Victor Arden

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A virtuoso pianist, Victor Arden was a major artist from the earliest days of recordings, beginning his New York career as the creator of both piano rolls and piano transcriptions. Born John Fuiks, a…
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A virtuoso pianist, Victor Arden was a major artist from the earliest days of recordings, beginning his New York career as the creator of both piano rolls and piano transcriptions. Born John Fuiks, a name just about anybody would want to change on general principle, he earned a degree in music from the University of Chicago, then went on to attend the American Conservatory of Music. He arrived in the big city in 1903, an era when it was more common for families to listen to whomever in the household could play piano and whatever new sheet music or piano rolls were available. Arden's output of piano rolls justified his nickname, "King of the Piano Roll." The piano's status as a home entertainment center would change with the advent of commercial recordings, a medium Arden began exploring with his new duo partner, fellow pianist Phil Ohman. The two formed the Arden-Ohman Orchestra, managing to come up with frequent hit recordings during the 30's including songs such as "I Love a Parade" and "Fine and Dandy." For a decade beginning in 1925, various versions of this orchestra played in the "pits" of a series of long-running Broadway hits, recording a repertoire of mostly show tunes. Arden and Ohman often had one group going for the live shows and another for recording sessions in which new sides were created, as if they were pancakes at a large family breakfast. Much of Arden's interesting arrangement work and piano playing was featured on so-called "dimestore dance" records, sold in stores such as Woolworths for 10 cents each. Arden and Ohman started out their collaborations on a smaller scale with a piano duo, performing frequently in 52nd Street clubs. The duo's first recording session included "Dance of the Demon," "Raga Muffin," and "Canadian Capers." In 1924 they were hired for the Broadway musical Lady Be Good, the start of what would be many such gigs including the show Tip Toes in 1926 and Spring Is Here in 1929. It was radio broadcasts that led to national fame for the slowly expanding orchestra, beginning with background music for commercials and news reports and, by the late 20's, leading to an Arden-Ohman radio show. While there was a brief split in which each man led his own dance band, the pair came back together to make a new orchestra recording for Brunswick in 1935. Arden conducted studio orchestras at NBC for such radio shows as Kings of Melody, Broadway Varieties, and Sweetest Love Songs Ever from 1934 to 1937. In the mid-'40s, Arden was featured on the Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, and later in the decade, he began performing on the American Melody Hour. Arden went on to lead an orchestra behind matinee idol Dick Powell in the '50s, resulting in several hits including "Lonely Gondola." One of his final projects was leading the All Stars Trio, a real example of going back to the roots since this was band he had originally fooled around with back in the piano roll days.