MILTON GABLER Biography - Producers, publishers & editors


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Name: Milt Gabler                                                                                     
Born: 20 May 1911                                                                                     
Died: 20 July 2001                                                                                     
Milt Gabler (May 20, 1911 - July 20, 2001) was a noted American record producer,                       
responsible for many innovations in the recording industry of the 20th century.                       
Milton Gabler was born in Harlem, New York to Jewish Austrian immigants. At 15,                       
he began working in his father's business, the Commodore Radio Corporation, a                         
radio shop located on East 42nd Street in New York City.                                               
By the mid-1930s, Gabler renamed the business the Commodore Music Shop, and it                         
became a focal point for jazz fans and musicians alike. In 1933 Gabler began                           
buying up unwanted copies of recordings from the record companies and resold                           
them, making him the first person to deal in reissues, the first to sell records                       
by mail order, and also the first to credit all the musicians on the recordings.                       
Gabler started up a specialty label UHCA (United Hot Clubs of America) in about                       
1935 to reissue selected 78 sides previously released by other companies. He was                       
able to secure many important jazz records including the 1931 Joe Venuti-Eddie                         
Lang all star session (from ARC), Bessie Smith's final session (from OKeh), a                         
number of Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, and Miff Mole sides (also from OKeh).                     
These reissues were from the original 78 stampers and were instrumental in                             
spreading the concept of collecting classic performances from the past. A number                       
of Paramount sides were dubbed from clean copies and issued on UHCA and the                           
sound was surprisingly good for a dubbing.                                                             
In 1937 he opened a new store on 52nd Street, and set up a series of jam                               
sessions in a neighbouring club, Jimmy Ryan's. Some of these he began recording,                       
setting up his own record label, Commodore Records. His role as a music producer                       
soon superseded his other activities and he recorded many of the leading jazz                         
artists of the day. One regular customer, Billie Holiday, found her record                             
company, Columbia, resisting her appeals to release the song "Strange Fruit", so                       
she offered the song to Gabler. After getting the necessary permission, he                             
released her recording on Commodore in 1939, boosting her career and issuing                           
what, sixty years on, Time magazine named Song of the Century.                                         
The success of Commodore Records inevitably led to an offer to join a major                           
record label. He was recruited to work for Decca Records in 1941, leaving his                         
brother-in-law Jack Crystal to run Commodore. Gabler was soon working with many                       
of the biggest stars of the 1940s, producing a series of hits including Lionel                         
Hampton’s “Flying Home”, Billie Holiday’s “Lover Man” and The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum   
and Coca-Cola”, as well as being the first to bring Louis Armstrong and Ella                         
Fitzgerald together on record.                                                                         
Put in charge of Decca’s subsidiary label Coral, he expanded his musical scope,                     
producing hits for country singer Red Foley, the left-leaning folk group The                           
Weavers, Peggy Lee, The Ink Spots, and Sammy Davis Jr. In 1946 he produced and                         
co-wrote Louis Jordan’s breakthrough single, “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie”, a foretaste               
of the musical revolution around the corner.                                                           
Gabler contributed a further slice of history when he signed Bill Haley and His                       
Comets to Decca Records. He produced their initial recording session in April                         
1954, much of which was spent cutting a song which the company thought the more                       
likely hit of the two due to be recorded that day. Their efforts on "13 Women"                         
left only ten minutes for the second song, which Gabler recorded with an                               
unusually high sound level after the briefest of sound checks. "Rock Around The                       
Clock" was cut in a single take, and changed the face of popular music. Gabler                         
later commented : "All the tricks I used with Louis Jordan, I used with Bill                           
Haley. The only difference was the way we did the rhythm. On Jordan, we used a                         
perfectly balanced rhythm section from the swing era...but Bill had the heavy                         
Commodore Records was wound up in 1954. However, through the late 1950s and 1960s,                     
Gabler continued to guide the direction of Decca, writing songs and producing                         
hit singles including Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” and albums including Jesus Christ               
He retired from the front line of business activity when MCA consolidated Decca                       
with its other labels and moved the merged MCA Records to Universal City,                             
California in 1971, but continued to produce reissues and to collect recognition                       
from the recording industry he helped shape. He received the coveted Trustees                         
Award for his lifetime achievements at the National Academy of Recording Arts                         
and Sciences’ 1991 Grammy Awards ceremony. In 1993, he was inducted into the                         
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by his nephew, the comedian and actor Billy Crystal.                       
Gabler died in 2001. In 2005, Billy Crystal produced a documentary and CD                             
release, both titled The Milt Gabler Story, in tribute.