Marie Warder was a teacher, writer and pianist who grew up in South Africa. Not long after the end of the Second World War, she was walking on a street in Johannesburg.
I was about nineteen, newly married and very much in love, when I happened to pass by a music store one day, and was stopped in my tracks by the most glorious sound I had ever heard. I stood there on the sidewalk, leaning against the plate glass window for support, with my eyes closed; transfixed and impervious to impatient shoppers trying to pass by me, until the last strains of “I Only Have Eyes For You” had died away, and I could breathe freely again. Then I went in and pleaded for the entire 78 rpm record to be replayed … over and over again! Never had I heard anything so exquisite that it almost hurt.
The musician who had made such an impact on Marie was Freddy Gardner, an English self-taught saxophonist who had played in lots of the leading dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s, and was now emerging as a star in his own right.
Marie’s husband had a dance band, in which she played piano. They started including Freddy Gardner numbers in the sets. “It was fortunate that the two of us, as well as the sax player, could play by ear, because, in any case, it was not possible to buy the sheet music in Johannesburg at the time.”
Meanwhile, in another isolated part of the world, the person I only know as “G.S.” had also discovered the 10” shellac disc which so entranced Marie Warder. G.S. loved it too. You can tell from the label and the worn sound that it was played “over and over again”.
Freddy Gardner is regarded in jazz circles as one of the great improvisers, up there with the finest. He is not well remembered because he died young, suffering a fatal stroke when he was only 39, in 1950. Like many artists, he had lost five years from his career because of the war, and was coming into his absolute prime. The range he was able to extract from a saxophone was quite remarkable, and the new recording medium of long-play vinyl would have suited his music perfectly.
Still, he played beautifully, and people across the world, even in Geelong and Johannesburg, heard and marvelled. The track I am sharing here is not the one Marie heard, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, but the B side of that disc, “In the Mood for Love”. I think it is an even better display of Gardner’s extraordinary talent.
My thanks to Marie Warder, whose reminiscences of Gardner are online and well worth reading.
Artist: Freddy Gardner, Peter Yorke and his Concert Orchestra
Title: I Only Have Eyes For You / In the Mood for Love
Track: B side, “In the Mood for Love”
Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
Label: Columbia DO-3558
Manufactured in: Australia
Year: c. 1948
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