Van Alexander

Dec 20 • In Memoriam

Van Alexander ( Alexander Van Vliet Feldman, May 2, 1915 – July 19, 2015) was an American bandleader, arranger and composer. Alexander led bands and arranged from high school, and studied composition in college. He landed a job selling arrangements to Chick Webb in the middle of the 1930s. One of these, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket“, became a hit for Webb and Ella Fitzgerald, and subsequently became one of her signature tunes. Alexander later arranged other nursery rhymesfor jazz performance, such as “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” and “Got a Pebble in My Shoe”.

Career

In the late 1930s Alexander formed his own band and played theaters into the 1940s. Later in the 1940s, he was hired by Bob Crosby to work in Hollywood, and worked extensively as a composer, arranger and conductor for film scores. Alexander wrote a textbook on film arrangement in 1950 called First Arrangement, and Johnny Mandel studied under him. Alexander’s scores include film noir titles such as Baby Face NelsonThe Big Operator and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve. Alexander also provided music for television shows such as HazelThe Farmer’s DaughterBewitchedI Dream of JeannieDennis the Menace and The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters (for one episode of which he received a nomination for a 1973 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction of a Variety, Musical or Dramatic Program).[3] He arranged and conducted for variety shows starring Mickey RooneyGordon MacRaeDean Martin and James Stewart. Additionally, he was involved in recording sessions with Kay StarrDakota StatonPaul WhitemanBenny GoodmanDinah ShoreDoris Day and Peggy Lee. Alexander won several Emmy Awards for his television scores, and was presented with the Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime achievement from ASCAP.

Alexander turned 100 in May 2015 and died on July 19, 2015 of heart failure in Los Angeles.


Van Alexander is truly a man of many talents. ..composer, arranger, conductor, author, and teacher. Van’s first arranging job was with Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom in New York. He later worked for Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Les Brown. and many more. In 1938, Van and Ella Fitzgerald co-wrote the nation’s No.1 hit, A-Tisket. A-Tasket. Ella was the featured singer with Chick Webb at the time, and soon after Van formed his own orchestra.

Van’s first radio exposure came with his own band on The Fitch Bandwagon and then on Morey Amsterdam’s Laugh and Swing Club. They toured the one-night club circuit from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Chicago. They played famous ballrooms and theaters, including the New York Paramount, Loews State. and Capitol in New York, The Earle in Philadelphia. and The Stanley in Pittsburgh. During this time, Van recorded many sides on both the Victor Bluebird label and the Varsity label. He wrote “FIRST ARRANGEMENT”, a learning method for the novice arranger, which he used with his first two teenage pupils, Johnny Mandel and Ian Bernard. This book has inspired many of today’s top arrangers/composers and is still used as a guide.

In 1945, Van moved to California. Since then he has scored 22 full length feature films and hundreds of television segments. He received three separate Emmy nominations for The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters (series), Gene Kelly’s Wonderful World of Girls (a special), and The Golddiggers Chevy Show (series). His credits include composing and conducting for NBC’s 50th Anniversary Show, A Closer Look, Dom De Luise specials, the 1969 Emmy Awards, and The Guy Mitchell Show (series). Van served as arranger and assistant conductor for eight years on The Dean Martin Show. His additional scoring credits for segments include Hazel, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Donna Reed, and Dennis the Menace.

Van has worked with many talents through the years. He has arranged and conducted for Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Dean Martin, Gordon and Sheila MacRae, Kay Starr, Peggy Lee, Dakota Staton, Patty Andrews, and many more.

Van remains active doing occasional freelance work if a project appeals to him. He stays connected to the music business as past president of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers and the Big Band Society of America, which in 1997 presented Van with their coveted Golden Band Stand Award. Also in 1997, the L.A. Jazz Society honored Van for lifetime achievement in jazz. He also received the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Diamond Circle Award in 1997 and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from ASCAP on April 30th, 2002. Moreover, as a member of the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge, CA, Van is still committed to keeping on top of his golf game.

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