b. 14 September 1891, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, d. 3 October 1981, Evanston, Illinois, USA. After studying in St. Louis, Kayser moved to New York in 1917 to fill a vacancy as drummer in the Earl Fuller Orchestra. Initially based at Rector’s Restaurant, his time there saw him make the acquaintance of fellow musician Ted Lewis. During World War I Kayser formed a naval base band with violinist Benny Kubelsky (later Jack Benny). After his discharge he was appointed as the leader of one of the Meyer Davis organisation’s numerous touring bands, stationed predominantly in the Carolinas. He returned to St. Louis in 1921 to form his first dance band under his own name. Initially a quintet, with Frankie Trumbauer, David Rose, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy and Gene Krupa, the group’s ranks swelled as more prestigious bookings came in. They travelled widely, so much so that Kayser would later claim that it was he and Jan Garber that initiated the ‘one-nighter’ circuit which so many dance bands would follow. They negotiated hundreds of miles in a small fleet of Model T Fords, often offering patrons a ‘Novelty Orchestra’ show themed after the gangster wars. With the central Midwest circuit the most profitable, the group relocated their base of operations first to Rockford, Illinois and then Chicago. Engagements at the Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms followed, before Kayser took up a post as director and master of ceremonies at the Diversey Theater in Chicago in 1929. He then took a similar position at the Midland Theater in Kansas City. The orchestra was kept on the road however, and in 1930 secured long engagements at the Arcadia and Mary Garden Ballrooms. During this time many young musicians, who would later become famous in local dance and jazz bands, passed through the ranks, with the Kayser Orchestra serving as something akin to a finishing school. 1933 saw the group provide the musical backing to Sally Rand’s appearance at the World’s Fair, before Kayser turned his back on band leading in 1936 to join the NBC Artists Service. By 1943 he had moved to MCA, taking charge of their Chicago office. He retired in 1955.
Share this page