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About Bert Firman

Born Herbert Feuerman in London, England on February 3r,1906, young Bert wanted to become a doctor but was expected to study music because everyone in his immediate family, as well as cousins and uncles, were musicians. After early training on violin, he was granted a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music. At the age of 13 he played in a quintet providing incidental music at the Playhouse Theatre, and at 14 was a member of the orchestra at the Victoria Hotel. Bert's brother John (at that time pianist with the Savoy Havana Band) set him up with an audition which resulted in Bert being cast as Sascha, a gypsy violinist in Sally, a musical scored by Jerome Kern. This production opened September 10, 1921 and ran for a total of 383 performances. Finding himself in the limelight and asked if he could come up with a name containing fewer letters, Bert changed his last name, first to Fireman, then Firman. Everyone else in the family, with the exception of Bert's father, adopted the new spelling. After the show closed, Bert hired in as violinist with the Midnight Follies Orchestra at the Metropole Hotel. After the leader of this ensemble, an American saxophonist, tumbled off the stage one night while drunk, 16-year-old Bert Firman was given the job of directing the band. He soon found himself leading various orchestras at parties given by Edward, Prince of Wales. Between the years 1924 and 1928, Firman was musical director for Zonophone records, a division of the H.M.V. Gramophone Company. He recorded over 750 sides for this label, using some 21 different names for his ensembles. In addition to Bert Firman's Dance Orchestra, the list of aliases included the Arcadians Dance Orchestra, the Cabaret Novelty Orchestra, the Carlton Hotel Dance Orchestra, the Devonshire Restaurant Dance Band, the London Orchestra, the Orpheus Dance Band, the Ariel Dance Orchestra, and Eugene Brockman's Dance Orchestra. Firman also cut an enormous number of relatively jazzy sides from November 1927 through September 1932 with a smaller group known as the Rhythmic Eight. Noteworthy titles from the Zonophone years are "Who Takes Care of the Caretaker's Daughter?" from July of 1925, "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charlie" from February of 1926, Duke Ellington's "Jig Walk" recorded in December 1926, and "Stampede" -- a hot number also being presented in America at that time by Red Nichols and Miff Mole -- in February of 1927. Firman regularly tapped into authentic jazz material, recording "Sugar Foot Stomp" and "Milenberg Joys" in May of 1927. In January 1928, he made what is believed to have been the first English recording of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." In November of 1929 he recorded a version of Fats Waller's "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling." The Firman ensembles featured quite a number of excellent players, including Ted Heath, Sylvester Ahola, Chelsea Quealey, Danny Polo, Freddy Gardner, George Melachrino, and for a little while in 1925, an American saxophonist by the name of Rudy Vallée. In 1929, Firman relocated himself, first to New York City as a conductor for NBC broadcasts, then to Hollywood as arranger and conductor providing music for motion pictures. From there he moved back to London, assembled a band, and descended upon Paris, where he settled into a steady pattern of performances at Les Ambassadeurs, with engagements in Monte Carlo every summer. By 1937, he was back in London, broadcasting for BBC and Radio Luxembourg. During WWII, Firman enlisted in the Staffordshire Regiment, then toured Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, entertaining the troops as a member of "Stars in Battledress." This group accompanied the 51st Division into Bremen. After the war was over, Firman continued to make music in Paris. His very last gig as a leader was at the Bagatelle Club with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in the band. After this, Firman withdrew entirely from the music business, working on the London Metal Exchange until he opted for full retirement in 1976. Bert Firman passed away on April 9, 1999. In recent years, younger musicians -- with the blessing of old Firman himself -- have re-formed the Bert Firman Dance Orchestra, utilizing the original Firman arrangements. ~ arwulf arwulf

London, England
Feb 3, 1906

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