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Gabler, Milton


GABLER, MILTON (1911–2001), U.S. jazz impresario. Born in Harlem in New York City, Gabler said he fell in love with jazz at his family's summer cottage in Throgs Neck, the Bronx. While a student in high school, he worked at his father's hardware store and then transferred to another shop his father owned nearby, the Commodore Radio Corporation, a popular supply store. Gabler hooked up a loudspeaker over the door and tuned in a local radio station. Customers kept asking if the store sold records. It didn't, but it soon did. By 1934, the renamed Commodore Music Shop became the country's most important source of records and a meeting ground for fans and musicians. The store later had three addresses on East 42nd Street and had a branch on 52nd Street, where the jazz clubs were clustered. Also in 1934, Gabler began buying boxes of out-of-print jazz recordings from major record companies that had no plans to re-release them. Gabler then became the first person to sell re-issued records and was the first to print the names of all participating musicians on jazz records. In 1939, Gabler recorded Billie Holiday's chilling and now-classic ballad about lynching, "Strange Fruit," after her record producer refused for fear of losing sales in the South. On Commodore Records, Holiday sang, "Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root." Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Commodore issued almost 90 recordings, using more than 150 musicians and singers. In 1941, Gabler was hired by Decca Records, although he continued to produce records for Commodore until 1950. He produced records for Peggy Lee, the Weavers, and the Ink Spots, among many others. He was the first to pair Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald on record and, as a lyricist, he wrote the words for "In a Mellow Tone" for Duke Ellington and "Love" for Nat King Cole. Gabler was one of the first to make recordings of Broadway shows and was a midwife at the birth of rock 'n' roll. In 1954, he signed Bill Haley and the Comets to Decca. They were scheduled to record two songs. The first, "13 Women," was considered more promising. The other was "Rock Around the Clock." The group rehearsed one quick verse to set sound levels and recorded the song live in one take. Sound engineers were said to be alarmed at the high sound levels, but the song soon energized the market for the new sound of rock 'n' roll. Gabler was the uncle of entertainer Billy *Crystal.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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