Willow Grove Park - Arthur Pryor: Solos
Arthur Pryor: Solos  
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By Frederick R Williams

Listen to a few of Pryor's trombone solos...

Little has been written, since his death in 1942, about Arthur Pryor's trombone solos. Besides Sousa and Pryor Band members, those who attended concerts heard tile hands only when they were "in town". And the recordings, with few exceptions were released in small quantities and always have been difficult to locate.

From 1888 through 1903 but particularly upon joining Sousa's Band in 1892, Pryor devoted his time to the professional performance of trombone solos composing and, from 1898 on, occasionally conducting the Sousa Band.
In the fall of 1903 Pryor committed himself to forming a touring band and recording for the Victor Company. Beginning in 1910 the Pryor Band centered its activities at various locales in the Eastern United States.
Pryor's peak years of solo activity (1895 to 1905) coincided with his recording production. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy listening to these recreations his output came during the early years of the recording industry hid most of his solos are not only hard to find but difficult to listen to on modern equipment unless careful technical reproducing adjustments are effected.

Four different solos and a duet were released on eight cylinder records during 1895 by the Columbia Phonograph Company and the Chicago Talking Machine Company. To date none have been found. From 1897 to April 1900 the Berliner Gramophone Company issued fifty solos, nine duets and two sextets on 7" discs. Very few of these have been located. Of the 67 solo discs released by the Victor Company on 7" 10" and 12" sizes, only three are relatively commonplace. There is no known comprehensive collection of Pryor solo recordings in existence. Little wonder that the reproduction of these solos heretofore has been nearly impossible.

The Sousa Scrapbooks, housed in the U.S. Marine Band Library, give us an insight into the development of Pryor as a soloist with press reviews and programs of the Sousa Band concerts l892 to 1900) and the Willow Grove Park Concert Programs (1901-l902, 1906-1909, and 1913-1918), located in the stacks of the Free Library of Philadelphia are an excellent source for a partial listing of his performances.

The 1892 Sousa Band season lasted from September 29 to December 29. The first mention of Pryor in the Scrapbooks was in an undated program reproduced from the Philadelphia Enquire. His first solo (Oct. 14, 1892) Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep (Knight) was performed on a Friday evening in the "Auditorium" in Chicago.

It is apparent that it took time for Pryor to reach the "front and center" status as a regular. First mention of Pryor occurred in the Minneapolis Times on May 17, 1893 .

Newspaper clipping reviews of the pre-summer 1897 provide a vivid account of Pryor's performances during the 21,000 mile tour of the Sousa Band across the continent. "…Undoubtedly the star performance of the evening from the audience's standpoint was the trombone solo by Mr. Arthur Pryor, Annie Laurie with variations. Mr. Pryor was demonstratively recalled and rendered The Palms (Faure).

Critical acclaim included: "So delicately true were the notes from the horn that at times it seemed that the very instrument must be human".

In 1899, Sousa became ill in late November in Milwaukee and Pryor conducted for several weeks while still continuing to play solos. The Band then went south through Virginia. North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia. Florida, Alabama and in early February arrived in New Orleans.

First mention of Pryor's arrangement of Blue Bells of Scotland won on 8/8/99 for a program at Manhattan Beach (NY).

No doubt Pryor's conducting during Sousa's illness in the latter part of 1898 led to his directing the Sousa Band on records for the Berliner Company on 4/22/99, 6/6 and 6/7/99, and in April 1900.

It is important to note that Pryor was one of the earliest composers of music in the syncopated vein. His recorded cakewalks southern melodies and "darky" tunes predate the earliest ragtime selection by over a year. By 1900 he was composing rags and continued to do so by another dozen years. Not only was he the of our most prolific ragtime composers but his traveling experiences in addition to his youthful energy and enthusiasm, nurtured his unique compositional talent in this idiom. Ragtime historians have virtually excluded him from mention in the mainstream of this musical genre. Unfortunately hints of ragtime do not appear in the Pryor trombone solos.

The Sousa Band traveled overseas arriving in France for the Paris Exposition in early May. 1900, touring France Germany. Holland, Belgium. and England.

The Sousa Band made its first appearance at Willow Grove Park (five miles north of Philadelphia) opening the summer season on May 25, 1901. Pryor's final summer season with the Sousa Band was also spent in, in part, at Willow Grove in 1902.

Pryor busied himself in mid-1903 with the assembling of his new band and duties at the Victor Company where he was to begin making records under the Pryor Band name. His new band gave its first public concert on November 15, 1903 at the Majestic Theatre in New York City.

The Pryor Band was first scheduled at Willow Grove Park from 6/17/06 to 7/7/06. Solos introduced to these concerts included Crusader (Pryor) and The Holy City (Adam) along with those previously with the Sousa Band. (Valse Caprice, The Patriot, Blue Bells, La Petite Suzanne.)

Selections performed in 1909 demonstrate a significant drop in technical solos played. After an absence Pryor and his band returned to the Park to open the 1913 season . His last solo at Willow Grove was Narcissus (Nevin) in June of 1918.

The Pryor Band did not return to Willow Grove during the next seven years and Pryor's trombone playing became a memory. Only the phonograph record could give a hint of past performances. At that the acoustical processes of recording base prevented subsequent listeners from recreating faithfully the magnificent sound of the Pryor trombone.

"Engineer's Note:

The production of this compact disc utilizes the latest in digital restoration techniques available. The original shellac discs were cleaned on the Keith Monks record cleaning machine. They were then dubbed to digital tape, then processed to de-click, de-crackle etc. the recordings. Even with these improvements, there remains a certain amount of surface noise and wear."

The serious trombone student is encouraged to study the performances on the CD:

Arthur Pryor, Trombone Soloist of the Sousa Band.
(Crystal Records CD451 Historical Serices)

Crystal Records, Inc.,
28818 NE Hancock Rd.
Camas, WA 98607

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