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Writing and Essays

Digging Spud Murphy

On this page you will find an interview program profiling Murphy not long before his death in 2003.  You’ll be introduced to this self-effacing, humorous man, and hear his unique recollections of the music business in the 1930s.

Added depth is provided by fresh recordings of Murphy's music from Mora's Modern Rhythmists, and commentary by
Dean Mora, a protege of Murphy keeping Spud’s music alive today.

Pt. 1 Digging Spud Murphy

GET HAPPY  --  Benny Goodman Orch,  1936
GET HAPPY  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
DIXIELAND SHUFFLE  --  Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, 2002
I GOT WORRY  --  Jimmy Joy Orch, 1928, 78 PRM
I GOT WORRY  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
DAMES   --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
DAMES  --  Joe Haymes Orch, 1934 78 PRM
MODERN MELODY  --  Joe Haymes Orch 1933, 78 PRM
MODERN MELODY  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
ANYTHING GOES  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
THE GLORY OF LOVE  --  Benny Goodman Orchestra, vocal Helen Ward, 1936
LIMEHOUSE BLUES  --  Benny Goodman Orch, Let’s Dance broadcast, 1935

ANYTHING GOES  --  Rhythm Makers Orchestra [Benny Goodman] 1935, Radio Transcription
SHE’S A LATIN FROM MANHATTAN  --  Benny Goodmand, voc. Helen Ward, Aircheck 1935
SHE’S A LATIN FROM MANHATTAN   --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists,  2002
WHITE JAZZ  (excerpt) --  Glen Gray Casa Loma Orchestra, 1931
MANIAC’S BALL (excerpt) --  Glen Gray Casa Loma Orchestra, 1931
THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION  --  Casa Loma Orch, vocal Pee Wee Hunt, 1934
GOBLIN MARKET   --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
PINETOP BREAKAWAY  --  Spud Murphy Orch 1939, 78 RPM
QUAKER CITY JAZZ  --  Spud Murphy Orch, 1938, 78 RPM

Pt. 2 Digging Spud Murphy

BALLAD IN BLUE  --  Benny Goodman Orchestra, 1935
DIGA DIGA DOO  --  Benny Goodman Orchestra, Radio Aircheck, 1935
DIGA DIGA DOO  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
DANCIN’ WITH A DEBUTANTE  --  Spud Murphy Orch, 1938
DANCIN' WITH A DEBUTANTE  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
DO YOU OR DON’T YOU LOVE ME  --  Fletcher Henderson Orch 1936
SING, SING, SING  --  Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, 1936
SING, SING, SING  --  Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, vocal by Dean Mora, 2002
LETS FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE  --  Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002
JINGLE BELLS  --  Benny Goodman Orchestra, 1935 Radio Transcription
JUST A PHRASE  --  Spud Murphy Orchestra, 1938
DANCE OF THE DOINKS  --  Spud Murphy Orchestra, 1939

BOOLY JA-JA  --  Spud Murphy Orchestra, 1939
BIRD OF PARADISE  --  Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, 2002
I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW   --  Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, 2002
I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW  --  Seeger Ellis Orchestra, 1937
 SHIVERY STOMP  --  Seeger Ellis Orchestra, 1937
SHIVERY STOMP  --  Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, 2002
NO OTHER ONE  --  Benny Goodman Orch, vocal Helen Ward, 1935
HOLD OUT FOR LOVE  --  Spud Murphy Orchestra, 1939
BALLAD IN BLUE   --   Mora's Modern Rhythmists, 2002

An Unsung Hero of the Swing Era

Spud Murphy (Lyle Stephanovic, 1908 - 2005) was an unsung musical hero who played a major supporting role in shaping the Swing era, writing and arranging for top bands in the 1930s: Casa Loma, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson and Bob Crosby.

Though not quite and orphan, he was raised by relatives in Utah.  Early in life he proved 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 -- but was prevented from joining the band on a cruise ship due to his tender age.  He then 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 in a two-piece band working for tips in a Mexican border town.

By the late 1920s he was achieving some small musical success in Texas, writing arrangements for Johnny McFall’s Honey Boys, a 10 piece group.  The first to record one of his arrangements was the 12 piece Jimmy Joy Orchestra, Chicago, 1928: the jaunty “I Got Worry.”

Nearly 600 Arrangements

In the 1930s Spud Murphy was a first-rate big band and swing arranger writing for Benny Goodman, Casa Loma, Fletcher Henderson, and other top orchestras.  By his own count Spud wrote nearly 600 arrangements and over 100 original compositions that decade.

When I asked what made him a successful arranger, his main answer 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.  And he often had the advantage of writing for known soloists.

His intimate understanding of many instruments greatly contributed to his skill: at one time or another Murphy played flute, oboe, bassoon, most of the sax family, trumpet, valve trombone, and 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, such as “Ballad in Blue” and “Diga Diga Doo.”

By the late 1930s Spud was a well-known and highly respected band arranger.  He moved to the Los Angeles area, and in 1937 his Spud Murphy’s Swing Arranging Method was first published.  In the '40s and the '50s he went on to compose for more than 50 motion pictures, jazz albums, and occasionally for Benny Goodman and others.  He briefly led his own small “third stream” combo in the mid-1950s.

Honored Elder Statesman of Jazz

In his ninth decade Spud continued to be honored as a composer and music educator who published more than 26 books, including his own extensive course on composing, arranging and orchestration known as the Equal Interval System.  Students of this method have included Oscar Peterson, Bennie Green, Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones.

It was a great privilege for me to interview Lyle “Spud” Murphy about his amazing eight decades or so of making music.  I was especially eager for him to talk about some of the truly great musicians he’d worked or partied with -- he didn’t disappoint.  He told great stories about Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Glen Gray, Clarence Hutchenrider (of Casa Loma fame) and Benny Goodman.

Keeping Spud’s Music Alive

Adding color and commentary to the program was Murphy’s younger friend, Dean Mora, who supplied rich historic context and musical rarities.  Mora’s Goblin Market CD features Spud’s arrangements and compositions from 1928-1937.  It’s a fine collection featuring such rarities as Spud’s never previously recorded arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Bird of Paradise.”


JAZZ RHYTHM Gabriel broadcast award, 2004

Goblin Market is available through the entertaining and stylish web site of Dean Mora:

More on Spud from Maxwell DeMille