J04: Swan’s song

For years I had heard that the author of the great standard, “When Your Lover Has Gone,” was from around here. His name was Einar Swan. The fakebooks list him as E.A. Swan. That was the only information I had. I filed it away under: Someday, I’d like to find out more about this guy.

A couple of years ago, Sven Bjerstedt, a Swedish educator, also wondered about Swan, not because he was from Worcester of course, but that he seemed to have been “completely forgotten.”

“I have always loved the 1931 torch song “When Your Lover Has Gone,” Bjerstedt says in a recent email correspondence. “My specific interest in its writer started when I discovered (in March, 2005, I believe) that his first name was Einar, which seemed to have a Scandinavian ring to it.”

From this initial thought, Bjerstedt started his research into resurrecting and reclaiming the legacy of Swan. The result is an 80-page loving portrait called Who Was Einar Swan?: A Study in Jazz Age Fame and Oblivion.

It was published online by the Swedish Finn Historical Society, which can be found at http://ask.lub.lu.se/archive/00024036/01/bjerstedt_Swan.pdf. A shorter version was published in the January, 2007 issue of The Mississippi Rag.

For fans of local jazz history like myself, the publication of this remarkable study is akin to finding a lost treasure. Working from the specific of the tune, Bjerstedt has literally written the definitive biography of the man.

Reading Who Was Einar Swan?, we learn that the author of “When Your Lover Has Gone,” was no one trick pony, but much more. As a saxophonist he played on the national stage and as an arranger, he supplied charts for the best bands of his day. Most of all, we learn that Swan was someone local fans can hold up and proudly say, ‘He was one of our own.’ As Bjerstedt has rediscovered, Swan’s legacy is rich, deep and most worthy of study.

Though Bjerstedt says he was not able to locate his birth certificate, most books list Swan as being born in Fitchburg on March 20, 1903. He died on August 8, 1940 in Greenwood Lake, NY. He was 37.

His given name was Einar William. He was sometimes called Eino or Einor. He later changed his middle to Aaron, after converting to Judaism. A child prodigy born into a musical family who immigrated from Finland, Swan became a talented multi-instrumentalist, composer, lyricist and arranger.

His father, John, is said to have known Jean Sibelius in the old country and claims to have invented the single reed bassoon. He lived in Ohio for awhile where he was a member of the Cleveland Saxophone Quartet.

The Swan family moved to Worcester some time around 1917-18 and for a time lived at 11 Elliott Street. A teenage Einar went to Commerce High School and played clarinet in the school’s orchestra, of which violinist Harry Levenson was also a member.

Bjerstedt fills his study with family photos, reprints of articles and photographs from the Worcester Telegram and Worcester Historical Museum, even copies of handwritten manuscripts of Swan’s compositions. He takes the reader through Swan’s early days performing with Worcester bands like The Benny Conn Orchestra and his own Swanie’s Serenaders.

In our email exchange Bjerstedt reports, “When it comes to other musicians from the Worcester area, 1920s photos of Swanie’s Serenaders show these musicians, among others: Julius Levinsky, violin; Joe Toscano, banjo; Sammy Swenson, piano; Ernest Paul, drums; Oscar Werme, trombone; Einar Swan, saxophone; Benny Conn, trumpet. I think I also discovered a couple of Einar Swan’s associates from ”Swanie’s Serenaders” by searching this website: http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi.

“According to a 1959 article, trombone player Oscar Werme still lived in Worcester then. On the webpage mentioned above I found one Ernest Paul, b. 29 Dec. 1896, d. in Feb. 1968 in Worcester, and one Oscar Werme, b. 3 Dec. 1893, d. in Aug. 1971 in Worcester. [Werme went on to play tuba with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra]. I also found one Erik Gustaf Werme, b. 1 Dec. 1862 in Borgvik, Värmland, Sweden, son of Lars Gustaf Werme and Christina Löf, emigrated to Worcester, MA.)”

In great detail, the author accounts Swan’s arrival in New York City and his stints with the bands of Sam Lanin and Vincent Lopez. Bjerstedt notes that Swan played with such legendary figures as the Dorsey Brothers, Red Nichols and Xavier Cugat, among others.

Bjerstedt also points out that becoming a jazz musician caused a rift between Einar and his father. It was not the music John had expected his son to play, but as Bjerstedt writes, “Einar’s choice of musical style was no whim. A few years later, he elaborated on the subject in an interview: ‘Jazz,’ he says, ‘is the coming and perfectly legitimate development of modern music. All musicians are turning to it … Jazz is now firmly established, the music of the future, and already has become classic in a certain way — the only difference being that it is more alive than the older type of music.’”

He also talks about Swan’s eventual decision to give up performing to concentrate on writing and arranging. When asked if Swan can be heard on record, Bjerstedt says, “I seriously doubt that his own band, Swanie’s Serenaders ever recorded. The available discographical information on Sam Lanin’s and Vincent Lopez’s orchestras is probably not entirely reliable.

“I found it frustratingly difficult to ascertain whether Einar Swan can be heard as a soloist in any recording. A year ago, I posted on a jazz discussion forum regarding this, and even though the matter hardly was settled, some of the replies definitely were of interest: “>http://www.network54.com/Forum/27140/message/1139352613/ .”

Bjerstedt however points out that orchestral arrangements by Einar Swan could be heard in several recordings by Vincent Lopez, Dave Rubinoff, Raymond Paige, and others. “But,” he says, “I’m afraid that I have no way of being certain as to which specific tunes.”

“When Your Lover Has Gone,” has been covered by all the greats – Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Sinatra, to name a few. It has been reported that when Sinatra heard that Swan had died so young, Sinatra donated the royalties of his performance of the song to the family. The tune has also been sung by a number of pop singers, Eydie Gorme, Linda Ronstadt and Ray Charles, to name a few. Here is a YouTube clip of Carly Simon singing it, complete with the opening verse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6dX9alhXqQ.

Great instrumentalists have covered the tune as well, including such saxophonists as Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. It can also be heard on the film soundtracks of Any Given Sunday, Rockateer and Beyond the Sea.

This is what the sheet music looked like:

In his book, The Unsung Songwriters, Warren W. Vaché, writes: “In 1931 Swan wrote both the music and the words for one of the most beautiful songs in the library of American popular music, ‘When Your Lover Has Gone.’ In spite of the fact that competition that year was fierce, with all the top composers turning out excellent material, and even though the recording industry was struggling to stay alive while being smothered in the two grip of the Depression and radio, the song was an instant hit and it drew attention from those recording artists lucky enough to still be working and who appreciated the song.”

In his study, Bjerstedt includes the full lyric. The piece has an opening verse, which is rarely performed. It reads: “For ages and ages / The poets and sages / Of love wond’rous love always sing / but ask any lover / And you’ll soon discover / The heartaches that romance can bring.”

With a title like, “When Your Lover Has Gone,” you know it is going to be filled with melancholy. It’s usually taken at ballad tempo, but some like singer Alma Micic will read it quite differently. Here’s a link to her take: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hYMPmByCxE.

According to Vaché, in spite of it being a hit, Swan made no attempt to cash in on its success with a flurry of follow-ups. He points to “A Room With a View,” as the only other song of note, singling out Helen Forrest‘s recording on Bluebird. For a complete list of Swan’s published songs check the ASCAP page at: http://www.ascap.com/ace/search.cfm?requesttimeout=300&mode=results&searchstr=8951400&search_in=c&search_type=exact&search_det=t,s,w,p,b,v&results_pp=20&start=1.

For all his comprehensive research and untiring efforts, Bjerstedt admits there is more to the Einar Swan story.

“It is a pity that this research wasn’t carried out earlier,” he says. “Unfortunately, Einar’s two younger siblings Aina and Arthur passed away in 2005. However, I was very lucky to make contact with Einar’s children and two of his nieces. Without their kind and generous help, the task would have been impossible.”

If you have any information about Einar Swan that you would like to contribute to the Jazz Worcester history, please leave a comment and thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>