I was sorry to hear of the passing (at age 84) of jazz musician Joe Muranyi, who was for many years one of the best clarinetists around. He is probably most remembered now for being a part of Louis Armstrong’s last group in the late 1960s, and for his solid dixieland jazz career in the years after, but it was as a member of an earlier group that he actually sold the most records. Below is a repost of last year’s piece on Joe’s previous combo, the Village Stompers, along with some music that features Joe’s clarinet on second lead. (It’s in the new music widget in the left column.)
(Originally posted in October 2011)
The decade of the 1960s was rife with differing musical influences, all dueling for the attention of the record-buying public. One of the most popular genres was folk music, which might help explain why a few fans got a little confused about a group like the Village Stompers. The name sounded sort of folk-ish, and the band first grew to popularity among a college crowd that was also crazy about folk music. But even if its mega-hit, “Washington Square,” had a banjo-led folk feel to it, the music of the Village Stompers was actually closer to dixieland and the sound of British trad jazz artists like Kenny Ball.
The original Village Stompers consisted of Dick Brady, Ralph Casale, Joe Muranyi, Frank Hubbell, Lenny Pogan, Al McManus, Don Coates, and Mitchell May. Most had collegiate backgrounds, but one was also a former music teacher and another had experience in a symphony orchestra. In any case, the group coalesced in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, and after a failed attempt as Frank Hubbell and the Hubcaps, became known as the Village Stompers.
Finding almost immediate success, the group was enormously popular for several years, entertaining fans in shows and on tour and even appearing on TV. Along the way the guys would sell a lot of records by applying their style to a number of old songs, including many that they thought would appeal to their folkie fans, like “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Green Green.” But even though the group later had a lesser hit with “From Russia With Love,” nothing would ever approach the popularity of “Washington Square.” The members of the group would go on to have musical careers of varying success, but the original Village Stompers were soon a part of music history.