Charlie Spivak

Photo of Charlie Spivak
  • Born

    February 17, 1907
    Kiev, Ukraine, Russian Empire
  • Died

    March 1, 1982 (age 75)
    Greenville, South Carloina

Born in 1905 in the Ukraine, Charlie Spivak came to the United States with his par­ents in 1910, set­tling in Connecticut. Spivak stud­ied trum­pet as a youth, play­ing in his high school band while also work­ing with lo­cal groups, in­clud­ing John Cavallaro’s or­ches­tra.[1] In 1924, he be­came part of Phil Sprecht’s band, re­main­ing with Sprecht un­til 1930. Spivak then hooked up with Ben Pollack in 1931. He left Pollack in late 1934 for the Dorsey Brothers and then joined Ray Noble the fol­low­ing spring. During 1936 and 1937, Spivak worked mainly as a stu­dio mu­si­cian, in­clud­ing stints with Gus Arnheim, Glenn Miller, and Raymond Scott’s ra­dio or­ches­tra. He joined Bob Crosby in January of 1938, stay­ing un­til August when he went to work for Tommy Dorsey. He left Dorsey in June of 1939 for Jack Teagarden.

In late 1939, Spivak was en­cour­aged by Miller to form his own or­ches­tra, which Miller backed fi­nan­cially. Spivak’s new band de­but in November of 1939. Within a year, how­ever, Spivak was forced to dis­band due to in­ter­nal con­flicts. Not let­ting his ini­tial fail­ure de­ter him, he then took over Bill Downer’s or­ches­tra. Spivak’s new band emerged as one of the top com­mer­cial out­fits in the coun­try, sur­viv­ing the post-war band bust and con­tin­u­ing un­til the late 1950s.

Despite Spivak’s past em­ploy­ment with some of the top jazz groups of the day, his or­ches­tra played it straight, fo­cus­ing on bal­lads and pop­u­lar num­bers. Featured in the band dur­ing its for­ma­tive years were drum­mer Davey Tough, bassist Jimmy Middleton, and trum­peter Les Elgart. Nelson Riddle played trom­bone and shared ar­rang­ing du­ties with Sonny Burke. Early vo­cal­ists were Garry Stevens and the Stardusters quar­tet, which fea­tured June Hutton, who also sang solo with the band. When Spivak fired the Stardusters in September 1943, he brought in for­mer Gene Krupa vo­cal­ist Irene Daye to re­place Hutton. Daye stayed with the band for many years, mar­ry­ing Spivak in 1950. Other vo­cal­ists dur­ing the 1940s in­cluded Betty Bonney, Tommy Mercer and Jimmy Saunders.

In the be­gin­ning days of his or­ches­tra, Spivak, known as Cheery, Chubby Charlie,” played his trum­pet with a mute, try­ing to pro­ject a softer tone. He later switched to play­ing open trum­pet, for which he re­ceived great crit­i­cal ac­claim. He was one of the bet­ter trum­pet play­ers of the era, though he was un­doubt­edly over­shad­owed by Harry James. He never com­pletely gave up his mute, how­ever, un­til later in his ca­reer.

In the late 1950s, Spivak moved to Florida, where he con­tin­ued to lead a band un­til 1963, when ill­ness forced him to briefly re­tire. After re­cov­er­ing, he led bands in Las Vegas and Miami. In 1967, he or­ga­nized a small out­fit that played reg­u­larly at the Ye Olde Fireplace restau­rant in Greenville, South Carolina, with Daye as vo­cal­ist. Daye bat­tled can­cer dur­ing the last years of her life, fi­nally los­ing that bat­tle in 1971. Spivak re­mained at the restau­rant up un­til his death in 1982. In his last few years, he led a new sev­en­teen-piece or­ches­tra.

Notes

  1. One printed source and many on­line bi­ogra­phies say that Spivak be­gan work­ing with Don Cavallaro’s or­ches­tra while still in school. The cor­rect­ness of this fact is ques­tion­able. I’ve yet to find ev­i­dence that a Don Cavallaro ex­isted. There was, how­ever, a John Cavallaro who op­er­ated an or­ches­tra based out of New Haven, Connecticut, Spivak’s home area, dur­ing the 1920s. This is most likely a typo or a mis­take in the orig­i­nal printed source.

Music

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  • I Surrender Dear
    Charlie Spivak (June Hutton and the Stardusters), Okeh (1941)
  • This Is No Laughing Matter
    Charlie Spivak (June Hutton and the Stardusters), Okeh (1941)
  • Papa Nicolini
    Charlie Spivak (Garry Stevens and the Stardusters), Okeh (1941)
  • At Last
    Charlie Spivak (Garry Stevens and the Stardusters), Columbia (1942)
  • It's Been a Long, Long Time
    Charlie Spivak (Irene Daye), Victor (1945)
  • Tennessee
    Charlie Spivak (Irene Daye), Victor (1947)

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Films

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  • Screenshot
    "Time Alone Will Tell"
    Charlie Spivak (Stardusters)
    from the film Pin Up Girl, 20th Century Fox (1944)

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Radio

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  • One Night Stand: Charlie Spivak
    October 1, 1943 (AFRS) 29:31