Phil Ohman

Biography

Born: 1896   Died: August 8, 1954  
Phil Ohman's surname sounds like a reaction to his full name at birth: Philmore Wellington Ohman. This was obviously something that had to be shortened, especially since he was on the music scene more than a few decades too early to cash in on the potential of a "Philmore live at the Fillmore" booking. This talented pianist was one of the two main men behind the Arden-Ohman orchestra, a combination high society dance band and workaholic studio Read more project that scored frequent hit recordings during the '20s and '30s, including classics of Americana such as "I Love a Parade." For a decade beginning in 1925, Ohman and his partner Victor Arden held forth in the "pits" of many long-running Broadway hits, cutting a repertoire of mostly show tunes in a discography that was often available on the cheap, on ten-cent discs sold under the catchy identification as dimestore dance records.

Ohman studied music in high school, where his instructors were so impressed that they advised his parents to pack the lad off to Europe to study, a move the family couldn't possibly afford. The alternative was two years of study with a local pipe organist. In 1915, Ohman went to work as a piano salesman in New York City. Moving to a piano roll company a few years later, which is where he first met Arden. It was a typical New York City music scene story; each man shared a wide range of musical philosophies, perceived directions, and ambitious projects. Ohman began working as an arranger and composer for classical and popular singers, and in 1922 got the piano gig in the Paul Whiteman orchestra. This lasted a year, until Arden and Ohman decided to forsake other collaborations in order to concentrate on their duo partnership. The two started by forming a piano duo gigging in many of the 52nd street clubs. The duo's first recording session under their combined names resulted in complex, showy piano performances such as "Dance of the Demon," "Raga Muffin," and "Canadian Capers"; the latter tune the only musical example of the Mounties getting their Ohman.

1924 would be a big year for the duo: they were hired for a new Broadway musical entitled Lady Be Good, destined to be a grand hit. Other shows such as Tip Toes and Spring Is Here followed. It was radio broadcasts that created national fame for the Arden-Ohman Orchestra, however, beginning with background music selling toothpaste, perfume, and watches or announcing the beginning of a news report; leading, by the end of the '20s, to the band's own radio show. Frank Luther was among the many vocalists Ohman backed up during this period. While there was a brief split in which each man led his own orchestra, the musical marriage of Arden and Ohman was reconciled for a Brunswick record in 1935. Now relocated to Hollywood, Ohman began working scoring films, writing songs, and coaching actors who were about to portray piano players. Of his original songs, the most easy to find ironically is "Lost," with lyrics written by the wonderfully expressive Johnny Mercer. Ohman kept working in film and radio through the '50s. ~ Eugene Chadbourne Read less
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