This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Not-So-Shy Cornetist

16 August 2019

Sometime the smile tells all.
In an instant it says, "Very pleased to meet you."
and you know you have a friend for life.

Very often it's the proud posture,

or the confident carriage,

or just the clear eyes of someone
so self-assured that they have no fear.

A camera captures more than light,
it can record a brave spirit,
someone with the courage
to make a bold, brassy noise.

These four young cornet players
are not shy little children
hiding behind mother.
They are plucky youths
ready to showoff their musical talent.

* * *

The first little girl
with the bobbed blonde hair,
big cornet, and bigger smile
is anonymous
and maybe age 7 or 8, I think.
Her postcard was made by
Hoffman Studio in Hanover, PA
some time in the 1920s.

* * *

The second cornetist is a boy
dressed in a fine band uniform
with the initials  L.B.B. on his collar badge.
He appears about 10 to 12 years old
but his name is unknown.
His extra large cabinet photograph,

suitable for a grandmother's mantle,

was taken by the DeLon Studio,
1109 Broadway in Brooklyn, New York.
The photo's style was popular from 1900 to 1910.

* * *

The third cornet player is a fearless girl
whose age, big hair bow, and floral print frock 
suggest she comes from the same era 1905-1910.
Her photo is an unmarked postcard
but the camera has picked up
very ornate engraving on her cornet.
The way she holds her instrument
and the ribbons on her shoes
makes me think she is a professional entertainer,
perhaps a child artist on the vaudeville circuit.

* * *

The last young boy plays his cornet
from a precarious position
atop a fancy wood table.
His shiny kid-leather shoes also have ribbons.

His name is Herman Brinkhaus
as signed on the back of the cabinet photo.
The photographer was Feinberg
of 16 W. 14th St., New York City.
Portraits in Crayon
and Pastel
a Specialty.
children's pictures
a great success.

This photo is definitely from the 1890s
when searsucker sailor suits
were the latest fashion for small boys.
Herman Brinkhaus looks about age 9 or 10.
And again because he has the positive air
of an accomplished musician
and has ribbons on his shoes,
I believe he may be another child artist
of the music hall stage.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend it's a tisket, a tasket,
a green and yellow basket.

An Atlantic City Love Story, part 3

10 August 2019

Pittsburg Press
23 September 1907

In September 1907, six years after first arriving in America in 1901, Oreste Vessella, the Italian Bandmaster received a salute from the Pittsburg  Press. (Pittsburgh as it was then spelled)

Oreste Vessela Placed in Class with Creatore. 
Leader of the Roman Band Complimented By the Critics.

A tempestuous temperament like that which carries Oreste Vessella, the conductor of the Roman Band, to that sublime musical eminence which ignores environment and the presence of others, is rarely found in one who has not the warm blood of the Latin in his veins. Under the sunny skies of Italy Vessella first looked upon Mother Earth. As a child he was placed under the most careful instructors. He outgrew the teacher, professor after professor, until the best masters of Italy took him up and were glad to have the honor of claiming such a pupil.

The boy grew to be a man of moods, emotional and temperamentally turbulent. He struggled on and up, however, ever reaching out for that which seemed unattainable. In such a crucible the nature of the man was refined. He emerged from an erratic boyhood into a maturity seasoned and sensible, but so delicately strung upon tense nerves that his work at once was recognized as something different from that of the average musician. Perhaps it was that intangible thing which we know as genius, perhaps—well what's the good of speculating until we have seen the man at short range, have listened to his interpretations of the masterpieces of music and beheld the manner and method by which he holds his 40 artists as a unit in the renditions of every number in his varied programs. Comparisons do not please Vessella, but the critic by the seashore, where he has played for five consecutive years, have, by some strange and inexplicable process or reasoning, unanimously referred to him in the same paragraph with Creatore.

Like a sticky glazed pastry
the honeyed words of this flattery
require a moment to cleanse our fingers thoughts.

So let's pause and just listen.

_ _ _

Here is a 1911 recording of Vessella's Italian Band
playing a selection of music from Gaetano Donizetti's comic opera
Figlia del Reggimento ~ The Daughter of the Regiment.
The recording was made for Victor Records
on March 31, 1911 in Camden, NJ
and comes from the Library of Congress archives.


Adobe Flash required to play this file.
If the box is grey or fails to load
it may be because the LOC website is down.


This short bit of flummery probably sounded better in Italian when dictated by its subject, Oreste. He, or perhaps an ingratiating music critic, attempted to place Vessella as the equal of Guiseppe Creatore, another Italian bandmaster we met in last week's post, who by 1907 had climbed further up the ladder of public fame.

In this first decade of the 20th century, America loved band music. All across the nation countless American, German, Bohemian, and Italian wind ensembles performed in music halls, amusement parks, and seaside piers. People knew the names of cornet players; criticized the musicianship of trombone virtuosi; recognized their favorite tuba solos. And each band was identified by its charismatic leader. The ambition and ego of Oreste Vessella was not unique in this era. But it was unusual that he got so much press coverage of a personal nature. The public liked band music, but they enjoyed a love story even more.

This is the third in a series on the romance
of Oreste Vessella, the Italian Bandmaster
and Edna Egan, the millionaire's daughter.

To catch up, click these links:

For An Atlantic City Love Story, part 1
An Atlantic City Love Story, part 2

Cincinnati Enquirer
16 December 1904

In December 1904, Vessella was worried sick about a lawsuit brought against him by a former lover in Italy who suited him for breach of promise. The young woman, Gaetanina Lombari, sought $25,000 in damages. But incalculable damage had already injured Vessella's marriage.

His bride Edna, married just five months when news of this scandal broke in October 1904, was the daughter of wealthy Cincinnati businessman, Thomas P. Egan. Needless to say, Mr. Egan was not pleased and publicly refused to be drawn into paying for in son-in-law's shameful misfortune.

When the breach of promise case finally reached a judgement in April 1905, it went against Vessella and he was ordered to pay $10,000 to Signorina Lombari. Mr. Egan still objected to defraying any of Vessella's debt.

For some marriages this might have been the end, but somehow Oreste and Edna revived their love and a kind of harmony was restored in Atlantic City. 

_ _ _

"Musicians make ideal husbands," said Mrs. Vessella in an interview for the Cincinnati Post in May 1906. "My husband is very well pleased with the reception given him by his audience at the Zoo. (in Cincinnati) I am just as enthusiastic over his work as he is himself. He's so absorbed in it. Although he has not had the advantage of travel in this country, I feel sure that he will yet make a bit hit. He is quite a young man."

She went on. "As an artist, I think very highly of Signor Vessella, and musicians make ideal husbands," she laughingly said, when asked her opinion of her husband's ability. "I am very much infatuated with both him and his work."

Cincinnati Post
22 May 1906

Despite her loving words, 
this year would test Edna and Oreste even more.

That summer of 1906 Oreste went to Chicago as guest conductor of another Italian band, the Banda Roma, which was on the bill for the Sans Souci amusement park. On opening day 32,000 people came to the park to ride the scenic railway, see the alligator farm, take a turn in the dance pavilion, and hear the band.

Nearby at the Chutes water park, King Humbolt's Royal Italian Band under Pozzi played. At the Riverview park, in between its  ostrich farm and crocodile ranch, Bohumir Kryl, the great Bohemian cornetist, led his band in daily concerts. The Coliseum booked Ellery's Italian Band under Francesco Ferullo. Carl Bunge and his band were still an attraction at the Bismark gardens, followed by Chevalier Gargiulo and his celebrated Italian Band. The White City park engaged the cornet virtuoso, Alessandro Liberati and his military band of fifty pieces.

Chicago was America's new cultural mecca, the turbulent hub of America's theatrical circuits that attracted an endless parade of actors, singers, instrumentalists, bands, symphony orchestras, and vaudeville acts of every description. Competition for bookings was intense. When the Banda Roma's director was taken ill, Vessella was hired as a substitute. He and the bandsmen had some artistic differences. In July a dispute arose with the Chicago musicians union which found fault with Vessella's contract and fined him $500 and each of his musicians $50. Then in August he expressed some abusive words towards a musician during a concert and a fracas ensued between him and the players, frightening the audience, and only stopped when police intervened.

Cincinnati Post
29 October 1906

In late August Vessela returned to Atlantic City to finish the summer season with his regular band at the Steel Pier. Down the beach, Young's Million Dollar Pier, extended its season into the end of October and booked Elenda Tasca's Royal Italian Artillery Band. Originally Vessella was tentatively booked to substitute for Elenda but shortly before the engagement was to start, Tasca returned and Vessella was dismissed. The cancellation may have saved his life.

On Sunday afternoon, October 28, 1906,  a West Jersey and Seashore Railroad electric train left Camden, NJ for Atlantic City with 80 to 100 passengers. On board were 20 members of Tasca's Royal Italian Artillery Band traveling to fulfill their engagement at Young's Pier that evening.

They missed the concert.

_ _ _

Before reaching Atlantic City, the railway line crossed a wooden trestle drawbridge over an narrow estuary creek. Just prior to the Camden train, the drawbridge was opened to allow boats to pass. After they were through it failed to close completely and when the train approached its three cars jumped the track and plunged into the water. Two cars were totally submerged and the last car remained hooked on the trestle partially under water. The bridge was less than ¼ mile from the Atlantic City station. Within minutes thousands of people rushed to the scene. There was little they could do.

Mt. Carmel PA Daily News
29 October 1906

The Wikipedia entry for the Atlantic City train wreck of 1906 records that the train accident claimed 53 lives. Contemporary accounts in newspapers around the nation reported much higher numbers. Many papers carried very detailed lists of the victims, killed and injured, with ages, residences, and occupations. Certainly at least three bandsmen from Tasco's Italian Band perished in the accident, musicians that Vessella surely knew and who may even have been members of his own band at one time.

Brooklyn Times- Union
29 October 1906

The Atlantic City train wreck was not the only tragic rail incident to occur in 1906. In June that year the express train to Atlantic City derailed causing one death and injuring 50 passengers. In fact the October accident was only number 5 of 7 major rail calamities that year. In November forty-three people died in an accident in Indiana, and in December fifty-three were killed in Washington D. C.

Considering that the country was still in mourning for the victims of the San Francisco earthquake on April 18th, the year 1906 would be remembered for a great many tragedies.

Cincinnati Post
24 April 1907

Over the winter things were relatively quiet until April 1907 when Vessella was arrested on a charge of threatening a musician with a pistol. The bandsman, Francesca Certaglia, contended that he and Vessella got into an argument over money. Vessella claimed it was over a mistake in the playing of the musician. After a hearing in magistrate court, Oreste was acquitted and released.

_ _ _

Camden NJ Courier-Post
10 October 1907

After Oreste lost the lawsuit over his breach of promise to Gaetanina Lombari in October 1905, the matter disappeared from public attention. Then two years later, it popped up again. Following his father-in-law's advice, Oreste had declared personal bankruptcy. Now the trustee appointed to follow the maestro's financial affairs, claimed he had been unable to find any assets to pay the $10,000 award and believed Oreste Vessella had no more cash than what was exempted by law. That included a wardrobe of two band uniforms, one tuxedo suit, one frock coat, one sack suit, one watch, one pair of cuff buttons, and two trunks of sheet music. Valued in aggregate at $150.

The trustee asked the judge to relieve him of further duty in this case, which the judge obliged. Oreste was once again solvent as much as a musician married to the daughter of a millionaire could be.

I attempted to research how personal bankruptcy worked in this era which operated under a reform law from 1898 and must admit it is beyond my understanding. Given that Vessella was still a foreign alien in 1905 but connected by marriage to Mr. Thomas P. Egan, a very successful businessman, it seems likely that a very sharp law firm was involved. A musician in Vessella's band might earn $45-60 a week, and the bandleader perhaps $400-500, but this would hardly support Edna in the grand hotel lifestyle she expected. Undoubtedly MR. Egan made other arrangements so that the couple had separate incomes and property.

_ _ _

Surprisingly I found only three newspaper reports about the Vessella's for 1908. In February, Oreste's younger brother, Marco Vessella, was engaged to play the summer season at Atlantic City at Young's Pier. Somewhere along that beach there must have been a spot that allowed a bather to hear Marco's band in one ear and Oreste's band in the other.

At the end of August, Mr. and Mrs. Egan hosted a dinner at an Atlantic City grill for Edna and Oreste along with the rest of the Egan family. Then two days later, Vincenso Callimo, a clarinetist in the Royal Italian Band, drowned while attempting to swim around the 1,500 ft long Steel Pier. The tragic news was published in the San Francisco newspaper L'Italia in Italian.

Then in February 1909, bandmaster Oreste Vessella was arrested again.
This time for threatening personal injury to a skating instructor.
A man who wore a diamond ring given him
by Vessella's wife Edna.

Washington DC Evening Star
15 February 1909

Reports said Vessella angrily challenged George Matthews, the rollerskating instructor, to a duel.  A day later Vessella denied it. "When I fight I intend to fight like an American," he declared. "I intended to thrash him for circulating stories about my wife."  He was upset that Edna had returned to Cincinnati. "I don't believe she ever gave him a ring," he said defiantly. "She would never do such a thing."

A month later in March, once again Vessella appeared in legal news charged in a civil case for failing to pay a female private detective the balance of her fee. She claimed he paid $600 but still owed $150. No other information was provided as who she was hired to investigate.

Over the spring and summer of 1909 these charges were eventually settled. Vessella continued to lead his band and Edna returned to Atlantic City. But it was an indication that marital relations between Oreste and Edna were not well.

Finally in October newspapers from Cincinnati to Boston to Los Angeles published the story of the Vessellas separation with photo montages and a short history of their boardwalk romance. "It is terrible. I loved her. She loved me. But there can be no reconciliation. It must be that we shall live apart," Oreste announced tearfully at the Steel Pier.

Edna filed for divorce. Her lawsuit charged her husband with desertion and admiring other women. Oresete denied these allegations.

Cincinnati Post
18 October 1909

Over the winter of 1909-1910, Oreste traveled several times to Cincinnati. He stayed in Hotels and his visits to the Egan home were short. In December his band played in Washington D.C. for the first time. He brought the band to the Cincinnati zoo for winter concerts. There were reports in January 1910, some with more artful portraits, that Edna and Oreste had reconciled their differences. Mr. Egan tersely said he knew nothing about it. "Vessella and my daughter will  have to settle their own affairs," he said.

Covington KY Kentucky Post
21 April 1910

The discord was too loud, too overpowering to repair the wounds. Whatever Mr. and Mrs. Egan did privately to help their daughter and son-in-law it failed to last and by April the divorce suit was advanced.

"An accident" is all Mr. Egan would say as he inspected the rose bushes in his garden. He refused to discuss his daughter's side of the case and had nothing to say about his son-in-law.

_ _ _

Their divorce proceeding were to begin on Thursday, 2 June 1910. If Oreste failed to answer the suit, the divorce case would become uncontested. His lawyers asked for a delay, he would oppose, but this required his appearance in court. There were more delays. The judge was not pleased.

Oreste's counter petition charged Edna with neglect and public intoxication. He claimed she once was seen in Atlantic City drinking with another Italian musician. He claimed he gave her all his earnings as a bandmaster, $100 to $500 a week. Perhaps most hurtful, she objected to starting a family.

Edna's attorneys amended her petition with a charge of extreme cruelty, violent temper, and abusive language. One time he struck her across the nose with a cane, and on another occasion hit her with a roll of music. The judge immediately called everyone to his Cincinnati courtroom to hear testimony from both Edna and Oreste. Newspaper reporters were already waiting with photographers. The next day Edna appeared on the front page looking very sad while wearing an enormous turban-like hat.

Millionaire's Daughter
on the Witness Stand
Vessella in Hurry
After Losing Suit

Covington KY Kentucky Post
09 June 1910

Edna denied Vessella's counter charges, saying her father bought all her clothes and that Vessella spent all his money on himself. Her father, Thomas P. Egan, took the stand to testify that he loaned his son-in-law $5,300 to finance a band tour, but Oreste spent it on other debts and grave markers for relatives in Italy. He denied that he engaged detectives to follow Vessella and a "rich widow of Philadelphia", but claimed another detective offered evidence of Vessella's relations with other women but he refused to pay. In his defense Vessela said his wife had full knowledge of his financial condition when she married him. His tales of her insobriety and neglect weakened under cross examination.

It did not take long for the judge long to make his decision. He granted the divorce on grounds of neglect and cruelty.

Covington KY Kentucky Post
09 June 1910
In his summation Judge Cushing said, "The testimony of the defendant (Oreste) does not carry much weight. Young people, young women especially, at times do foolish things. Sometimes they make mistakes. But we must not forget that in America the home is the basis of our society as well as of our government.

"I do not know about the women of other countries, but I do know that the American women are accustomed to better treatment than this young woman has received. I feel sorry for her. She may take a decree on both grounds."

It was the final chapter of the Atlantic City Love Story. After six years the charming romance of two unlikely lovers had dissolved into a messy account of unhappiness. Oreste's scandalous revelations of a secret entanglement and his hotheaded temper generated the sensational rhythm to the newspaper reports, while Edna's fashion style as a young socialite provided high class notes and Oreste's Royal Italian Band added foreign color. But in the end it was always Mr. Egan's millions that sold the stories.

Like music, love is a strange emotion always changing over time. Slow adagios suddenly transform to fast allegros which evolve into tender andantes that waltz into tempestuous prestos. It was a modern fairy tale. Edna captivated by a handsome exotic man. Oreste beguiled by a glamorous and wealthy beauty. But their ambitions and desires hid the real challenges of keeping true to their bonds of marriage. Mr. Egan was right. It was an accident. 

 * * *


In 1910 Edna Egan was 25 years old and Oreste was age 33. Both still young and open to a new future.

A few months after his divorce Oreste sued an express company for $10,000 claiming it had lost a parcel sent to Europe. The package supposedly contained the only score to a grand opera he had composed. The court awarded him just $10 in damages.

His former sweetheart from the old country, Gaetanina Lombari, cut her losses and in November 1910 married an Italian-American man from New York, who hopefully proved to be faithful and true.

Philadelphia Inquirer
30 June 1911

In January 1911 Oreste was hospitalized   for appendicitis, an often fatal condition in earlier times. He recovered and that summer was back on the bandstand conducting his Italian Band. In June he directed his fiery temper at a trombone player in the band, and when the musician refused to take orders, Vessella promptly "canned" him on the spot. The trombonist then came after the bandleader, but fortunately other musicians intervened preventing the man from smashing his instrument over Vessella's head.

Of course the brief report had to include his failed marriage to the millionaire's daughter.

 _ _ _

For the summer of 1911 the Egan family moved their seaside holiday from Atlantic City to the beach at Narragansett, Rhode Island. A newspaper photographer spotted Edna and her younger sister Virginia Egan cavorting in the surf wearing the latest trend in bathing suits. Despite regaining her maiden name, the paper felt duty-bound to report that Edna was divorced from Orete Vessella.

Cincinnati Post
16 August 1911

Less than two years later a cropped part of that same photo would return to illustrate another tale of matrimonial misery for the Egan family. The grinning disembodied head of Mrs. Virginia Egan Campbell wearing a bathing cap was next to a headline that read:

Second Egan Divorce
Laid to ‘Mistake’

Daughter Made Mistake
When She Married
Campbell, Says Father
of Wife, Who Sues.

Cincinnati Post
15 April 1913

The wife was Virginia Egan Campbell, the 23 year-old daughter of Thomas. P. Egan, multi-millionaire head of the J. A. Fay & Egan Co. The husband was Valentine B. Campbell, a graduate of West Point, now employed as a cashier at the First National Bank of McLeansboro, IL as well as a manager of several flour mills. His father was a former army general and congressman.

"My daughter only made a mistake when she married Campbell," said Mr. Egan. "We are all human and make mistakes." Egan would not go into details of the divorce suit.

* * *


My first story about Oreste Vessella's Italian Band in May 2018 was inspired by a couple of Atlantic City postcards. The images conjured up a kaleidoscope of the sights and sounds of the famous Boardwalk as seen from the perspective of the Italian musicians who performed at the Steel Pier. With great virtuosic skill they played a crazy mixture of classical and popular music. It was glittery and noisy and I wish I could have heard it back in the day. Since I couldn't really do that, instead I decided to write a short history of the golden age of concert bands. But as immersed myself in the newspaper archives I discovered the love story of Oreste and Edna that seemed worthy of  more than a cursory citation.

I never expected that I would find enough material to recreate a musician's complete career and personal life. But after undertaking this research I realized that Oreste Vessella and his fellow Italian bandmasters of this time contributed a very important musical spice to the great melting pot of American culture.

Wilkes-Barre PA Record
19 September 1919

Over the next decade and into the 1930s, Oreste composed numerous musicals modeled after the operettas of Victor Herbert. They had corny stories with tuneful songs, but were written in the best Italian style which by 1925 was old-fashioned. Vessella knew what his audiences liked, and might have programed a ragtime march once in a while, but it was not enough to compete with the new postwar age of movies and radio.

Vessella's Italian Band made its real mark in America by producing over 135 recordings the Victor Record Co. of  Camden, NJ.  Many of these 78 disks have been digitized and are preserved at the Library of Congress.   

As the thick platters would only hold about 4 minutes per side the music is of short duration. And because it is an Italian band the music is predominantly by Italian composers, but music of Beethoven, Chopin, Dvorak, and Wagner are there too.

These were almost all transcriptions for wind band of orchestral music, a concept promoted by Oreste's uncle, Alessandro Vessella. The sounds of orchestral strings and winds were difficult to capture for the early recording technology. In contrast the brass and reed instruments of wind bands were loud and brash and easily vibrated the recording needle. Today we call them warhorses, an antiquated descriptive word, but between 1911 and 1919 when these records were sold, the music was already a part of the Italian bands' repertoire, but now it could introduce even more Americans to the best of European music. Vessella's band helped inspire the next generation of American musicians and composers, and educated American audiences about great classical music.

_ _ _

West Palm Beach FL Post
19 June 1924

The postwar years brought gigantic changes to America. Railway lines became longer, cheaper and more people had more free time for leisure. Atlantic City was no longer the first choice holiday destination and it was still only open in the summer. For winter time holidays Florida was the place to go. In the winter of 1923-24 Vessella secured 12 weeks for his band at West Palm Beach. The audiences were older and enjoyed his programs and that season he brought along a young contralto vocalist, Miss Marguerite Keever.

By June they were married. People around the nation could hear them in radio broadcasts of Vessella's band live from the Wanamaker or Gimbel store stations.  

Marguerite was 22 years old. Oreste was age 47.

_ _ _

Baltimore Sun
04 August 1929

Marguerite was likely a stage name she used with Vessella's Italian band. Her real name was Margaret Anna Keever of Macksburg, OH. She was a graduate of Baltimore's Peabody Music Conservatory.

For a few seasons Marguerite Vessella appeared as  a soloist on her husband's concerts and in recital on the new medium of radio. A contralto sings with a deeper range for a female operatic voice that favors dramatic music accompanied by lots of loud instruments. It also carries well on an outdoor stage.

For a few years they kept a home in Atlantic City, near the Steel Pier and only an hour away from the Philadelphia radio stations. Vessella's band was now reduced to 25 to 30 musicians compared to the 50 and more he had once used twenty years earlier. The band was now often on the road playing shorter  engagements in the Midwest and South. Band music now had strong competition from smaller dance bands that played jazz and pop music.

_ _ _

Cincinnati Enquirer
08 November 1931

Yet again cupid's arrow only wounded two hearts. In November 1931, a divorce decree was granted to Mrs. Margaret Keever Vessella, radio singer and second wife of Oreste Vessella, nationally known band leader.  They had one child, Margaret Vessella.

After the hearing Vessella said he would not contest the decree, and blamed "too much temperament on the part of both of us" as the cause of his wife's action.

Both Edna Egan, the millionaire's daughter and Gaetanina Lombari, (once again misspelled) the jilted Italian girl with the $25,000 breach of promise lawsuit, were added for extra embarrassment.

On the day after Christmas in 1938 Margaret Keever, age 37, married Rodney Fitzsimons, age 34. He was a radio vocalist too, a baritone.

_ _ _

Over the next two decades, Italian bands lost favor in America in part because there was now too many musical styles to chose from. Vessella's was now retired and still a resident of Atlantic City. Newspapers were too distracted by the Depression, the New Deal, and the War to have much interest in old Italian bandmasters.  

Vineland NJ Daily Journal
19 November 1948

Then in November 1948 the residents of Vineland, New Jersey learned of a special performance at their high school auditorium for Sunday December 5. It was entitled "Vessella and his Concert Band," and sponsored by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. The program would celebrate a long tradition of concert band music linked to the great band directors, John Philip Sous, Franko Goldman, Victor Herbert, Arthur Pryor, and Guiseppe Creatore, who according to Maestro Vessella "was all the rage at the Steel Pier in 1901 when I arrived from Italy."

The article recounted some of Vessella's musical  history and included his photo showing Oreste still with raven hair but his magnificent mustache brush now trimmed to a thin pencil width.

The 45 musicians of the band included many of his former colleagues in his Royal Italian Band. A good number of them now retired to communities along the New Jersey coast. The concert began with a march – "On Landis Avenue" composed specially for this concert by Maestro Vessella and dedicated to the residents of Vineland. It was followed by selections of opera music by Bellini, Donizetti, Victor Herbert, Bizet, Verdi, and Mascagni and finished with two movements of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. 

Yet another concert I must book for my time machine holiday.

Oreste Vessella, composer and concert band conductor
died in Atlantic City on June 21, 1963.
He was 86.

Philadelphia Inquirer 22 June 1963

For Your Alone
Song, © 1909
words by Arthur Penn
music by Oreste Vessella
Source: Duke University Library

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's Ladies Day all weekend.

An Atlantic City Love Story, part 2

03 August 2019

The newspapers called it love at first sight,
an unlikely romance between a young couple
who came from very different cultures.
He was a poor Italian musician who spoke little English.
She was a wealthy American debutante who knew nothing about music.
Yet he was handsome and radiated an exotic charm,
and she was a elegant beauty dressed in stylish fashion.
So when the magnetic poles of love
pulled them closer together
it was a courtship deemed worthy
of the public's attention.

It was the love story of Italian bandmaster Oreste Vessella's
pursuit of
Edna Egan, the daughter of a Cincinnati millionaire.
And it had all the quirky characters
and plot twists of a Broadway operetta.

At least that's how the newspapers reported it.

Cincinnati Enquirer
22 January 1904

This is the continuation of a story that began last weekend
in An Atlantic City Love Story, part 1.
If you have not read it, click the link above
and take a few minutes to catch up.
Take your time.
We'll wait right here.

Duluth MN News-Tribune
31 January 1904

In January 1904 when Oreste and Edna announced their engagement in Cincinnati, newspapers across the country picked up the news. Some papers ran just a few short paragraphs on the couple, while others developed a longer story that nearly filled an entire page. It was a crazy combination of high society events, colorful foreign affairs, misspelled Italian names, and embellished romantic details. But in every report the hook was always Edna's father's money.

They labeled her an "heiress" of $1,000,000 even though she was one of seven children and not even the oldest. Supposedly Mr. Egan, a wealthy Cincinnati manufacturer of woodworking machinery promised to present Oreste and Edna with $100,000 to keep her in the lifestyle she was accustomed to. It was also alleged that Mr. Egan agreed to fund Oreste's future musical endeavors or hire him "employment in some of his big establishments." Not surprisingly much of this was pure fiction.

So just as any practical parents might do, the Egans investigated this talented but foreign man who had captured their daughter's heart. It was not enough that he seemed likeable and demonstrated a clever talent. They needed to meet him back in Cincinnati on their own terms to best judge his merits.

After his first visit and being satisfied that Oreste's intentions toward Edna were sincere, Mrs. Egan asked for documentation and testimonials from his hometown of Alife, Italy. These he provided but of course they were written in Italian. Edna herself then contacted the Italian consulate in Atlantic City and arranged for a translation. The information attested that Oreste came from a good family, was well educated, and had established a successful career as a musician in Italy and now Atlantic City. His only fault was that like many young musicians, he was poor, which the Egans decided was no obstacle to marriage, if it was what their daughter desired. Edna and Oreste set a date.

Yet as we learned in An Atlantic City Love Story, part 1,
maybe in hindsight Mr. and Mrs. Egan later regretted
not making a more thorough investigation.
_ _ _

Edna Egan came from a high society world of wealth and privilege. Her family lived in a palatial  house in Cincinnati on the bluffs overlooking the Ohio River. They took holidays in Europe. Stayed at grand hotels. Traveled first class. Enjoyed the theatre. Played at the amusement parks of the rich. They embodied the model of America's new aristocracy class.

But Oreste Vessella grew up in a world of the old country that was very different. Born into a musical family, he started playing a musical instrument, the clarinet, at a very young age. In his teens he was sent to the Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in Naples, one of Europe's most celebrated music conservatories, which trained composers like Alessandro Scarlatti, Pergolesi, Cimarosa, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. By 1900 countless Italian operas were in standard repertoire in theatres around the world, and Italian composers, singers, and musicians were admired and emulated. This rich cultural force created musicians like Oreste who knew their calling practically from birth.

When Oreste emigrated to America in the summer of 1901, he was just one of hundreds of Italian musicians seeking their fortunes on the bandstands of the New World. Americans already knew Italians were a musical people, but the phrase "Italian Bandmaster" which the newspaper chose for the 1904 report on Edna and Oreste's engagement had a special meaning. Americans recognized it because every week it seemed another maestro appeared in their newspaper's amusement section.

Forget all the other American bandleaders,
Oreste Vessella faced tough competition just from his own countrymen
as to who was the most handsome Italian bandmaster of them all.

Topeka KS Daily Capital Herald
10 September 1905

In July 1901 after arriving on the S.S. Normandie from Le Harve, France, Oreste was briefly held in the U. S. Immigration Service's alien detention, where he received 2 breakfasts, 3 dinners, and 2 suppers before he was released. After a visit with his father, Crescenzo Vessella, who lived in New York City's Little Italy neighborhood, Oreste was hired by Ellery's Royal Italian Band as one of 15 clarinetists. This military style concert band was undertaking a national tour and by September had reached Spokane, Washington to perform for the Elks fraternal society convention. The band employed 48 Italian musicians brought over from Italy by its manager and proprietor, Channing Ellery of Brooklyn, NY. As a young man Ellery aspired sing on the opera stage and after graduating from Columbia College in New York traveled to Italy to study music. Unfortunately his voice was not up to the task so instead he changed his ambition into bringing Italian music, specifically Italian instrumentalists back to America. His father was president of a railroad company and evidently this provided Ellery with some venture capital. So in 1897 he invested in an Italian band called the Banda Rosa which had encountered some financial difficulty. Channing turned their tour around and made the Banda Rosa into a celebrated success.

Fluent in Italian and French, including dialects, Ellery traveled with his band as both interpreter and manager. On stage he introduced concert programs and gave lectures on the music. As he was an accomplished pianist, he often performed as accompanist in recitals with his various instrumental soloists. Ellery also had a unique talent as a whistler and would amazed patrons as he both sang and whistled a descant piccolo part while playing the piano.

However Ellery was not the band's leader. He considered himself to be a music producer, or an impresario, and never aspired to be a conductor. Over the next several years until ill health forced him to retire in 1913, Ellery's Band, as it was often called, went through a succession of hundreds of Italian bandsmen directed be a variety of Italian bandmasters.

When Oreste Vessella joined Ellery's Royal Italian Band in 1901
the dashing Signor Guiseppe Creatore was its bandleader.

Boston Globe
03 November 1902

Born in Naples, Italy of a poor family, Guiseppe Creatore showed musical talent at an early age playing on the streets of Naples where he attracted the attention the local band director. Under his mentorship Creatore became a trombone soloist at age 12 with the Neapolitan Marine Band. In the 1890s when the band traveled to America for a concert tour, Creatore stayed on, finding work as a trombonist and then as Ellery's conductor of the Royal Italian Band. Creatore conducted from memory and had a prodigious repertoire which impressed music critics in both small towns and big cities.

From his dreamy poses in these two newspaper photos it is easy to see how Guiseppe Creatore's raven black hair and impressive mustache brush inspired Oreste Vessella's later publicity photos.

Davenport IA Morning Star
28 February 1904

In the summer of 1905 family troubles tarnished Creatore's romantic image when his wife Anna had him arrested in Detroit on a charge of non-support of both herself and their daughter Josephine. The scandal made news in all the papers. After securing bond, Creatore moved temporarily to London while his wife sued for divorce. It was not unlike the embarrassment Mr. and Mrs. Egan, and their daughter Edna suffered in October 1904 after an Italian woman brought a lawsuit against Oreste for breach of promise.

A cartoonist with the Pittsburg Press made artistic fun out of the Creatore affair using little silhouettes to illustrate Guiseppe's conducting antics.

Pittsburg(h) Press
18 August 1905

By 1905 Creatore had already left Ellery's Band to form his own band.
In 1902 Channing Ellery chose Cavaliere Emilo Rivela as his replacement.

Saint Paul MN Globe
15 June 1902
The honorific Cavaliere signified a special title of esteem similar to a knighthood that was bestowed by the King of Italy. For about a year Emilio Rivela led the Ellery band on its never ending tour. For several of his concerts Oreste Vesslla featured as clarinet soloist. But compared to Creatore's histrionic display, Rivela's conducting style was considered less showy and too conservative. Reading between the lines of Ellery's promotional hyperbole, I think the bandsmen thought Rivela was a real pain.

In September 1903 in an interview for the Walla Walla, WA newspaper Ellery talked about his decision to change Rivela for Signor Manfredi Chiaffarelli. "The only defect in the organization then," said Mr. Ellery, "was the lack of magnetic personality in the leader, who was a man possessing great technical ability but little musical soul. He was all fuss and fury and rather despised the softer emotions. Signor Chiaffarrelli, our present director, on the contrary possesses even greater technical schooling than his predecessor, united to a sincere and profound sentiment which helps him translate the meanings of the different composers whose works he interprets in a manner not alone to excite the nerves but also to deeply touch the hearts of the listeners – in short, Chiaffarelli is not simply a man of talent, he is a genius which means that he understands and expresses music under direct inspiration."

These were the words of a consummate showman. Clearly Channing Ellery's true talent was in promoting and selling the romantic notions of crusty musical artists.

Davenport IA Daily Times
26 June 1905

Like the other bandmasters' photos Signor Chiaffarelli is shown in a Italian military style uniform. This fashion imitated several American bandleaders, notably John Philip Sousa, who conducted dressed in ornate military coats decorated with embroidery, braid, and medals. It was also a mark of a military officer and Chiaffarelli cultivated the look of a general as he commanded his bandsmen to play. This domineering attitude did not go unnoticed by a cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times, who in February 1906 sketched Chiaffarelli's imperious direction of his musicians for the paper's theatre and music section.

Los Angeles Times
04 February 1906

In August 1904 Channing Ellery brought on another bandleader, Francesco Ferullo, who previously played principal oboe with the Royal Italian Band when Creatore was leader and Oreste Vessela was a clarinetist. Like Creator and Rivela, Chiaffarelli left to form his own "Royal" Italian Band which makes it difficult using newspaper listings to sort out which band was Ellery's and which belonged to his former bandmasters.

Davenport IA Daily Times
09 August 1904

Partly imitating Guiseppe Creatore,
Signor Ferullo also exhibited a balletic manner on the podium
that a Milwaukee cartoons saw fit to lampoon.

San Antonio TX Light
01 April 1906

Los Angeles Times
09 December 1906

In August 1904, the Los Angeles Times described Francesco Ferullo as "picturesque where Chiaffarelli was rough, uncouth, of Titanic style. He possesses infinitely more grace than the other conductor, has the physical abandon of Creatore without the latter's absurdity, and with his lightness and delicacy has brought audiences to their feet in wild applause."

This Italian penchant for dramatic gesture and exuberant posturing on the podium was a surprise to American audiences, and American musicians too, who were used to reserved, almost discrete body language from a conductor. The Italians' exaggerated movements added choreography to a music concert and gave audiences something to watch. An Italian bandmaster's unexpected hop, sudden stab of the baton, and passionate facial expressions became a fascinating novelty to the American public which  greatly influenced how band and orchestral conductors would behave in the 20th century.
_ _ _

In August 1912 a caricaturist from Witchita, KS
captured some of the fervor in Francesco Ferullo's conducting.
Just like his predecessors, after a few seasons Ferullo left Ellery
to start his own band of Italian musicians.

Witchita KS Beacon
16 August 1912

The Italian bandsmen were highly trained musicians. Many if not most, attained their education after several years at an Italian music conservatory, leaving proficient in harmony and composition, as well as skilled on several instruments. As military service was required in Italy, musicians usually fulfilled this obligation in a military band. The Italian bands were much larger than American standards for concert bands, which rarely had more than a piccolo, an E-flat clarinet, and a few stand of B-flat clarinets. Italian bands included not only an E-flat clarinet, and usually 12 B-flats, and two bass clarinets. The rest of the woodwind section had a piccolo/flute with three double-reeds – oboe, and two bassoons, which were rare to find in American bands. In 1900 the saxophone, an brass reed instrument developed in France, was not yet a common instrument in America. The Italian bands used a saxophone quartet – soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. Reviewers noticed how this full woodwind tone color enabled the band to sound like an symphony orchestra.

In America the principal brass instrument in this era was the piston valve cornet, or sometimes the earlier rotary valve cornet. But Italian bands did not use cornets, Instead they featured piston trumpets which have a narrower bore producing a brighter clarion tone. American audiences thrilled at the sound of Verdi's fanfares on four trumpets. The mid-brass always had at least three French horns alongside three alto horns. The low brass section was also much larger then American bands divided among 3 trombones, 2 baritones, 2 bass and 2 contrabass tubas. Reviewers remarked on the Italian preference for trombones with rotary valves instead of slides. This produced a section with solid intonation, something that American bands often found wanting.

Taken together, these imported Italian bands played with a high degree of rhythmic precision, uniform articulation, and tight intonation that impressed American audiences and challenged American musicians. The conductors were demanding because they knew what the musicians were capable of. The other thing that excited audiences was to hear a band perform transcriptions of orchestral music. This aspect was a particular passion of Channing Ellery who introduced numerous arrangements of opera music, both Italian and German, that were then unfamiliar to the American public. The Ellery band repertoire numbered in the thousands and meant that their concert programs were seldom repeated. 

This Italian musical pride gave their bands, if you will pardon my French, an esprit de corps, which translated into exciting concerts. Their music emphasized extremes in tempos, dynamics, and phrasing, that delighted audiences. Of course Italians bands popularized light familiar tunes too, but it was in the larger dramatic music that they proved most influential.

Los Angeles Times
11 June 1905

Another Ellery bandsman from 1901 who served in the woodwind section alongside Oreste Vessella and Francesco Ferullo was first bassoonist Nicola Donatelli. Though Ellery never listed Donatelli as a bandleader, by 1905 he too put down his bassoon and took up the baton to lead his own band. Another highly trained conservatory musician, Donatelli preferred to think his real calling was as a composer. All of these Italian conductors wrote music, primarily marches and songs, but Donatelli had ambitions for large scale works like opera. Sadly none of his music has survived into the 21st century.

Donatelli stayed mainly on the west coast and eventually settled in Los Angeles conducting theater orchestras that accompanied early cinema films. By 1915 he was a professor of bassoon and band conducting at the California Conservatory.

_ _ _

In 1906 Donatelli and his band were competitors with the band of Oreste's younger brother Marco Vessella who arrived in America in March 1902. It's not clear what his instrument was or if like Oreste he found a position in Ellery's band. But he definitely had ambitions and talent that made him leader of another Italian band on the California coast.

Bands of every kind, were always battling to get the best gig, the long engagement at an amusement park or seaside pier with a lucrative full summer season contract. For Marco's band the prize venue was at the oceanfront park of Long Beach, California. Back in 2015 I featured some of Marco's story in Music on the Beach. Marco was then only 25 years old and becoming as much a shooting star in California as his brother was in Atlantic City.

They shared a strong family resemblance.

Los Angeles Times
04 February 1906
Marco Vessella's conducting technique was noted for its "conspicuous lack of acrobatics and super-gesticulation," with none of the melodramatic action of Creatore and Ferullo. In July 1922 a Los Angeles Times reporter interviewed him on what he thought of the local audiences. "Southern California has a really musical population. When I came out here brother musicians said to me: 'Oh, don't play anything serious out West, they can't appreciate it; give them ragtime.' However, I had my own notions of California, from what traveling friends had told me, and I came here confident that to succeed I would have to give the people good music first, last and all the time. I have succeeded in this beyond my expectations.

" At a concert the other evening in the Long Beach Auditorium I produced, for the first time in the West, a new and rather obscure Mascagni composition – something of beauty, but of great delicacy and subtlety. Some of the musical 'cranks" told me that it would fall rather flat, for the people would not understand it. On account of the innovation in style, I felt the same way, but I let the number go – and the audience received it with boundless enthusiasm. That is a testimonial to general artistic intelligence that you could scarcely find anywhere else in the United States."

Over the winter of 1907-08, Marco lost out on the renewal of his band's contract. The mayor of Long Beach wanted an "American band." Donatelli tried to undercut him. There was a threat from Manfredi Chiaffarelli and his band who were just 30 miles up the coast in Venice, CA.  Managers accused musicians of being labor agitators with socialist or worst, anarchist sentiments. It was cut-throat showbizness. And being in Italian it was probably pretty noisy.

In 1908 Marco won a contract in of all places, Atlantic City at Young's Million Dollar Pier just a viola throw from Oreste's Steel Pier. Some of Marco Vessella's bandsmen followed him while others stayed behind in sunny California. Then in November 1908 a three paragraph report appeared in a Los Angeles paper with new about another Italian bandmaster's marriage in Atlantic City. This time there were no misty photos or soppy romance details.

Marco Vessella Marries
Widow with Fortune

Los Angeles Herald
14 November 1908
The report only identified her as Mrs. Going, a dashing widow, reputed wealthy. They met in Long Beach and nothing else. Except that Marco and Miss Esther Adaberto, the prima donna, were just good friends, and there was no truth to the reports two years ago that they were to be married.

In sharp contrast to his brother's engagement, wedding, and subsequent shameful tales of deceit, Marco's love story generated no followup society news and nothing in official state records. So far I've been unable to identify Mrs. Going's full name, residence, or age. In the 1910 U.S. Census, Marco Vessella, age 29, born in Italy, occupation Musician, Band, lived in San Angelo, Texas, northwest of San Antonio, with a wife, Lillian, age 31, born in Virginia. The census marks show this was the first marriage for both and they had been married for 4 years since 1906. Yet there is no clear connection between Lillian Vessella and the surname "Going," so the Los Angeles report may be incorrect.

But it adds good irony
to Edna and Oreste's Atlantic City Love Story.


The Billboard
24 July 1909
In July 1909, Marco's band played the circuit of amusement parks in the Midwest. The Billboard, one of the entertainment industry's trade magazines ran a brief report that hints there might be something to that "Widow with Fortune" report after all. The headline announced:

Mrs. Marco Vessella Gives Banquet

The Billboard
03 July 1909

It was her custom every year to give the members of her husband's band a banquet on her birthday. As this occasion happened while the band was in Chicago's Sans Souci park, she arranged to host the feast at Chernili's Italian restaurant. After the band concert the 50 musicians with guests and friends from the Creatore and Ferullo Bands repaired to the restaurant for a grand banquet in the Italian style, including some half dozen Italian wines and special dishes were served with speaking and merry making til 4 a.m. The members of the band presented Mrs. Vessella with a huge bouqet of fifty American beauty roses, one fore each member of the band, and took the occasion to present to the director a magnificent gold medal, appropriately engraved with their sentiments of admiration and respect.

Speeches both in Italian and in English were made by every one present. There seems to be a model sentiment of appreciation throughout this band, as Marco Vessella, more than any other conductor, sympathizes with his musicians and wants to get only those in his organization who are the very best of musicians and good fellows as well as gentlemen. The social side is praiseworthy.

Two summers before in 1906, Marco's brother Oreste was at the San Souci Park conducting the Banda Roma. The social side was definitely NOT praiseworthy. Variety magazine, the New York show business trade journal, reported:

NY Variety
10 August 1906
Band Leader Attacked
                    Chicago, Aug. 10

The members of the Banda Roma playing at Sans Souci Park here attacked their conductor, Oreste Vessella, one night this week and a fistic encounter followed in which the band director received decidedly the worst of it.

The men claimed that Vessella insulted them while directing, and it is common knowledge that he has the habit of swearing while conducting.

The fracas occurred in the presence of a large audience and the excitement nearly culminated in a panic. Had it not been for the interference of the park police the affair might have ended seriously.

This musical discord transpired only a few weeks after Edna Vessella's interview appeared in the Cincinnati Post where she said, "Musicians Make Ideal Husbands."

Next weekend:
An Atlantic City Love Story, part 3

* * * CODA * * *

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
31 March 1917

On March 30, 1917 Channing Ellery died at his home in Brooklyn a few blocks north of Prospect Park. He had been ill for some time and retired from managing his Royal Italian Band since 1913. A life-long bachelor, he was 60 years of age. (Not 62 as reported in his obituary from the the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.)

For many years I've known about Ellery's Royal Italian Band but never bothered to research its owner Channing Ellery's background. I mistakenly assumed he had a Wikipedia page or a brief biography in some compendium of useful musical trivia. But as learned more about how instrumental he was in bringing Italian musician to America I discovered there was no internet encyclopedia reference and in fact no modern references of any kind on his life. That is a very rare and peculiar condition in this information age. I could not find anything about him except in  accounts contemporary with his life. So I feel an obligation to put something up on the vast ethernet universe that celebrates his priceless contribution to music, both American and Italian.

What I find most remarkable about Channing Ellery is that almost single-handedly he changed the nature of American music by personally introducing hundreds of virtuoso Italian bandsmen to the American public over his 20 year career as a concert promoter.

It's clear from his interviews that he was extraordinarily passionate about bringing Italian musical culture to America. In October 1912 he spoke to a reporter for the Wichita, KS Beacon.

"My experience has been worth the money and labor I've put into it," Mr. Ellery said. "I'm still convinced that Italians are the premier band musicians of the world and fourteen years in managing hundreds of them should give me an opportunity to judge.

"The first Italian band I ever heard won me. since then through ups and downs, in Europe and in fact around the world several times, my enthusiasm has not diminished."

"United States has good musicians," he said, "but the trend here is material rather than musical. My men come from generations of musicians. Their rearing has been in an atmosphere that develops musicians. There is ability here yet the rush for money and the hurly burly of competition robs the American life of any tendency towards the spiritual in music.

"America's musical taste is deteriorating. The vaudeville is to blame for this. Cheap music that has a swing to it is proving more interesting than real music with soul and motif. The only way this downward tendency can be stopped is by educating the public to a better standard of music. My band is trying to do this. We are satisfied to give worthwhile music as best we can.

"My leader has been playing solo cornet since he was ten years old. He comes from a family of Italian musicians. He demonstrates clearly that a real musician is developed through several generations. Occasionally there are prodigies, yet the real musical artists of today reach their height by evolution rather than by genius."

_ _ _

Davenport IA Quad City Times
15 April 1917

Channing Ellery had a good friend in Davenport, Iowa who drew a wonderful caricature of him smiling with little puppets of Italian musicians and bandmasters arrayed on his coat. It's an uncommon memorial for a music impresario, and I think it says more about his character than a thousand words can.

As much as I wish I had a time machine to travel back and watch Signor Creatore lead the Royal Italian Band, or hear Oreste Vessella play a clarinet solo, or even partake of a grand Italian banquet, I really, really wish I could have met Mr. Channing Ellery. I'd shake his hand and say, "Thank you, sir, for all the music you've given us."

_ _ _

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where what you see is not what you saw.


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