View Full Version : Mandolin Orchestras in Northern NJ before 1925

Jan-08-2011, 8:34pm
Perhaps somebody knows somebody who can help me.

My grandfather on my mother's side played the mandolin. I did not know him well, I was very young when he passed on. I found out he played the mandolin a long time after I had already been playing. Nonetheless it has fascinated me to have another mandolin player in the family tree.

I have recently learned that in the 1920s he played in a "100 mandolin orchestra", in Bloomfield New Jersey. I have done some poking around but have not found out what group this would have been and what music they would have played. The Bloomfield Mandolin Orchestra exists today, but it was started in 1941.

We know where the mandolin is, and it is being taken care of, though I haven't seen it. I know nothing about it except it is a bowlback, and had a green cloth cover. No case. But I would love to fill in the gaps. What music did he play, and what kind of ensemble was it? It would be fantastic to find, perhaps on the back of a playlist or program note, a list of the members of the group with my grandfather's name in it.

What would be too good to hope for would be a group photo of the ensemble, with my grandfather in the picture, holding his mandolin.

What mandolin orchestras and ensembles existed in northern New Jersey during the 1920s and/or how would I go about researching this?


John Kasley
Jan-08-2011, 9:06pm
Good question for a librarian/mandolin player. You might direct question to Neil Gladd who frequents this section of the cafe.

Jan-08-2011, 10:16pm
You might want to contact Matt DeBlass too. He is working on a historical/musical project about NJ songs and may have some leads and tips. Also, consider posting your query in another area, perhaps Vintage Instruments or (shudder!) the dreaded General Mandolin Discussions, just so more eyes will see it.

Jim Garber
Jan-08-2011, 10:59pm
Years ago I spoke to a woman whose family owned a Loar F5. She said it originally belonged to her grandfather who was the concertmaster of the Newark, NJ Mandolin Orchestra. Even tho the history of the Bloomfield Orchestra (http://www.bloomfieldmandolinorchestra.org/aboutus.html) seems to go only back to 1941, I would try to contact them with your questions. Perhaps, Mr. Longo can help:

Our oldest member, mandolinist, Peter Longo of West Orange, New Jersey, has been a member of the orchestra since its founding in 1941 and has assisted as conductor, arranger, and orchestra manager. Also, Mr. Longo has written several poems which he has read at milestone performances for the orchestra throughout the decades.
There may be some folks who were around when it formed and I will bet, as the age of mandolin orchestra faded that many of the local orchestras merged into fewer ones.

Please let us know what you find out.

Jan-13-2011, 2:19pm
You might contact the Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA). They have a web site. Neil Gladd as suggested before could help with an answer or direct you to someone who knows.

Jim Garber
Jan-14-2011, 10:06am
CMSA (http://www.classicalmandolinsociety.org/asp/groupindex.asp)is not a bad idea, however, they will prob direct you as I did, since I believe that the Bloomfield Orchestra is the only one listed in NJ. There is a Bergen County one but I checked their page and it is onlya request to see if it still exists. The group list is linked above to CMSA name.

Any luck contacting the NJ folks, Jeff?

Matt DeBlass
Jan-14-2011, 4:17pm
I haven't found anything on it yet in my research (which I'm just picking up again after the chaos of the holi-daze) but if I can find anything on NJ-based mandolin orchestras and early 20th Century repertoire, I'll be happy to pass it on. This research project has been a bit tougher than I though initially thought, but I'll be putting in some library time over the next month or so seeing what I can find.

Jim Garber
Jan-14-2011, 4:38pm
Matt, have you spoken to Peter Longo? (See my post above)

I found this on the Local 802 (http://www.local802afm.org/publication_entry.cfm?xEntry=88953197) site:

Mack Pierce Pitt

Mack Pierce Pitt, 81, lead alto saxophonist with Artie Shaw and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and an 802 member for 60 years, died on March 4 in Detroit.

He learned to play the mandolin as a child and was performing with the Workmen's Circle Mandolin Orchestra in Newark by the time he was eight. At 11, already proficient on the mandolin and vibraphone, he turned to the alto sax. He dropped out of school at age 16 and moved to New York City, where he was soon playing at Radio City Music Hall. At 17, he began appearing with big bands, and soon joined Artie Shaw. He toured with the Shaw band in the U.S., South America and Europe before the United States entered World War II. Shaw then recruited Mr. Pitt for his "All American All-Star Band," which entertained troops in the South Pacific.

Soon after the war he joined Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra for three years. He also performed in the bands of Benny Goodman, Lester Lanin, Meyer Davis, Buddy Morrow and Will Bradley.

In 1951 he married Dorothy Rosen, a Detroit resident, and enrolled at Wayne State University on the GI Bill. He obtained both a bachelor's and master's degree in education and began to teach in Detroit city schools. He later became a counselor and administrator.

During this time he also formed the Mack Pitt Orchestra, a popular society band, worked in Motown Studios, and performed on many occasions with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, on both mandolin and saxophone.

He is survived by his wife Dorothy, sons Steven and Darryl, and two grandsons.

The Workmen's Circle (http://www.circle.org/) still exists so maybe they have some information in their archives.

Hopefully that will give either of you some leads.

Also Musica Viva (http://musicaviva.com/encyclopedia/display.html?phrase=newark-mandolin-orchestra) has this photo labeling it Mandolin orchestra in Newark (from Gibson Catalog 1917):