Sunday, April 20, 2008

Apr 20: A Musical Disney Legend

On this day in 2005, Disney Legend & musician Salvatore "Tutti" Camarata passed away in Burbank, California. Originally a trumpet player, he ran Disneyland Records (today known as Walt Disney Records) for nearly 20 years.
Nicknamed "Tutti" by band leader Jimmy Dorsey, Camarata was an instrumentalist, orchestrator, arranger, composer, and record producer.
Born May 11, 1913 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, he attended the Julliard School of Music in New York City and later studied composition at nearby Columbia University. At 21 he began playing with Charlie Barnet's band and then briefly on Bing Crosby's radio show. His big break came when he was offered first-chair trumpet with Jimmy Dorsey's band. Camarat's arrangements for Dorsey was a crucial ingredient in the band's rise to success in 1939.
In the early 1940s, he left Dorsey's band and began playing and arranging for other acts (such as Benny Goodman). In 1944, Camarata was hired as a musical director for Decca Records. He arranged and orchestrated for a number of big name acts including Louis Armstrong and Mary Martin. In 1950, he put together a studio big band - The Commanders - which had success with a series of albums. This led to television work which ultimately brought his name to the attention of Charles Hansen ... an executive working with Walt Disney.
Walt was looking for someone to run a record label that would release soundtracks of movies. Camarata was hired and he moved to southern California to establish and run Disneyland Records. With the popularity of TV's The Mickey Mouse Club, Camarata found himself producing singles by most of the show's stars - namely Annette Funicello. Although Funicello had a thin voice and was not an experienced singer, Camarata patiently experimented with a new echo effect that gave her a rich sound ... and made her a recording star.
Camarata became more than a record maker at Disney, as he played an important role in building up the studio's library of original music. He was responsible for introducing Sterling Holloway (the future voice of Winnie the Pooh) to Walt. Camarata also helped convince Louis Prima and Phil Harris to take part in the animated The Jungle Book. He supervised vocals on Disney's 1963 live-action Summer Magic (starring Hayley Mills). Camarata even worked on the Louis Armstrong album Disney Songs: The Satchmo Way.
During his early years at Disney, Camarata relied on local recording studios to work in. He would often press Walt to invest in his own studio to reduce costs (and to provide a consistent quality of recordings). After Disney rejected the idea (several times) Camarata decided to build his own studio. He bought an old auto repair shop on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and opened Sunset Sound Recorders in 1960. Although Disneyland Records was the studio's primary client at first, Sunset Sound began to attract some of rock'n'roll's biggest names. The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and even Van Halen became regular customers.
As his studio's success increased, Camarata found it difficult to juggle its demands with those of Disneyland Records - and so in 1972 he left Disney. Today legendary Sunset Sound (now run by Camarata's son) remains a top-notch facility and home to such recording artists as Dixie Chicks, Cheryl Crow, and Jet.

Click HERE for more April 20 Disney history.

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