Gordon Jenkins played organ, piano, and banjo as a child, but when he joined the band of Isham Jones in the early ‘30s he turned to arranging and soon made a name for himself. In 1938 he moved to Hollywood and conducted Dick Haymes’ program for NBC radio.
He joined Decca Records in 1945 and became musical director. In 1948 he recorded “Manhattan Tower,” his art piece combining songs and narration over lush strings to portray a young man’s fascination with New York City. Although criticized by some as “saccharine,” it remained a cult favorite for years. In 1956 he produced and staged a television extravaganza, Saturday Spectacular: Manhattan Tower, based on the work.
His song arrangements began to hit the charts, and in 1949 three made the top ten--“I Don’t See Me in Your Eyes Anymore,” “Again,” and “Don’t Cry Joe.” In 1950 his versions of “My Foolish Heart” and “Bewitched” were among the top ten, and he discovered the Weavers, a folk group from New York City. He recorded them with full orchestral backing, and their “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” a Yiddish folk song, was a phenomenal success, followed by “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Wimoweh,” and others, all of which prepared listeners for the coming folk revival.
With his move to Capitol Records in the ‘50s he continued to develop his lush, “easy listening” style. But he also arranged for such stars as Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Louis Armstrong and Judy Garland. He won a Grammy for Sinatra’s September of My Years in 1956. Cole’s Love Is the Thing (1957) contained the chart-topping “When I Fall in Love,” and Jenkins’ 1973 session with pop singer Harry Nilsson was videotaped and televised by the BBC.
Jenkins also wrote lyrics for “Blue Prelude” (1933) with music by Joe Bishop, “P. S. I Love You” (1934) with Johnny Mercer and “When a Woman Loves a Man” (1934) with Bernard Hanighen. His 1935 “Goodbye,” a haunting melody with his own lyric, became Benny Goodman’s closing theme, and the Four Freshmen recorded a popular version of it in the ‘50s. “San Fernando Valley” was a hit for Bing Crosby in 1944, and in 1949 Jenkins scored the Broadway show Along Fifth Avenue. Cole recorded Jenkins’ “This Is All I Ask” in the 1958 album The Very Thought of You.
Jenkins’ son Bruce, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, has written a biography of his father entitled Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins.
- Sandra Burlingame