The Gus Bivona Story
This session I’d like to deal with our 1944/45 Ship’s Band. Those of you unlucky crew members who followed after WWII never got to hear that wonderful group of very talented, entertaining Musicians. Like all Ship’s musicians they took care of the routine Navy ceremonies under a career Navy CPO but during ship’s work ,refueling and just plain ‘jamming’ for the crew they were the greatest boost that a sailor ever had, that is, except for a 72hr.liberty or a very “lucky night” ashore.
The leader was a super talented musician known to us as “Gus Bivona” MUSl/c. The group had played together for a while prior to coming to the Shang, the usual USO stuff and general entertaining around the Chicago area. One of our Association members, Paul Ramsey, Sax player with the band, lived on the West Coast, passed away without attending any reunions that I know, but his widow sent me a number of photo’s and material that Paul had collected. Where they are now, who knows, I suspect Bob Ketenheim does.
Gus Bivona, Side man extra-ordinaire, became known to me via Metronome and Downbeat magazines during the 1930’s when the Big Bands were really getting started. Gus came from a very musical family and actually started with the violin. His mother, a pianist, very likely set up his later close association with pianist, composer, and humorist, Steve Allen. They collaborated on many shows and musical efforts. Gus also gigged with lots of popular piano players of the era, such as, Teddy Wi1 son and Duke Ellington.
Gus Played with most Big Bands and had an orchestra of his own, his recordings may still be available, certainly he can be heard with many bands of note. He gigged with Tommy Dorsey, Bob crosby (brother of “Bing”, no, not the Shang Member), Hudson-Delange, Jan Savitt, Les Brown, to name just a few. He toured with Steve Allen, who he enjoyed a lengthy club residency at the Roundtable in NYC. Recordings such as “Gus Bivona Plays the Music of Steve Allen” and “Music For Swingers” in 1958.
Basically, Gus was an excellent studio musician and ‘sideman’ which is all he really wanted to be. He appeared on the “Bobby Troup” Jazz TV show. Troup as you may know wrote Route 66” and was married for a time to Julie London, who was quite a singer but left the music biz to play a nurse on TV. What a loss of talent.
In the late 60’s, I think, I was driving by the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas and saw on the marquee “Gus Bivona Trio In The Lounge”. I don’t know who the Head liner was, didn’t care, but I sure knew who Gus was. So I popped in and watched them play a bit. His wife was doing the vocals (no, not Julie London, darn it!) So I set them up with a drink and sat way down the bar to see his reaction, the bartender pointed my way, I walked up to Gus, introduced myself, told him I was on the Shang with him, how much we enjoyed his band and how much it meant to us I think he was in tears. Really, he about fell out that someone from the Shang remembered him.
We chatted until he had to go back on, I regret to this day that I did not have a camera to capture that last meeting with an old shipmate who gave us so much pleasure with his music at times when we needed a lift. “THANK’S AGAIN, GUS !!! “ YISSS “Red Reightler AM2/c V2M Division USS shangri-La(cv-38)