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Despite his long association with Tennessee Ernie Ford and his formidable library of choral arrangements of Christian hymns, Jack Fascinato is one of the "names to look for" in Space Age Pop. His album, Music from a Surplus Store is one of those records that die-hards spend years searching through thrifts and garage sales to find.
Fascinato was raised in Hannibal, Missouri and spent some time teaching music at Hannibal High School before serving in the military during World War Two. He moved to Chicago, played piano with his own trio in local clubs and on radio, and in 1947, became musical director of the "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie" children's television show. The show's creator, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, gave Fascinato great creative freedom on the show, and numerous episodes were full-scale musical productions. "St. George and the Dragon" included a complete score performed live by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and for several years, their take-off on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, "The Mikado," was an annual event. (He later arranged a jazz version that's been called "the worst Gilbert & Sullivan recording ever." To some of us, that's a big thumbs-up endorsement.)
He moved to Los Angeles with the show and began pursuing other work on the side. Around 1952, he was hired to arrange and conduct a recording session with Capitol's rising cross-over country star, Tennessee Ernie Ford. Perhaps Ford just liked working with another country boy, but the partnership clicked from the start, and over the next 15 years, Fascinato went on to work on over 20 albums of popular and gospel music with Ford, including the huge hit single, "Sixteen Tons." Like Tillstrom, Ford let Fascinato play a leading role, at times even relying on him to select the material and sequencing.
His success with Ford earned Fascinato a certain amount of influence with Capitol, and he was able to release several albums under his own name. The Palm Springs Suite featured a set of Fascinato originals linked around a theme, similar to Gordon Jenkins' Manhattan Tower or Nelson Riddle's Cross Country Suite. But the one Space Age Pop fans look for is Music from a Surplus Store, which also featured all original compositions, but this time, integrating sound effects produced by, or imitating, common junk-store items like oil cans ("Oily Boid"). Novelty is a big part of its appeal, but there's more to it than that. Fascinato clearly put a lot of thought into how to use these sounds as instruments within a legitimate composition--which is harder than it may seem. (Recall Spike Jones' observation that tossing in a gunshot is easy--getting it to be a B-flat gunshot is tough!). He studied orchestration and composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, an influential teacher and composer, and some of the tunes on Music from a Surplus Store feature complex harmonic writing very much in the vein of modern classical music by Bela Bartok or Arnold Schoenberg. Several cuts from this album have made their way onto Capitol's Ultra-Lounge series, and at least one bootleg CD is in circulation.
Fascinato spent most of the rest of his musical career writing music for radio and television commercials. By the mid-1970s, he estimated he'd written over 200 jingles.
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