Known as the “Idol of the Air Lanes,” bandleader Jan Garber studied music at the Combs Conservatory in Philadelphia. He was a member of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra before receiving his draft notice in WWI. While stationed at an Army training camp in Alabama he was asked to form a marching band. He soon became fascinated with popular music, and upon his discharge he decided to abandon his classical career in favor of a job with bandleader/contractor Meyer Davis.
Garber was quickly made leader of one of the Davis orchestras. He proved himself a crowd pleaser and in 1920 left to form his own hot jazz outﬁt. In 1921, he joined his orchestra with that of Milton Davis. Taking the new name the Garber-Davis Orchestra, the group became very popular in the South. In 1924, Davis found himself in trouble when a jealous husband threatened his life. He sold out his half of the orchestra to Garber and headed north.
In 1932, inﬂuenced by Guy Lombardo, Garber decided to switch gears and play sweet dance music. He ﬁred all the members of his present band except one and bought out the Freddie Large Orchestra, a Canadian outﬁt. Large became Garber’s lead saxophonist, a position he kept, except during Garber’s 1942-45 ﬂirtation with swing, until his death in 1968.
The new group became quite successful, touring the country and appearing on the Burns and Allen radio program. Lee Bennett was male vocalist from 1933 to 1936. He was succeeded by Russ Brown, who left in 1938 when Bennett returned. Bennett remained with Garber until 1942. Tommy Traynor and Ray Cordell also sang. Female vocalists included Virginia Hamilton and Dorothy Corday.
In 1942, Garber decided to switch gears again. He disbanded his dance orchestra and formed a swing outﬁt. The new group featured young musicians, with Gray Rains writing arrangements. Vocalists included Bob Davis and Liz Tilton, Martha Tilton’s younger sister, as well as, brieﬂy, Ray Eberle. Though it had a nice sound, Garber’s swing orchestra never achieved the popularity of his older group, and in 1945 he formed a new dance orchestra.
During the 1950s, Garber’s group appeared regularly in Las Vegas and played the Southern horse show circuit. They continued to record actively through the 1960s. Garber retired from show business in 1971 and settled in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he had real estate holdings. His daughter, Janis, led the band until 1973, when it disbanded. It was later reformed. Jan Garber passed away in 1977.