Obituary: Paul Weston

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The Independent Online
The arranger, conductor and composer Paul Weston is sometimes credited with the conception of "mood music" on record. Certainly his albums of classic popular songs and melodies, given smoothly rhythmic presentation, influenced a whole generation of orchestras for, where conductors such as Andre Kostelanatz had presented popular melodies in concert style, Weston applied dance tempos and big band textures.

As a composer, he wrote the standards "I Should Care" and "Day by Day", both big hits for Frank Sinatra. As orchestrator, he conceived sterling arrangements for Tommy Dorsey's band and such vocalists as Dinah Shore, Doris Day and the singer to whom he was married for 44 years, Jo Stafford.

Born Paul Wetstein in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1912, he played piano and led a dance band at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire), then attended Columbia University. In 1934 he sold his first arrangement, to the bandleader Joe Haymes. This caught the ear of Rudy Vallee, who employed him to work on his radio show The Fleischman Hour. When Tommy Dorsey took over Haymes's band in 1935 he hired Weston as staff arranger. The Dorsey classics "Song of India", "Stardust" and "Night and Day" resulted, along with distinctive settings for the band's vocal group the Pied Pipers, one of whom was Jo Stafford.

In 1940 Weston decided to freelance, working for Bob Crosby's band, for the vocalists Dinah Shore, Lee Wiley and Ginny Sims, and as chief arranger for the weekly radio show Duffy's Tavern. He did band arrangements for the Crosby-Astaire movie Holiday Inn (1942), then Johnny Mercer hired him as music director and ultimately artists and repertoire chief for the newly formed Capitol Records in 1943.

Here, besides choosing material and providing arrangements for their leading vocalists such as Margaret Whiting and Peggy Lee, he formed his own band to create an album of lush melodies played by soaring strings against a muted brass background. Called Music for Dreaming, it was a great success and established the concept of "mood music" (a term Weston disliked). Deceptively simple though richly textured (Weston used top musicians as soloists), danceably rhythmic and easy on the ear, it was to influence later work by such leaders as Percy Faith and Jackie Gleason.

In 1945 his song "I Should Care" (written with Axel Stordahl and Sammy Cahn) was introduced by Robert Allen in the Esther Williams musical Thrill of a Romance and became a hit record for Sinatra. One of his coups at Capitol was to discover an obscure art song of 1868, "Whispering Hope", and adapt it as a duet for Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae - it sold over a million copies.

Moving to Columbia Records in 1950 he conceived a string of orchestral albums with titles like Music for a Rainy Night, Caribbean Cruise and Melodies for Moonlight, and wrote arrangements to back vocalists such as Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford, who became his wife in 1952. The previous year, Stafford had a No 1 hit with a Weston composition, "Shrimpboats".

The pair also did some beautiful albums together which have been frequently reissued, including Ski Trails, an evocative collection of "wonderful winter songs to be played at the end of a perfect skiing day", and "I'll Be Seeing You", a nostalgic collection of Second World War ballads (retitled G.I. Joe on its CD reissue). With Weston on piano he and Stafford had a more surprising success with four albums in which, billed as "Jonathan and Darlene Edwards", they presented well-known songs in excruciatingly off-key renditions - ironically Stafford is considered to have the truest sense of pitch of any vocalist.

In 1968 for one of Ella Fitzgerald's legendary "Song Book" albums, a two-disc set devoted to Irving Berlin, Weston incorporated some fine jazz musicians into his regular band line-up to produce one of the best albums of the series.

After another spell with Capitol Records, Weston turned to television, including The Danny Kaye Show, and in the 1970s came out of retirement to be musical director for the Disneyland show Disney on Parade.

In recent years Weston and Stafford, who had one of the happiest marriages in show business, spent much of their time with their children and grandchildren, but they also ran their own record company, Corinthian Records, dedicated to reissuing the classic albums they made together.

Paul Wetstein (Weston), composer, arranger and conductor: born Springfield, Massachusetts 12 March 1912; married 1952 Jo Stafford (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 20 September 1996.

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