Hear selections from the Verve CD compiled by Billy Crystal.
Listen: (We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock
Watch an excerpt from a DVD that accompanies the CD.
Billy Crystal likes to say that if it hadn't been for his uncle Milt Gabler, he never would have entered show business. The founder of the Commodore Records jazz label influenced more than just Crystal. The music Gabler produced from the 1930s through the 1950s included hit songs by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat "King" Cole and Lionel Hampton.
Charles Peterson, Courtesy of Dan Peterson
From left, Johnny Williams, Billie Holiday, Milt Gabler, Sonny White and Kenneth Hollon at a recording session.
From left, Johnny Williams, Billie Holiday, Milt Gabler, Sonny White and Kenneth Hollon at a recording session. Charles Peterson, Courtesy of Dan Peterson
Now the comedian has compiled a CD of his uncle's biggest hits, Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story.
Of all the artists Gabler worked with, he felt closest to Billie Holiday, Crystal tells Michele Norris. "Billie was his love. That was, he felt in many ways, his triumph. That relationship was such a special one. She trusted him and he understood her. He knew how to put her on a pedestal. He... loved her."
'Reflections from a Bald Head'
Preparing an autobiography that he never completed, Gabler recorded some thoughts on the music business, which he called "Reflections from a Bald Head." Below is an excerpt:
• Sometimes I wonder what we would be listening to if Louis Armstrong had never lived.
• All people hear music, some people listen to it. There is a difference. I prefer to listen.
• A man can move a mountain with his back, and the world with a song.
• Everything starts with the song.
• A song must be more than a one-act play. It must have a beginning, a climax, and an ending. And most important of all, to make it really everlasting, it must have a tune to it.
• If you find two natural song hits in one year, that is a good year. Not great, but good.
• An A&R man has only two things to worry about: if he makes a hit record or doesn't make a hit record. If he does make a hit record, he has only two things to worry about: if he can make another hit record or not make another hit record. You see, it's that simple.
From Ashley Kahn's liner notes to Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story.