpg
Milt Gabler (left) with Herbie Hill, Lou Blum and Jack Crystal at the Commodore Music Shop (1947)

The success of Commodore Records inevitably led to an offer to join a major record label. Gabler was recruited to work for Decca Records in 1941, and left his brother-in-law Jack Crystal (father of Billy Crystal) to run Commodore. Gabler was soon working with many of the biggest stars of the 1940s, producing a series of hits including Lionel Hampton’s "Flying Home", Billie Holiday’s "Lover Man" and The Andrews Sisters' "Rum and Coca-Cola", as well as being the first to bring Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald together on record.

Decca Records US/British record label

Decca Records is a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934 by Lewis, along with American Decca's first president Jack Kapp and later American Decca president Milton Rackmil. In 1937, anticipating Nazi aggression leading to World War II, Lewis sold American Decca and the link between the UK and U.S. Decca labels was broken for several decades. The British label was renowned for its development of recording methods, while the American company developed the concept of cast albums in the musical genre. Both wings are now part of the Universal Music Group, which is owned by Vivendi, a media conglomerate headquartered in Paris, France. The US Decca label was the foundation company that evolved into UMG.

Billy Crystal American actor

William Edward Crystal is an American actor, comedian, writer, producer, director, and television host. He gained prominence in the 1970s and 80s for television roles as Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom Soap and as a cast member and frequent host of Saturday Night Live. He then became a Hollywood film star during the late 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the critical and box office successes The Princess Bride (1987), Throw Momma from the Train (1987), When Harry Met Sally... (1989), City Slickers (1991), Mr. Saturday Night (1992) and Analyze This (1999), and providing the voice of Mike Wazowski in the Monsters, Inc. films starting in 2001.

Lionel Hampton American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor

Lionel Leo Hampton was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, and bandleader. Hampton worked with jazz musicians from Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, and Buddy Rich to Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Quincy Jones. In 1992, he was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996.

Put in charge of Decca’s subsidiary label Coral, he expanded his musical scope, producing hits for country singer Red Foley, the left-leaning folk group The Weavers, Peggy Lee, The Ink Spots, and Sammy Davis Jr. In 1946 he produced and co-wrote Louis Jordan’s breakthrough single, "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie", a foretaste of the musical revolution around the corner.

1950s and 1960s

Gabler contributed a further slice of history when he signed Bill Haley and His Comets to Decca Records. He produced their initial recording session in April 1954, [6] much of which was spent cutting a song which the company thought the more likely hit of the two due to be recorded that day. Their efforts on "13 Women" left only ten minutes for the second song, which Gabler recorded with an unusually high sound level after the briefest of sound checks. "Rock Around The Clock" was cut in two takes and changed the face of popular music. Gabler later commented : "All the tricks I used with Louis Jordan, I used with Bill Haley. The only difference was the way we did the rhythm. On Jordan, we used a perfectly balanced rhythm section from the swing era ... but Bill had the heavy backbeat."

Commodore Records was wound up in 1954. Bob Shad's Mainstream Records issued a series of albums of Commodore material in the early 1960s, keeping most of these recordings available. However, through the late 1950s and 1960s, Gabler continued to guide the direction of Decca, writing songs and producing hit singles including Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” and albums including Jesus Christ Superstar . Gabler also continued to produce all of the Comets' recordings for Decca until they left the label in 1959.

Milt Gabler also produced all studio-albums in Hamburg for Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra from 1960 to the latter's death in June 1980. He wrote many lyrics for Kaempfert songs, like "L-O-V-E", a very big hit for Nat King Cole, and "Danke Schoen".

Later years

He retired from the front line of business activity when MCA consolidated Decca with its other labels and moved the merged MCA Records to Universal City, California in 1971, but continued to produce reissues and to collect recognition from the recording industry he helped shape. He was asked to return to MCA Records in 1973 to supervise the reissue of MCA's massive back catalogue. [7]

Gabler died July 20, 2001, aged 90, at the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan. The New York Times reported that the only photo at his bedside was that of Billie Holiday. [8]


In 1991, Gabler received the Grammy Trustees Award from The Recording Academy, for his significant contributions to the field of recording. [9]

In 1993, Gabler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by his nephew, the comedian and actor Billy Crystal. In 2005, Crystal produced a documentary and CD release, both entitled The Milt Gabler Story, in tribute. [10]

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  1. Levin, Floyd (2002). "Gabler, Milt(on)". In Barry Kernfeld (ed.). The new Grove dictionary of jazz (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. p. 1. ISBN   1-56159-284-6.
  2. Cherry, Robert; Griffith, Jennifer (Summer 2014). "Down to Business: Herman Lubinsky and the Postwar Music Industry". Journal of Jazz Studies vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 1-24.
  3. Crystal, Billy (October 2005). 700 Sundays. p. 23. ISBN   0-446-57867-3.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2013-10-22.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. McNally, Owen (March 30, 2000). "'Song of the century' chilling: Graphic lyrics of 'the first unmuted cry against racism' are making a comeback". Ottawa Citizen .
  6. Hoffmann, Frank, Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, 2nd ed., New York, NY : Routledge, 2005. ISBN   0-415-93835-X. Cf. volume 1 (of two), pp.421-422, article on "Milt Gabler".
  7. Billboard - Google Books
  8. Martin, Douglas (July 25, 2001). "Milton Gabler, Storekeeper of the Jazz World, Dies at 90". The New York Times . Retrieved 2016-07-24.
  9. "Trustees Award". The Recording Academy. Archived from the original on 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2016-07-24.
  10. "Milt Gabler". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . Retrieved 2016-07-24.

Further reading