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Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm orchestra

Shep Fields, an influential American bandleader, left an indelible mark on the big band era with his distinctive “Rippling Rhythm” sound. Leading the Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm orchestra, Fields captivated audiences from the 1930s well into the early 1960s. This article delves into the life and legacy of Shep Fields, exploring his unique contributions to the world of music.

Early Life and Musical Beginnings From Saul Feldman to Shep Fields

Shep Fields was born Saul Feldman on September 12, 1910, in Brooklyn, New York. Raised in a musically inclined family, his mother’s maiden name was Sowalski, adding to his cultural heritage. Fields began his musical journey playing clarinet and tenor saxophone during his college years, a passion that would shape his future career.

The Birth of a Band

Fields’ musical career took off at his father’s resort hotel, the Queen Mountain House in the Catskill Mountains. It was here that the “Shep Fields Jazz Orchestra” performed frequently, sharing the stage with notable singers like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. After his father’s death, Fields became the primary breadwinner for his family, prompting him to abandon law school and fully commit to his orchestra. His band’s performances at cruise ships and resort hotels soon followed, marking the beginning of his ascent in the music world.

Rise to Fame: Breakthrough at the Roseland Ballroom

In 1931, Fields’ orchestra received a significant opportunity to perform at the famed Roseland Ballroom in New York City. By 1933, he was leading a band at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, and by 1934, he had replaced the Jack Denny Orchestra at the Hotel Pierre in New York City. His collaborations with dancers Veloz and Yolanda and his booking at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, with live radio broadcasts, further propelled his popularity.

The Creation of “Rippling Rhythm”

Determined to craft a unique orchestral sound, Fields collaborated with arrangers Sal Gioa and Lou Halmy. They studied the performances of contemporaries, incorporating elements like trombone glissandos, accordion embellishments, trumpet triplets, and the innovative use of temple blocks. Inspired by various musicians and styles, Fields perfected the “Rippling Rhythm” sound, which resonated with audiences nationwide.

National Attention and Signature Sound: The Soda Fountain Epiphany

In a serendipitous moment in Rockford, Illinois, Fields discovered the signature sound that would define his orchestra. While seated at a soda fountain with his wife Evelyn, she playfully blew bubbles into her soda through a straw. This simple sound inspired Fields to use it as the introduction for his shows, becoming a hallmark of his “Rippling Rhythm.”

Recording Success

In 1937, Fields recorded his theme song for Eli Oberstein on RCA Victor’s Bluebird label. By 1941, he transformed his band into an all-reeds group known as Shep Fields and His New Music. This ensemble, featuring over 35 instruments and notable singers like Ralph Young, garnered acclaim for its rich, innovative sound.

War-Time Entertainment and Later Years

During World War II, Fields entertained troops through USO tours, showcasing his orchestra’s talent and versatility. By the mid-1940s, his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra had performed at premier New York City venues, including the Biltmore Hotel, the Grill Room in the Roosevelt Hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and the Copacabana nightclub. These performances were often broadcast live, solidifying his national presence.

Legacy and Influence

Fields’ artistic career spanned from 1931 to 1963, leaving behind a rich musical legacy preserved on labels like Bluebird Records, Mercury Records, MGM, and RCA Victor. His extensive discography includes over 300 arrangements of popular songs, with hits such as “It’s De-Lovely,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “The Jersey Bounce,” and “Thanks for the Memory.” Noted music critic Leonard Feather praised the band’s beautiful sound, and Fields’ influence remains evident in the big band genre.

Conclusion

Shep Fields passed away on February 23, 1981, but his impact on the world of music endures. Buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in New York, his legacy continues to inspire musicians and music lovers alike. Through his innovative “Rippling Rhythm,” Shep Fields carved out a unique niche in the big band era, ensuring his place in the annals of American music history.

If you’ve fallen in love with the sparkling music of Shep Fields, with his fascinating Rippling Rhythm with an underwater flavor, then don’t miss out on dancing to one of his tracks as if there’s no tomorrow.

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