His name sounds at least a little familiar to those of us who have been around a while, and it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve heard a lot of his music through the years, but Ralph Marterie is not someone who comes to mind when you think of cutting-edge orchestral jazz. Nevertheless, he sold a lot of records as a bandleader because he was always focused on something that many of his contemporaries forgot — he knew what people liked.
Marterie was born in Italy and was still a boy when he came to Chicago with his parents in the 1920s, but by the time he was a teenager he was beginning to break into the local music scene. He played trumpet in a number of different bands over the next decade or so, including touring outfits and radio orchestras, and also soaked up a lot of knowledge by working with guys like Percy Faith and André Kostelanetz.
Marterie’s first job as a bandleader came during his World War II service, when he was able to latch on to a job leading a U.S. Navy band. The experience came in handy in the years following the war because he began finding a lot of success leading studio bands behind big-name singers like Vic Damone. As the 1950s approached, Marterie began breaking out as a recording star himself, leading his own orchestra. Over the next few years he’d spin out a series of hits that included best-sellers like “Skokiaan,” “Caravan,” “Blue Mirage,” and many others.
As the years passed, Marterie spent more and more time leading a touring band, one that was always a crowd-pleaser wherever it appeared. Again, he knew what people liked, and his mix of past hits along with orchestral versions of modern songs proved very popular. He was on tour with his band when he died (at age 63) in 1978.