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Paul Weston.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Weston, Paul (12 Mar. 1912-20 Sept. 1996), musician, was born Paul Wetstein in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Paul Richard Wetstein, a teacher at Miss Hill's School for Girls, and Anna Grady Wetstein. Educated through high school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, he was Phi Beta Kappa at Dartmouth College, majoring in economics and leading a jazz band, and graduating cum laude in 1933.

In 1933 or 1934, while a graduate student in economics at Columbia University, Paul Wetstein was injured in a train wreck; during his convalescence, he wrote some orchestral arrangements for the Joe Haymes orchestra. Then Rudy Vallee used some of his "charts" (arrangements) on the "Fleischmann Hour" radio program. When trombonist Tommy Dorsey took over the Haymes band in 1935, he hired Wetstein as arranger. Over the next five years of the Dorsey band's rise to fame, Wetstein wrote the charts for several hit records including "Who?" (notable for effective countermelodies), "Night and Day," and "Stardust" (the latter two characterized by using Dorsey's trombone as a clear leading "voice").

At the suggestion of a radio producer, Wetstein changed his surname to Weston after his arrival in Hollywood in 1940, where he scored Irving Berlin's songs for the film Holiday Inn. When songwriters Johnny Mercer and B. G. DeSylva joined record store owner Glenn Wallichs in creating Capitol Records in 1942, Mercer hired Weston as Capitol's music director.

Over the next eight years, Weston and Mercer were mainly responsible for the freshly swinging sound that characterized Capitol's classic years. Weston produced the early albums of the King Cole Trio (see Nat King Cole) and, with a studio orchestra, backed almost all Capitol's singers, including Mercer and the Pied Pipers singing group as well as its recent graduate, Jo Stafford, who became Weston's wife in 1952. (The couple had two children and remained married until Weston's death.) While at Capitol, Weston and Stafford showed a bent for musical humor, recording in hillbilly fashion "Tim-Tay-Shun" (a spoof of the melodramatic "Temptation") and "I'm My Own Grandmaw."

The distinctive Capitol sound needed only slight enhancement for the first Music for Dreaming album (1943), which helped create a controversial new direction in American popular music. The music writer Gene Lees later wrote that it was "[t]he dance band augmented with strings. . . . [Weston] toned down the brass and saxes to achieve a natural acoustical balance . . . the strings forming cushions for fine jazz soloists. . . . [The results] perfectly embody Paul's temperament, which is sunny, sensible, warm, generous, fair and very humorous."

Music for Dreaming and its sequels nurtured a genre sometimes labeled "mood music," related to what the British call Light Music, which became commercially popular after World War II with the advent of long-playing records and improved sound recording. Almost wholly instrumental, it partially filled the void created by the rapid disappearance of swing bands, but it was clearly intended for "easy" background listening, free of the excitement that innovation or improvisation could produce. Conscious of critics' adverse reactions, Weston contrasted his approach with that of others: "Robert Farnon [in Great Britain] would operate in the classic form of orchestra, not jazzy at all. Percy Faith [a Canadian characterized by his lulling vocal groups] was the same, and Kostelanetz [André Kostelanetz, a Russian émigré in the United States who popularized the classics] more so. I believe their reliance on strings without the jazz feel that I brought even to my ballads was the reason the term 'elevator music' came to symbolize most of . . . [these] attempts" (quoted at Space Age Pop Music website).

In 1950, when Weston and Stafford moved to Columbia Records, Stafford's career flowered, partly because of the songs Weston wrote for her. Among these were the ballads "Day by Day" and "I Should Care" as well as "Shrimp Boats," a kind of Cajun novelty. While at Columbia, Weston recorded his own light compositions The Crescent City Suite and Gateway to the West. Later came The Mercy Partridge Suite, The Bells of Santa Ynez, and Memories of Ireland. These were tone poems, often with choral passages.

In 1957 Weston began a five-year hitch as musical director for National Broadcasting Corporation Television. One of the founders of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Weston was its first president in 1957. The same year, at a Columbia Records sales conference Weston casually imitated a dreadful cocktail lounge pianist, and "Jonathan Edwards" was born. Named, by Columbia executive George Avakian, after the eighteenth-century American Calvinist preacher Jonathan Edwards ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"), "Edwards" made his recorded debut in The Piano Artistry of Jonathan Edwards (1957), a best-selling long-playing record. The identities of "Edwards" and subsequently Stafford as his vocal partner "Darlene" were barely disguised. In 1960 Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris won a Grammy from the NARAS as best comedy album.

In a later comic interview with Richard J. Pietschmann, the Edwardses revealed some of their "strengths." Jonathan spoke of his penchant for "7/4 bars and sudden changes in tempo" and took pride in his arpeggios: ". . . they're not like other people's arpeggios. They contain a great many more notes." Darlene emphasized her savoir-faire: "I just love sophisticated types of songs, and when I find words that are really sophisticated, I just lay into them. I really give them their due. Rendezvous, for example, or nonchalant." Lees noted "what Jo calls 'crumbling thirds'" and "Darlene's eerily inaccurate intonation" (Stafford had perfect pitch). By 1982, when they claimed to have invented the "disco rest" amid their version of "Staying Alive" (from Saturday Night Fever), the Edwardses had produced six albums, including a sing-along blamed by recording executive Mitch Miller for ending the sing-along genre he had dominated for many years.

When the recording industry was altered by the development of compact discs, stimulating reissues, Weston created Corinthian Records in order to secure the masters of his and Stafford's earlier work. A highly competent, highly commercial, and subversively satirical musician, Weston also served as president of the Crippled Children's Society of Los Angeles for three years. He died in Santa Monica.



Jo Stafford Weston aided in the research for this essay. An excellent portrait of both Westons is in Gene Lees, Singers and the Song (1987). Richard J. Pietschmann, "Jonathan and Darlene Edwards Talk!" originated in Los Angeles magazine, Dec. 1982. A sketchy obituary is in the Los Angeles Times, 23 Sept. 1996, while a substantial one appears in the New York Times, 24 Sept. 1996.

James Ross Moore

Online Resources

  • "Jonathan and Darlene Edwards Talk!"
    The Prietschman interview, from which one can link to the Corinthian Records site with details about albums recorded by Paul Weston and Jo Stafford.
  • Space Age Musicmaker: Paul Weston
    A site that celebrates Weston as a pioneer of "space age pop," a highly sophisticated form of music that does not take itself too seriously.

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James Ross Moore. "Weston, Paul";;
American National Biography Online Jan. 2001 Update.
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