Robert Dade

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On recordings, Bob Astor is best remembered as half of a songwriting team behind jazz jive and rhythm & blues songs such as the hefty saga of "Fat Sam from Birmingham," a number recorded with great relish…
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On recordings, Bob Astor is best remembered as half of a songwriting team behind jazz jive and rhythm & blues songs such as the hefty saga of "Fat Sam from Birmingham," a number recorded with great relish by bandleaders Louis Jordan and King Pleasure. Astor and his main collaborator, pianist George Williams, also came up with the haunting and evocative ballad "I Remember Harlem," associated so strongly with the great jazz trumpeter Roy Eldridge that his name often shows up in the songwriting credits instead. Astor, whose real name was Robert Dade, had an extensive career in the music business that was not just limited to songwriting, however. He was active and influential as a bandleader, although his group never managed to record. And he also turned into quite an industrious booking agent, one of the key organizers of the 1964 American tour by none other than the Beatles. In New Orleans, he is in fact known for talking the moptops down from $25,000 to $20,000 for the band's one-and-only gig in that city.

Astor began his music career playing both trumpet and drums in small bands around New Orleans and the party-hearty oilfield settlements of East Texas. Once he had made it as far from home as southern California, Astor took the gamble on starting his own big band, while also garnering employment as a disc jockey, club manager, and emcee. In the early '40s, Astor's band also worked in New York City, and was as influential as a group can be that didn't record. This influence was instead felt through the efforts of a host of excellent musicians who toiled in Astor's group prior to becoming big names in jazz, including composer and arranger Neal Hefti, trumpeter Les Elgart, saxophonists Zoot Sims and Illinois Jacquet, drummers Shelly Manne and Teddy Charles, and the aforementioned Williams.

While the large Astor band did not linger for long, part of the leader's respected legacy was the fact that he was not a racist, and as a result, was prone to putting black and white musicians on the same bandstand, something the public did not exactly take for granted in the '40s. There are musicologists who consider the Astor band to actually have been the first on the west Coast to feature a racial mix. In the beginning, Astor saw the band as a vehicle for promoting his own compositions, but later found the recordings of these pieces by other artists such as Count Basie were even more effective. Other titles written by Astor and Williams include "In the Cool of the Evening," not to be confused with the Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, or Nat King Cole opus of the same name, the logical "If You Don't Believe I'm Leaving, Count the Days I'm Gone," and "You're my Baby, You," no doubt written in a more happy romantic period. In the '50s, Astor gained additional fame as a radio disc jockey and by the end of that decade had also begun working as a booking agent for New York City's Shaw Agency. As a songwriter he kept his two cents in the pot, joining forces with rowdy comedian Pigmeat Markham for the novelty tune "Here Comes the Judge," although why Markham thought he needed as many as five collaborators credited for this ditty is one of the mysteries of the songwriting trade. Astor, whose credits sometimes show up under his real name of Dade, should not be confused with an earlier vocalist named Bob Astor who recorded with Arthur Briggs' Savoy Syncopators Orchestra in the late '20s.