Paul Landerman, a legendary Hartford bandleader, trombonist and top entertainment-booking agent for many decades, died Friday evening at the Hebrew Home and Hospital in West Hartford.
He was 92.
Landerman's reign as one of the region's most regal danceband kingpins began in 1939 when he and his older brother Maurice, a violinist, landed a long-running job at Hartford's then fabled Bond Hotel, the premier downtown gathering place for the city's in-crowd
Strikingly tall, thin, graced with matinee idol looks and elegantly attired on the bandstand in black tails, a white shirt, white tie and white vest, the young maestro immediately created an image of savoir-faire and social ease at the stylish Bond. Admirers said he looked like the dashing, roguishly handsome film star Zachary Scott.
Style, grace and winning affability became Landerman's lifetime professional trademarks, along with his sense of common decency and his uncommonly rich sense of humor. All these were invaluable assets in later ventures with his highly successful society orchestra and powerhouse booking agency.
For Landerman landing the dream job at the Bond, playing six nights a week for 13 years with the Landerman Brothers Orchestra, was a major turning point in his life. It was a precious piece of good fortune that he was still marveling over even six decades later in an interview with The Courant.
"The owner was a guy named Willard Rogers (one of downtown Hartford's most colorful businessman of the era), and when he first hired us, he gave us a two-week trial. At the end of two weeks, he called us in and said, 'Well, boys, I'd like to keep you here.' We said, 'Great! Let's sign the contract!' He said, 'I'd rather just shake hands with you.' So we shook hands. And we stayed for the next 13 years," Landerman recalled.
"We felt we were at the top of the heap," he said of the plum gig he and his brother landed at the Bond.
As a spin-off from their 24-karat reputation as the Bond's in-house-bandmasters during the hotel's Golden Age, Paul and Maurice formed high quality society bands that for decades were the orchestra of choice at countless weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, debutante balls and a variety of high society functions.
Landerman, who was predeceased by his brother, became our Lester Lanin, our Meyer Davis, then the national paragons of society orchestra leaders. Lanin not only inspired and was a working role model for the Hartford bandleader, but also eventually became one of his countless friends from both inside and outside the music business.
Although Landerman certainly had worthy competitors in the region, having the Landerman Orchestra play at your wedding was for decades a much coveted, upscale status symbol, regarded by many as the Gold Standard both musically and socially.
A professional trombonist who loved jazz and big band music, Landerman used his negotiating skills (a blend of business savvy and personal charm) as a booking agent to serve Greater Hartford jazz patrons with a stunning, New York style array of big name performers in area venues.
Over the decades, he brought in such icons as Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Teddy Wilson to Hartford's celebrated Heublein Hotel, a cozy nightspot and picturesque haven for the city's hip and cosmopolitan in the placid Eisenhower Era of the 1950s.
And in the 1980s many years after the Heublein had been bulldozed by urban renewal, Landerman used his deft diplomatic touch to bring such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan to the enormously popular Sunset Sounds concert series on the CIGNA grounds in Bloomfield.
Landerman's entertainment agency booked all sorts of entertainers and celebrities, virtually everyone from Gloria Steinem and William F. Buckley to Victor Borge and Alan King. And for many years, he provided backup musicians needed for big musical productions at The Bushnell. As a native son who grew up in Hartford's Frog Hollow, he loved the job because The Bushnell for him represented a core symbol of the vitality of his hometown's cultural and entertainment life.
Landerman was born April 19, 1916, in Hartford, and grew up in a tenement right across the street from Pope Park. As a boy, he recalled, he'd sit on the front stoop and look in wonder at the Fourth of July fireworks in the park.
His Russian-born father was a tailor, his Romanian-born mother, a seamstress. Together his parents ran a tailor shop nearby on Park Street where, Landerman, in a typical wry aside, once said, "They worked together and fought together."
Young Paul, who was one of three children, made lots of school friends, played baseball, endured the rite-of-passage playground fights, went to the old Lawrence Street Grammar School, then to Hartford High.
Inspired and much influenced by his older, talented brother Maurice, 10 years his senior, Paul in his junior year in high school took piano lessons. But, evidently, he liked that about as much as working at his parents' shop around the corner.
Later, Maurice, who had been given a trombone by a friend, told kid brother Paul that he should take up the trombone. Paul joked that Maurice probably got the trombone from a musician buddy as payment for winning a bet on the golf course. (Maurice's original name was Morris, which was later modulated to Maurice, Paul explained, because Maurice sounded French, with perhaps a continental, chic or classical cachet more fitting for an aspiring, gifted violinist.)
In any event, the gift trombone set young Landerman on his course from journeyman player on the local scene to the Bond Hotel, the gig that not only shaped his career but also led to his courtship and marriage to Sally Marholin.
"I met my wife at the Bond. She used to come dancing with dates, and I used to 'late-date' her (late night dinner dates after 1 a.m.). Her date would take her home, and I would pick her up afterward. It didn't go over too well with her mother. We got married and moved to 16 Owen Street, off Farmington Avenue -- Little Hollywood. A lot of artistic people in town used to live there," Landerman told The Courant.
During World War II, Landerman served a three-year hitch in the Army, stationed stateside in Georgia at Camp Stewart near Savannah where he led a 60-piece marching band and dance bands on base.
"I lucked out. I stayed there most of the war," he told The Courant.
Meanwhile on the home front at the Bond, Maurice kept the music playing throughout the war. During Paul's Army service, his old boss and friend at the Bond, Willard Rogers, continued to pay him his full salary just as if he were still leading the hotel band in Hartford.
Landerman and his wife Sally, who died in 2001, had two sons, Lawrence, known as Dick, and David, and one daughter, Donna, and lived for many years in their home in West Hartford as his band and booking business began to expand.
But early on, Landerman, a returned vet in unsure times, was offered the opportunity to take a job selling furniture in a store owned by Sally's family. Although tempted to take the job to ensure his young family's financial security, he ultimately turned down his in-laws' offer, choosing instead to stick with music.
"It would have been a very dull life," he later said of that road not taken.
Instead, he played music and formed many close friendships with musician pals including such Connecticut notables as trombonist/arranger/bandleader Chick Cicchetti and saxophonist Stanley Aronson (both now deceased), as well as befriending and encouraging the careers of numerous young musicians such as percussionist Ed Fast and others.
As an all-purpose entertainment agent, he got to hobnob with an array of celebrities, especially enjoying his professional connections with such jazz musicians as Dave McKenna and such comedians as Professor Irwin Corey, natural cronies and virtual soulmates for someone like Landerman with a passion for music and humor.
Landerman's love for anecdotes and jazz was combined in his recounting of how he tried to book Benny Goodman, one of his idols, to perform at the Sunset Sounds series for the summer of 1986 in Bloomfield.
"I was talking to his (Goodman's) male secretary on the phone, and the secretary puts Benny Goodman on. There I am in awe, and he says to me, 'What's a Bloomfield?'
He agreed to play, saying, 'OK, sounds like fun. Talk to my secretary.' He died a month before the concert.' "
Even in his later years, Landerman was vigorous, jogging regularly into his 70s around the track at St Joseph College, not far from his home.
Always impeccably dressed and wearing his still thick but now gray hair in a hip ponytail style, he always seemed to be with it, forever young both mentally and physically well into his 80s, sharp and amusing even as he edged into his 90s.
"Don't let anybody know I'm turning 90. They'll think I'm old," he once joked a few days before his 90th birthday.
In retirement and even after his wife's death when he moved into a West Hartford apartment on his own, he stayed in touch with old friends and loved ones.
Every day, he checked out the news on TV and diligently read the papers, especially enjoying the caustic wit and mocking wisdom of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
A sports fan, he watched all the major tennis matches and devotedly followed UConn women's basketball on TV. And he loved to stay in tune with the times by watching some of the hippest, with-it, cutting-edge contemporary comics on the tube.
Until most recently when his health declined precipitously, Landerman was an endless source of the latest musician's joke, or maybe a Henny Youngman-like one-liner, material that could have come right out of the comedy deanery at New York's Friars Club.
While he loved the classic comedy of the Marx Brothers and the infinite jest of everybody from Fred Allen to Steve Allen, he also loved contemporary comedy just as much, and the edgier, the more iconoclastic the better.
His daily regimen in recent years consisted of large doses of "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart (his ideal satirist); "Real Time with Bill Maher" (his favorite political commentator); and any Lewis Black standup comedy special on HBO -- the more outrageous the better!
Even in his final declining weeks, he never complained about pain or illness. Instead, he would make a humorous remark or express joy about a visit from a friend or family member, or a card he had just read from an old fan thanking him once again for having played at her wedding many years ago.
Or, in his courtly, always gentlemanly, definitely old school manner, he'd ask about how you were doing with your life, or how your loved ones were.
Always there was his revivifying sense of humor, his irrepressible joy in something he had just heard, read or seen that delighted him and he felt should be shared.
Reflecting on his own life and his turning point decision to stick with music rather than selling furniture, Landerman summed up everything this way in 2001 for The Courant.
"I made the right decision. It's been a hell of ride."
Landerman is survived by his children, Donna Landerman and David Landerman of Bloomfield, and Dick Landerman and his wife Kathy of Durham N.C., three granddaughters, and his sister, Rosalie Goodman,of Florida.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday at noon at Weinstein Mortuary, 640 Farmington Ave., Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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