Saturday, May 09, 2015

TEAKWOOD NOCTURNE - TV's great classical mini-concerto

"Teakwood Nocturne" has probably been used by Universal Studios in dozens of its TV shows and movies. Its name comes from a 1961 episode of Boris Karloff's "Thriller." Called "Terror in Teakwood," it stars the supernaturally beautiful Hazel Court along with bonily handsome Guy Rolfe, who often played bizarre leading men who ended up destroyed by their own insanity. He's a crazed classical pianist in this one, and rather than abusing a funeral sonata from Chopin or Beethoven, or a darker shade of Bach, the producers went with something original.

The piece was composed by Caesar Giovannini, who was born in Chicago in 1925. The classically-trained American was originally hired by NBC to play piano for various projects and shows. In the late 50's and into the 60's he moved on to vinylly challenge Mantovani, Melachrino, Kostelanetz and other easy-listening pianists/orchestra leaders.

He recorded, with or without his "Velvet Orchestra," for small "stereo demonstration" labels along with Bally and Mercury. His reel-to-reel tapes and vinyl albums include "Caesar Plays Concert Stereo," "Brilliant Sounds of Pianos and Percussion," "The World of Strings,""Silk Satin and Strings," "Viola Paris" and "Los Dedos Magicos de Caesar Giovannini." The latter features the typical tunes middle aged people wanted to hear, including "Stairway to the Stars," "Beyond the Sea," "Stranger on the Shore" and "The Sweetest Sounds." But not his nocturne, which did get a cover version from probably the best known pop pianist of the era, Roger Williams. There's some collector value in Caesar's stash due to the good sonic quality of the vintage stereo recordings and/or the cheesy nature of the album covers.

As a behind-the-scenes pianist, Giovannini continued to find a lot of work including playing on the soundtracks for "Soylent Green," "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," "Wait Until Dark," "Pressure Point" and many more.

Although there are votes for "Alla Barocco," Caesar's most enduring original remains "Teakwood Nocturne," which, is below in the version from Stanley Wilson and his Orchestra. A Jewish conductor and arranger who died of a heart attack at 52, Wilson worked on a variety of TV shows during the 60's, including"The Virginian," "87th Precinct," "Johnny Staccato," "Checkmate," "Ripcord," "Broken Arrow," "Tales of Wells Fargo," "The Millionaire" and "Wagon Train."

Wilson, ironically enough, worked on both Karloff's "Thriller," and then "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He was the one who adapted Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" for use as Alfred's theme music. Let's pretend Stanley or Caesar is playing the piano on this track…using the severed hands of a dead man...echoing the Orlac-plot of that infamous episode of "Thriller."

. Stanley Wilson & Orchestra Teakwood Nocturne

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