Make Believe Island : Mitchell Ayres©2006JCMarion


Mitchell Ayres was born Mitchell Agress on Christmas Eve in 1910 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He went to Columbia University, and while there began to search for his identity in the field of music. Always interested in these possibilities, young Agress in the mid thirties joined the band of Little Jack Little as a violinist in 1933. The orchestra featured the vocals of Little and made a number of recordings for Bluebird and Columbia. Three years later a number of band members left to form a new band of their own which was fronted by the twenty five year old Agress. At this time he changed his last name to Ayres and led the band which played dance music in a sweet style. It met limited success especially in the Midwest into the early forties. The band was known as "Fashions In Music" and the featured vocalists were Mary Ann Mercer and Tommy Taylor. Members of the band at that time that went on to further renown were Dean Kincaide and Warren Covington. The band turned to recording and did quite well in the year 1940 with ten records that charted including "Make Believe Island" with vocal by Mary Ann Mercer that went to number one in the country. However the band did little after that to keep themselves in the forefront of popularity.

By 1942 the vocalists with the band were Meredith Blake and Johnny Bond. Some recordings by the band were "Barrelhouse Bessie From Basin Street" with both vocalists and "Oh How I Miss You Tonight" with vocal by Blake and the chorus on Bluebird # 11528, and "Under A Strawberry Moon" and "Can't Get Out Of This Mood" both with vocals by Meredith Blake on Bluebird # 11588. Ayres appeared as himself in 1943 in the picture "Swingtime Johnny" with the Andrews Sisters and Harriet Hilliard (wife of Ozzie Nelson), and with the band, appeared in the motion pictures "Lady Let's Dance" (featuring the song "Silver Shadows And Golden Dreams") and "Moonlight And Cactus" again with the Andrews Sisters both in 1944. The band also was featured on a number of radio shows, but by 1945 Ayres disbanded his orchestra.

In the late 1940s he concentrated on arranging and conducting. In 1948 beginning on radio and then on to early television with "The Chesterfield Supper Club", he began a long standing relationship as musical director for Perry Como. Como's featured television program which ran from 1955 to the early 1960s. "TV's Top Tunes" an early fifties rival to "Your Hit Parade" also benefited from Mitchell Ayres talent as musical director. Ayres was also musical director for the television programs "Hollywood Palace", "The John Gary Show", and "The King Family Show" in the mid sixties. During the years with Como he also wrote songs such as "Madeira", "Scratchin The Surface", and "I'm A Slave To You". In the late sixties while exploring his options for further work in television and possible motion picture opportunities Ayres met an untimely passing in Las Vegas when he was struck by a passing automobile while crossing the street on September 5, 1969.

Mitchell Ayres left a long and melodic legacy as a violinist, arranger, conductor, musical director, and composer. He will always be connected to Perry Como because of his productive association with that remarkable vocalist. However there was much more to the man, and his memory would be well served to remember his many talents in the field of music. There are many CDs featuring the vocal stylings of Perry Como that are available that contain the musical support of Mitchell Ayres and his orchestra. There is one CD that features Ayres and his Fashions In Music band from Collectors Choice from 2004 with ten tracks from radio broadcasts in the early forties. Apparently there is not an available CD of Ayres and his orchestra containing their hit records from 1940 and 41.

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