On this page you will find a JAZZ RHYTHM program interviewing and profiling Spud Murphy whom I interviewed a few years before his death in 2003. You’ll be introduced to his self-effacing, humorous personality and unique personal recollections of arranging for Swing and Big Bands.
Added depth is provided by the fresh recordings and commentary of Dean Mora, a young protégé who is today keeping Spud’s music alive with an avid young audience of Lindy Hoppers.
Spud Murphy (Lyle Stephanovic) was an unsung musical hero who played a major supporting role in shaping the Big Band era, when he was arranging and writing music for top bands in the 1930s such as Casa Loma, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson and Bob Crosby.
Murphy was raised by relatives in Utah; he proved early in life to have musical talent and was able to master several instruments: clarinet, saxes and brass horns. He set out at age 14 for a music job on the West Coast -- prevented from joining the band on a cruise ship due to his tender age, he wandered the American Southwest for several years playing in obscure bands like the “Rainbow Seven” and “Jeff's Hot Rocks.” His first professional job was half of a two-peice band working for tips in a Mexican border town.
By the late 1920s Spud began achieving some small musical success in Texas, writing arrangements for Johnny McFall’s Honey Boys 10 piece group. The first band to record one of his arrangements -- the jaunty “I Got Worry” -- was the Jimmy Joy Orchestra in 1928.
NEARLY 600 ARRANGEMENTS!
By the 1930s Spud Murphy was a first rate big band swing arranger writing for Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson and other top bands. By his own count during the 1930’s Murphy wrote nearly 600 arrangements and over 100 original compositions.
When I asked what made him a successful arranger, his main response was that if the melody of the tune was good he’d use it -- if it wasn’t he’d use very little of the melody and make up the rest. I suspect there’s much more to good arranging than that, such as knowing what a particular band could manage, and like Ellington, he was often writing his arrangements for known soloists.
Another reason Murphy was such a good arranger was his understanding of the instruments: at one time or another he played flute; oboe; bassoon; most of the sax family, trumpet, valve trombone, & his eventual bread and butter instrument: clarinet. Spud could write slow or fast, schmaltzy or hot -- his wide range can be heard in the many and contrasting arrangements he wrote for Benny Goodman arrangements such as “Ballad in Blue” and “Diga Diga Doo.”
By the late 1930s Spud was a well-known highly respected band arranger. He moved to the Los Angeles area, and in 1937 his Spud Murphy’s Swing Arranging Method was published. In the '40s and the '50s he went on to compose for more than 50 motion pictures; jazz albums; and he occasionally continued to write for Goodman and other musicians; and briefly led his own small “third stream” combo in the mid-1950s.
Into his ninth decade Spud continued to be honored as a composer and educator, publishing more than 26 books including his own system of composition and arranging known as the Equal Interval System, an extensive course on composing, arranging and orchestration. Students of his “equal interval” method include Oscar Peterson, Bennie Green, Herbie Handcock and Quincy Jones.
It was a great honor for me to interview with Lyle “Spud” Murphy about his amazing eight decades or so of making great music. I especially wanted Spud to talk about some of the truly great musicians he’d worked or partied with and he told great stories about Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Glen Gray & Clarence Hutchenrider (of Casa Loma fame) and Benny Goodman -- he didn’t disappoint!
KEEPING SPUD’s MUSIC ALIVE
Adding to the interview and program was his young friend, Dean Mora who provided many musical rarities. Dean Mora’s Modern Rhythmists are an outstanding jazz orchestra who play excellently in the manner of the best 1930s Swing bands. I highly recommend their GOBLIN MARKET CD featuring Spud Murphy tunes, arrangements and compositions ranging from 1928 through 1937. Its a fine effort featuring such rarities as Duke Ellington’s never previously recorded “Bird of Paradise.”