Monday, March 31, 2008

R.I.P.: Gene Puerling

Gene Puerling
(born March 31, 1929, died March 25, 2008)
A great singer (bass-baritone), a superb vocal arranger and the founder/leader of two legendary vocal groups: The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited.

Message from Clark Burroughs, another founding member of The Hi-Lo's):
"Don Shelton phoned me last night with the news.
My old friend, most admired mentor and lifelong near-brother passed into the next existence night before last.
I wish with all my being that I could stand next to him one more time. There were times when we were one voice, somehow larger than our two voices. His genius informed my entire life. His harmonies are embedded in my bones, and his humor followed me through more than six decades. I'll always love him."

According to Carman J. Price, here's the most complete bio that can be found on the web...
"Gene also won a Grammy Award in 1982 for his classic arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" as recorded by the Manhattan Transfer", Price adds.
And a couple of YouTube clips featuring the Hi-Lo's as guests of Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra

Gene Puerling, Grammy-Winning Arranger Dies
by Jesse Hamlin
San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2008

Gene Puerling, the Grammy-winning vocal arranger whose intricate, harmonically rich arrangements for the Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited influenced many ensembles, including the Beach Boys, Manhattan Transfer and Take Six, died March 25 in a Marin County hospital of complications from diabetes. He was 78.

Mr. Puerling, who lived in San Anselmo, was one of the great jazz and pop vocal arrangers who expanded the sound of harmony singing. The Hi-Lo's, a quartet formed in Los Angeles in 1953 with Mr. Puerling singing bass-baritone and writing the arrangements, became the most popular jazz-based vocal group of the period. They were heard widely on record, in concert and on TV shows hosted by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Steve Allen and Nat Cole.

"Any vocal group that didn't listen to the Hi-Lo's was remiss," said jazz singer Jon Hendricks of the legendary vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

"Gene broadened the harmonies, like Bird did with bebop," said Hendricks, comparing Mr. Puerling to pioneering saxophonist Charlie Parker. "The sound of the Hi-Lo's was choral, even though there were only four of them. The way the chords were spread out, they sounded like a choir."

In late 1950s, when the Hi-Lo's were performing at Birdland in New York, Hendricks, Dave Lambert and Annie Ross would sit up front, soak up the sound and try to figure out who was singing lead. "Because the blend was so marvelous, we couldn't find the lead half the time," Hendricks recalled with a laugh.

Born in Milwaukee in 1929, Mr. Puerling took a few piano lessons but was a largely self-taught musician. A fan of vocal groups like Mel Torme's the Mel-Tones, the Modernaires and the Four Freshmen, Mr. Puerling formed a series of vocal groups in high school. One of them, the Shades, featured baritone Bob Strasen, who would become one of the original Hi-Lo's (with baritone Bob Morse and tenor Clark Burroughs, the latter replaced in 1959 by tenor Don Shelton).

Mr. Puerling worked as a Milwaukee disc jockey for a spell before moving to Los Angeles, where he sang on recordings by Les Baxter and Gordon Jenkins. With a push from bandleader and film composer Jerry Fielding, the Hi-Lo's began recording for the small Starlite label, performing Mr. Puerling's arrangements of standards like "She's Funny That Way" and "Have You Met Miss Jones?" Their breakthrough year was 1956, when the quartet became the house vocal group for the nationally televised Rosemary Clooney show and was signed to Columbia Records.

Over the next few years, the Hi-Lo's appeared on the tube with Sinatra, Benny Goodman and other stars, toured with Judy Garland, played major halls like Madison Square Garden and recorded commercial jingles for Hertz Rent a Car and other advertisers. After being dropped from Columbia, the group was signed to Sinatra's Reprise label in the early '60s, recording some of the folk songs and bossa nova numbers popular at the time. But with the advent of rock 'n' roll, the Hi-Lo's, like other older pop groups, went out of vogue, and split in 1964.

Mr. Puerling went to work in the Chicago studios writing and singing commercial jingles. Working with fellow singers Shelton, Len Dresslar and Bonnie Herman, Mr. Puerling began experimenting with the new multi-track recording technology to create a rich, layered choral sound by overdubbing the voices. Called The Singers Unlimited, the quartet made a recording of the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" that inspired pianist Oscar Peterson to recommend the group to his record label, MPS of Germany, which put out more than a dozen Singers Unlimited albums.

Mr. Puerling, who was nominated for 14 Grammys, won the award in 1982 for his arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" for Manhattan Transfer. He also wrote arrangements for Chanticleer, Linda Ronstadt and other artists.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Puerling reunited the Hi-Lo's, with whom he recorded a couple of CDs and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival and elsewhere around the country. In recent years, he taught workshops at the Marin-based Harmony Sweepstakes.

"As a craftsman of the art of blending and harmonizing the human voice in song, Gene has no equal," said Harmony Sweepstakes producer John Neal.

Mr. Puerling is survived by his wife, Helen.

No comments: