Johnny Keating

Finding one of this artist's original projects in the Phase 4 stereo hi-fi mode would at least in the United Kingdom require sustained incarceration among piles of jumble sale debris. Better or worse depending on point of view is the international perspective, leading to mingling with strange people who enjoy styles such as exotica, lounge music, and tingly-sounding bachelor pad ambience, not to be confused with ambient. Johnny Keating, a Scotsman who came up playing trombone in big bands and dance bands in the early '50s, drifted between the businesses of performing, recording, and publishing as if rafting on a lazy river, an appropriate image considering that the Phase 4 packaging -- as sturdy as it was glossy and there is no question concerning its glossiness -- could double for a lifesaver in a pinch. Keating's first brass teacher was in Edinburgh, providing fine enough training for Tommy Sampson's dance band. The trombonist subsequently landed a 1952 position with bandleader Ted Heath. Heath in turn saw the arranging and compositional talent lurking within, bumping Keating up to staff composer and arranger status. This channel led into publishing, Keating in 1958 announcing that he was done with the music business other than "occasional gigs." If that is meant to describe his activities in the '60s, it sounds much better than a full-time performing career. Continuing to use the name Johnny, he was on the spot with Warner Bros. and a series of easy listening and orchestral pop outings designed to thrill stereo buffs and/or anyone who wasn't too busy freaking out with psychedelic rock. Keating also did arrangements for great singers such as Shirley Horn and Caterina Valente; he created challenges for all concerned with his unique ideas about instrumentation and was certainly suited to toying with newly hyped recording and mixing processes. His Space Experience volumes were actually launched off turntables commonly in stereo shops when clerks wanted to impress customers. Hollywood took notice, bringing Keating back to Earth for assignments that included music used in films such as Hotel, Ed Wood, and Robbery. Keating's extended serious compositions were unveiled, entitled "Overture 100 Pipers" and "Hebridean Impressions." One available recording of the latter piece features composer Bernard Hermann, also of film music fame, conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra. Petula Clark, Percy Faith, Carmen McRae, Stan Kenton, and Nancy Wilson are among the performers who have recorded Keating material. The aforementioned Horn won a Grammy Award in 1999 for her album featuring Keating songs and arrangements, I Remember Miles. He is the founder of the Johnny Keating School of Music in Edinburgh. Since 1980 he has spent a great deal of time writing a massive academic work dealing with professional songwriting, envisioned in four volumes. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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