“I heard a sax solo at five years old,” Murray Wald reminisced, “and that was it.”
A man in his seventies now, with swept-back gray hair and a toothy smile, Murray knew right then and there that the sax was his instrument and his life. By thirteen, he was playing professionally, part of big bands playing resorts in the Catskills and nightclubs in Manhattan.
Murray Wald’s youth in the Thirties and Forties was the era of the big bands. And one of the most famous musicians of the era was Glen Miller. Miller’s theme song, “Moonlight Serenade,” featured his unique sound, a blending of clarinet with four saxes. When the War broke out, Glen Miller was commissioned a captain and given the authority to requisition any draftee for his band. Of course, he requisitioned the best musicians in the country. Murray Wald was one of them.
“I was drafted on a Friday in February 1942,” he recalls, “and on Sunday I was in Atlantic City with 400 other musicians rehearsing for Glen Miller’s new Army Air Force band.”
Glenn Miller chose eighteen men for his new band – five saxes, four trombones, five trumpets, and four for the rhythm section. They were headquartered in New Haven, at Yale University, and from there they toured bases, performed in hospitals, and did recruitment radio shows.
Murray remembers Miller as being a wonderful organizer.
“Very meticulous, very exacting.” As Murray tells it, “Glenn Miller could make high school kids sound good. He also was very commercial. He knew what people liked.”
Wald played with the band from 1942-43. Glenn Miller disappeared in a military plane crash in 1944.
Wald met Fran, his future wife, while stationed with the band at Yale. Fran had a sister with a baby and no one with a camera to take pictures of the infant.
“This guy in the band is a real camera bug,” a friend of his told Fran. “He’ll be happy to come over and take pictures of the baby.”
Murray took the pictures and he and Fran and were married a few months later. Fran gave up her career as a promising opera singer to follow Murray on tour and later kept their home and raised their son.
“Back then,” Fran mused, “women just didn’t have a career and families at the same time. It was either one or the other.”
Music was Wald’s life through the Forties and Fifties, travelling with different bands, performing with stars like the Andrew Sisters, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Jimmy Durante. But by 1956, he decided to call an end to his life on the road. For awhile he went into sales, until he settled into a successful art and framing business with his wife. “Fran’s Framing” has been a fixture in the Thousand Oaks business community since 1980.
Murray still plays his sax, mostly for himself at home. But on Tuesday nights, he says proudly, he’s at a local batting cage hitting seventy-mile an hour fast balls. So, in more ways than one, Murray Wald still “swings.”