North Texas Daily

Historic jazz music collection donated to UNT

Historic jazz music collection donated to UNT

Historic jazz music collection donated to UNT
November 25
00:21 2014

Kaleigh Gremaud / Staff Writer

The widow of Grammy Award winner Gene Puerling, Helen, donated her late husband’s music collection to UNT Music Library.

“He is well known, mostly for his 1982 arranged ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,’” music librarian Maristella Feustle said.

In 1982 Puerling won a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More with “Nightingale” performed by The Manhattan Transfer.

Puerling is well-known for his vocal groups, the Hi-Lo’s and The Singers Unlimited. The Hi-Lo’s was created in 1953 and The Singers Unlimited in 1971.

Puerling died of diabetes complications in 2008. Helen Puerling began discussion in fall of 2013 of the best future for his collections.

Vocal jazz director Jennifer Barnes helped UNT get the Puerling collection. Her father, Don Shelton, joined the Hi-Lo’s in 1959, and she grew up around the Puerlings.

“After his passing, a lot of people wondered what would happen to his music collection, as it was never published,” Barnes said.

The UNT Jazz Singers and One O’clock Lab Band will perform a few pieces from the Puerling collection on April 16-17, 2015 to celebrate the addition of the collection to the UNT Music Library.

Helen Puerling thought long and hard and decided to donate the collection to UNT in the spring. The paperwork was signed this summer.

“UNT is a highly qualified music school, and because I’m here and have connections to the family, I feel Helen thinks the collection is somehow staying in the family,” Barnes said.

Oct. 24, Fuestle and Barnes flew out to San Anselmo, Calif. to personally pick up the collection. The drive back took two days.

“She didn’t want to ship the collection to us,” Fuestle said.

There is no easy way to measure the size of the collection, but it filled the entire SUV Fuestle and Barnes rented.

The collection consists of music Puerling wrote, musical scores, instrumental arrangements and memorabilia he collected over the course of his career.

“It is a huge opportunity for performance and vocal jazz students,” Fuestle said. “The collection allows UNT to offer something that students can’t get anywhere else.”

Students will have access to the music collection to write theses, articles and dissertations. Students will also be able to perform and record the music.

“Many pieces of his music have never been performed live,” Barnes said. “The Hi-Lo’s performed his music live, but not many have been performed live since.”

Puerling’s style of vocal jazz could be considered one-of-a-kind in his day. It was more complex and had a thicker jazz harmony and rhythm.

“There are two approaches to Gene’s music,” Barnes said. “One way is there are many parts, like a choir with jazz music added. The other approach is solo jazz music with more people.”

Barnes’ father Don Shelton, who played in the Hi-Lo’s, said he noticed a difference in Puerling’s style compared to others.

“He let the lead singer mostly have the melody line with the second part sometimes being above that in the chord, thus making for a most distinctive sound,” Shelton said. “That changes the texture and set a new standard for vocal writing. And it also made it so interesting to sing in that format, an audio sensation when performing it.”

Shelton met Puerling when Puerling was in need of a replacement for his Hi-Lo’s group.

“He called asking if I would be interested in auditioning for the Hi-Lo’s,” Shelton said. “Would I? Whoa! I was bowled over. Gene asked if I could meet him at the Greyhound Bus Station in Hollywood, and I did. It was a rainy night. We had a beer and then drove to another member’s house for the audition.”

From then on, Shelton and Puerling were friends, through a musical and personal relationship. Both Shelton and Barnes have fond memories of Puerling.

“Gene was terrific, very loyal, generous and sincere in every way,” Shelton said. “He had a very dry humor that was always in evidence, just a wonderful attribute. Too many to actually list.”

Barnes shares some of her father’s memories and has a few of her own.

“I remember he was very funny. As a kid, that’s what I remember the most,” Barnes said. “There was always music and laughter and food. Those are always a good combination.”

Featured Image: Pieces of the Gene Puerling collection are displayed in the Music Library. The Music Library is on the fourth floor of Willis Library. Photo by Devin Dakota – Staff Photographer

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