Ernest Rittie

Musician

 

14 December 1904 12 January 1958

 

 

Ernest Gordon Hyam Rittenberg was born at 114 Leander Road, Brixton Hill, London on the 14th December 1904 to parents Philip and Helena Lillie Rittenberg.  Philip legally changed their surname to Ritte in 1918.

 

Known within the family as Copper because of his curly mass of coppery hair, Ernest had two older siblings, Doris and Leonard, and a younger sister, Sheila.  They were all very close, particularly Ernest and Sheila.

 

After Lillies mother died, her father Wilhelm Latte (Pa) came to live with the family.  He was adored by them all, especially the children.  It was a crowded, happy home.  Music filled their childhood as their father was a professional singer, and for a time their mother ran a tobacco shop.

 

As young boys, Leonard and Ernest were sent to Bude County School in Bude, north Cornwall where their Uncle Ralph was Head Master.  It was there that Ernest began his music lessons.  The school was a terraced house facing the sea and still stands.  Their sister Doris also attended lessons there briefly and was one of few girls at the school.  Unfortunately she broke her arm in a football match and subsequently changed schools. 

 

Doris was very clever, worked at the BBC and became quite eccentric.  She had a habit of hiding paper money within pages of old newspapers and after she died, the family took some time to sort through a roomful of papers.

 

Sheila grew into a striking young woman, with the same pale complexion and wild red hair as Ernest.  As talented as her siblings, she embarked on a successful stage career as a comic actress and singer.

 

Leonard (Lennie) was the Fred Astaire of the family, becoming the England Amateur Dance Champion in 1924/5 and later a professional dancer.  There are photos of him, taken at Londons famous Café Royale, gliding around the dance floor in his white tuxedo while Ernest is playing in the band.  Lennie married quite late to the petite, well-known British actress Jane Welsh (Louisa Tudor-Jones), who he described as the most beautiful woman in England.

 

Both Ernest and Lennie were highly intelligent and did well at school.  It was assumed that Ernest would go into accounting but music quickly became his passion and he excelled, which is hardly surprising considering his fathers talent.

 

Approaching his 20s, Ernest came to a crossroad in his life.  Determined to improve himself and change his way of thinking he decided to focus on music.  Showing maturity beyond his years he vigorously embraced the hard work and discipline required to become a professional musician, which set him on course for a brilliant career.

 

His first instrument, an E flat curved soprano saxophone, was ordered by mail catalogue and cost £25.  Buying a major wind instrument via mail order was considered highly unusual and eventually the story became folk-lore in the music world.  Nevertheless, Ernest said he always found it a very good saxophone Possibly it was ordered from the French company, Selmer, famous for its superior wind instruments, as curiously he advertised a Selmer alto saxophone for sale many years later in the Sydney Morning Herald of June 1949.

As a young man, Ernest began reading the works of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and charting his own journey of self-awareness and discovery, but family members claim that he had always possessed a gentleness and stillness of mind.

 

Ernest never drank or gambled after this self-transformation and wouldnt even buy a lottery ticket.  He became a vegetarian, but this was a decision balanced by research into digestion and causes of illnesses such as cancer, and not made for compassionate reasons alone.  Ernest also had a caring nature and ultimately became a pacifist.

 

I am reminded of a time when I was a young child.  We were at Circular Quay in Sydney, outside a long narrow café.  Inside was a shabby man who had probably been living on the streets, and he was screaming abuse and hurling objects.  The proprietor and staff were huddled behind the counter, patrons had left the shop and there was a small crowd gathering outside.  Ernest looked at the scene briefly, told me to stay outside, then approached the man and said: do you realise you are frightening everyone?  The poor man stopped, stared at him and then burst into tears.  Ernest led him outside and they sat together on a bench until help arrived.  I think it was the Salvation Army.  His compassion for this unfortunate man and the lack of fear he demonstrated was typical of Ernest.

Ernests daughter, Caroline.

 

Ernest learned to play most wind instruments very well, including the flute and ocarina, and was quite at home on the piano.  He was largely self-taught and attributed his lovely tone on the clarinet to using an incorrect embouchure.

 

By his early to mid-twenties Ernest was playing clarinet and alto and baritone saxophones professionally in various British dance bands.

 

Between 25 September and 22 November 1929, he performed with Piccadilly Players (directed by Al Starita on clarinet and alto sax) then shortly afterwards joined the Green Hill Park Orchestra, managed by Jack Hylton and led by Jean Pougnet.  No commercial recordings exist of this last group.  In the summer of 1930 he worked with Billy Mason and from January 1931 with Joe Kaynes Orchestra at the Berkeley Hotel.

Dates and bands from John Chiltons Whos Who of British Jazz.

 

Before Ernest finally left London in 1939, he played with many famous English dance bands and recorded with those listed below :

 

The Picadilly Players directed by Al Starita…………………… 25 September 1929 - 22 November 1929

The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, directed by Ray Noble……31 December 1930 - 16 March 1933

( Also known as Ray Noble and his New Mayfair Orchestra)

Roy Fox Band……………………………………………………5 January 1931 23 September 1932

Durium Dance Band, directed by Lew Stone……………………15 March 1932 - August 1932

(Directed by Arthur Lally 15 March-28 March : Directed by Lew Stone 1 April -August 1932)

Nat Gonella and His Georgians  …………………………………15 November 1932 - 20 July 1939

( Including recordings by Nat Gonella and His Trumpet)

Lew Stone Band ………………………………………………….21 October 1932 15 August 1938

Maurice Winnick Band…………………………………………..10 June 1936 - 1 September 1936

List courtesy of Denis King

 

He had also played with the famous bands of Bert Ambroses and Geraldo (Gerald Bright) but there are no known commercial recordings of these bands that include Ernest.

 

In 1931 Ernest was a member of the Roy Fox band when it opened at the Monseigneur Restaurant in Piccadilly, London on May 27th with star-studded 10-piece orchestra, comprising Nat Gonella and Sid Buckman (trumpets), Joe Ferrie (trombone), Billy Amstell (clarinet and alto sax), Ernest Ritte (clarinet, alto and baritone sax), Harry Berley (tenor sax and viola), Don Stuteley (bass), Bill Hartey (drums), Lew Stone (piano, celeste, arranger) and Al Bowlly (guitar and vocals).  Missing from the lineup on opening night was a regular member of Foxs band, Billys Amstells brother Mickey Amstell (clarinet and alto sax).

 

The band also gained popularity from their regular Wednesday night BBC broadcasts.

 

After only a few months Fox was stricken with pleurisy and left England for five months to recover in Switzerland.  The brilliant arranger, Lew Stone, led the band over this period and greatly increased its following.

 

Fox returned in April 1932 to find it much better established with both the restaurant owners and its patrons fully recognising Stone as the leader.  Fox therefore formed another band which opened at the Café Anglaise.

 

Like every musician in Stones band, Ernest was given a nickname and became Carrots, which was rather a fait accompli considering his ginger hair and vegetarian diet.  He remained with Stone until leaving England in August 1939.

 

Ernest is featured in several recordings from that time including Nat Gonella and His Trumpet on Ace of Clubs Treasury Series, recorded in the early 30s. Ernest is featured on 4 sides. 

 

He also contributed to The Bands That Matter LEW STONE on Decca Treasury series, Al Bowlly with Lew Stone and his Band, My Kind of Music, Lew Stone and his Orchestra, 10.30 Tuesday Night and Lew Stone and his Band on the Ace of Clubs label.  With Stones band he also recorded film sound tracks.

 

In the 1980s a recording of the Durium Dance Band (Lew Stones Band) was discovered, titled By the Fireside (take C) with vocal by Al Bowlly, recorded in London on March 15, 1932. 

The band comprised Lew Stone (director, arranger), Nat Gonella, Lloyd Shakespeare (trumpets), Lew Davis (trombone), Ernest Ritte (clarinet, alto sax, baritone sax), Harry Hines (alto sax), Harry Berly (tenor sax, violin), Harry Rubens (piano), Bill Herbert (guitar), Jack White (string bass), Bill Harty (drums), Al Bowlly (vocal).

 

Stone became a very close friend and gave Ernest a black Waterman fountain pen with a beautiful italic, soft gold nib.  On the body of the pen is a wide gold band, which is engraved Lew to Ernest.  Ernest treasured the pen and used it to write all his music and most of his letters for the rest of his life.

 

On the 19th August 1935, Ernest married Patricia Stanley-Low at the registry office in Westminster, London.  Patricia was strikingly beautiful: tall, slim, dark haired and extroverted.  Ernest was very handsome: tall, slim and fit, with coppery hair and deep brown eyes.   They made a very elegant couple.  Educated in England and Switzerland, Patricia was an accomplished artist, poet and author and spoke fluent French.

 

Patricias parents did not give their blessing to the marriage, possibly because Ernests family were Jewish or because he was an atheist. Also Ernests career choice was a far cry from the traditional or more solid professions such as medicine, banking or engineering.  As the years went by, however, Patricias parents grew to love and admire Ernest and often turned to him for advice. By contrast the Ritte family welcomed Patricia from the start.

 

Ernest and Patricias first child, Antoinette was born in 1938 and the following year the family decided to immigrate to Australia, leaving England on the 12 August 1939, just before the outbreak of WW11.  They left with little notice, few possessions and minimal funds.

 

They sailed for Australia on the S.S. Ormonde of the Orient Line, disembarking at Fremantle, WA to visit Patricias cousin, Cuthbert Sammy Stanley-Low.  The S.S. Ormonde was requisitioned as a troop carrier on its return to England.

 

 

ERNEST IN AUSTRALIA

 

By December 1939, Ernest, Patricia and Antoinette were in Sydney, living in a semi-detached cottage at 11 Roberts Street, Rose Bay.  Ernest wrote to his mother: We have not got a bed yet and are having a poor time sleeping on four trunks of different heights covered with cushions etc. and arranged in order of magnitude. Pat says its like sleeping on Mont Blanc!

 

One of the first friends he made in Sydney was Al Elliot, a British drummer who was the sub-editor of dance musicians and musical entertainment magazine Music Maker.  In the same letter to his mother in late December he observed the band business in this country is nothing compared to that in Englandand there is no central meeting place like Archer Street.  However Elliot was very familiar with the Sydney music scene and was well placed to help Ernest, as he began to establish himself in a new country.

 

Fortunately Ernests reputation as a fine musician and top arranger preceded him and he was soon in demand as band leader.

 

While under contract to Harry Wren of Wrens Greater Theatres Pty Ltd he was loaned out for three months to Jim Davidson (the brilliant band leader for the ABC) as his ace musical arranger. 

In December 1939 it was reported that an Excellent orchestra conducted by Ernest Ritte late of B.B.C and Piccadilly Hotel. London opened at Roses restaurant in Sydney with Ernest featuring on alto saxophone and clarinet and backed for the first time in Australia, American Cabaret Entertainment.  Sydney Morning Herald, 23 December 1939, page 4.

 

Ernest Rittes Roses Restaurant Orchestra included himself, Jim Creary and Wally Knott (saxes), Wally Norman (trumpet and trombone), Charlie Fields (piano) and Al Elliot (drums).  In April, Al transferred to the Ice Palais and was replaced by Russ Ralston (drums and vibraphone artist). Music Maker, 30 April 1940.

 

Radio 2UW broadcast the band from Roses as Ernest Rittes Orchestra on Saturday evenings from 11 to 12.

 

The saxophone section and the talented solo pianist Charlie Field, won praise as well. Of outstanding interest to musicians is the Ritte sax section, which for tone.stands alone and also worthy of comment is Charlie Fields work on piano. Music Maker, 30 April 1940.

 

Well known Sydney bandleader, Wally Norman also wrote in his 1958 tribute to Ernest: His mild manner and retiring nature were a bit strange at first to the boys at the Club.  But when he formed his first band to open Roses Restaurant, late in 1939 (in which I was included) we soon realised that his musical ability was way ahead of anyone elses in Sydney at the time, and that his modesty was the true modesty of a great musician.  Music Maker, February 1958, Vale, Ernest Rittie A True Gentleman Of The Profession..

 

In May 1940, Ernest concluded his engagement at Roses and in the same month, his eight-piece band Ernest Ritte and his Orchestra recorded two sides for the Macquarie record company in Sydney, Jiminy Cricket and Careless (Macquarie 651).  A couple of the Orchestra members had also arrived from England in 1939: George Taylor, former trumpeter with Jack Hylton, and saxophonist, Ken Wooldridge.   

 

The ensemble featured Ernest and Ken Wooldridge (alto and clarinet), Wally Knott (tenor and clarinet), George Taylor (trumpet), Emil Kew (piano), Al Elliot (drums), Len Mehden (bass) and Lawrence Brooks (vocals). Music Maker, 3 July 1940.

 

In June 1940, Ernest Ritte and his Orchestra recorded four more sides for the Macquarie label in Sydney; The Moon and the Willow Tree and Sweet Potato Piper, (Macquarie 652), Love is All and  Rosita (Macquarie 653).

 

The band comprised Ernest Ritte (alto sax), Ray Grey (trumpet), Dave OShea (trumpet, alto sax), Dave Meredith (trombone), Jim McLaren (tenor sax), Clive Cullier (violin), George Schilling (piano), Kev McCredie (bass), Jim Gould (drums) and Lawrence Brooks (vocals).

 

 

LIVING IN BRISBANE

 

At the end of September 1940, shortly after the birth Ernest and Patricias second daughter, Caroline, the family moved to Brisbane where they found a small fibro cement cottage at 26 Walmsley Street, Kangaroo Point, complete with a tropical vegetable garden and an air raid shelter in the back yard.  

 

Ernest went straight into rehearsals for Will Mahony and Bob Geraghys Review at the Cremorne Theatre, conducting Jimmy McLarens Orchestra of ten local musicians with the American vaudevillian, Evie Hayes, at the microphone.  There were more gigs with Will Mahoney Vaudeville Nightly at 8. Ernest was by now calling himself Rittie with the added i.

 

He was hailed as a Musical Genius in an unidentified c.a. late 1940 magazine cutting in the Ernest Rittie scrapbook.  The article continued: It is not generally known that, in spite of his relatively young age for a Musical Director, Ernest Rittie, the capable conductor of the Cremorne Orchestra, has a brilliant London career in music to his credit.  In addition to his having conducted at the London Palladium, the home of all vaudeville, he is recognised throughout England and the States as one of the best arrangers in the world.

 

In 1942, Ernest was called up for military service however he was a pacifist and refused to learn how to handle a weapon.  He had no religious beliefs to support his stance, but his views were accepted as genuine.  In any case, his flat feet made him an unsuitable candidate for active service.

 

Ernest nevertheless happily served some time in the Army Medical Corps and also conducted the band at the Australian Army Canteen Services.  There exists a good photo of him in Army uniform, playing clarinet and leading the band.

 

In the same year of his call-up the family welcomed a son, David, who was born very prematurely and initially not expected to survive.

 

When Ernest was at the army barracks in Brisbane, Patricia and the children lived for a while with friends on Stradbroke Island.  This island, just off the coast of Queensland was sparsely populated and quite bushy with pristine sandy beaches, and snakes (much to Patricias alarm). 

 

Ernest had regular broadcasting work from September 1940 onwards at Courier-Mail radio stations 4BK and 4AK and also led the band at the Lady Bowen Cabaret from 1944.

 

On 7th March 1944, Ernest presented a broadcast for both of these radio stations in which he discussed classical music and swing with illustrative musical examples.  He was also employed regularly as a radio studio band leader and, in May 1945, these stations began a series of monthly programmes exclusively featuring Brisbane artists, including Ernest.

 

He headed several bands at this time, among them Ernest Ritties Khaki Rhythm, Ernest Ritties Military Band Orchestra and Ernest Ritties Rhythm Four.  They played at military camp concerts for the troops, which were broadcast through radio 4QR and also stage shows for the Courier Mails 4BK artists.

 

In the meantime, Patricia was writing a cheeky monthly series for the Brisbane Sunday Mail under the name Pat Low. She called it Whats next? Her contributions were very entertaining and dealt with anything and everything. Whats next? was published for a few months until February 1945.  Patricia could always spin a yarn and never let the facts spoil a good story.

 

In another letter to his mother on the 12th September 1945, Ernest wrote that he had just heard the great news that he was to be discharged from the army immediately.  Sadly, with little income outside the Army and a family to support, he was once again in financial doldrums.

 

He and Patricia wrote home to the family that they were seriously considering looking for work in Melbourne, where they could connect with Vernon Stanley-Low, Patricias cousin.

 

 

SYDNEY BANDS AND CONCERTS

 

Luckily the move was not necessary.  Ernest secured a job in Sydney with band leader Leo White (Weiss), formerly of the world famous Jewish-German Weintraubs Orchestra.  Whites band opened at the high-class Princes cabaret-restaurant on December 21 replacing Craig Crawford, who went to Christies.

 

Whites band comprised himself, Bill Dardis (piano), Doh Brunell, Noel Bradley (alto sax), Jack Baines and Dave Rutledge (tenor sax), Ernest Rittie (baritone sax), Gerry Goodwin (trumpet), Jack Ridges (guitar), Ady Normand (bass), Slade (drums) and Alby Franks (replacing Terry Howard) on vocals.

 

Ernests family had to remain in Brisbane while he sought a new family home.  Al Elliot lent Ernest his tiny bachelor flat at Roosevelt Flats in Roslyn Gardens, Kings Cross, where the miniature kitchen was located inside a standard cupboard.  In January 1946, after spending Christmas apart, Patricia and the children joined him there and soon afterwards the family moved house again, to a larger flat at Silva Street, Bondi.

 

Ernest was lured away from Princes in Sydney to lead the band for seven nights a week at Al Elliots new Stork Club Restaurant, just south of Tom Uglys Bridge, Sylvania but the club made little headway and in May 1946 he was playing in the Roosevelt band under Wally Norman.  By the end of December (1946) he was back with Leo White at Princes.

 

In a letter to his sister Sheila, dated 11th December 1946, he wrote: I have decided to go back to Princes to work again with Leo White.  Naturally I dislike going backwards, as it were, but in the prevailing conditions I think it wise.  I will still be the highest paid man in the band, which is some compensation.  Princes is by far the most solid job in Sydney.

 

He is described in a Music Maker article announcing the new band at the Stork Club as that shy, retiring character, Ernest Rittie.

 

There is a charming anecdote in Wally Normans tribute to Ernest called Vale, Ernest Rittie A True Gentleman Of The Profession in Music Maker of February 1958.  It mentions a musician s lurid and detailed backstage description of some quite wicked goings-on, which elicited the famous comment from Ernestraised ginger eyebrows and all: My word! How odd!

 

In 1949 Ernest joined Paul Lombards band at the Celebrity Club then in September 1949, as Lombard and His Music, the band recorded A Little Bird Told Me (vocals by Annette Klooger and Geoff Brooke) and Its a Crime (vocal by Geoff Brooke), both on the Fanfare label.

 

In 1951 he took his own Latin-oriented band, Ernesto Rittez and His Orchestra to the Roosevelt Restaurant in Potts Point.

 

The Roosevelt band featured Ernest (saxophone, clarinet and Latin percussion), Maurie Brunell (saxophone), Lloyd Haverfield (trumpet), Billy Lake (piano), Alan Plummer (bass), Johnnie Blevins (drums) and Larry Stella and June Miller (vocals).

 

Lorrae Desmond, later a TV star, also sang with Ernests bands and was a regular visitor to the Rittie family home at Bronte.  She appeared with the Ernesto Rittez and his Latin American Orchestra at the Sydney Town Hall in July 1951.  The band was among a line-up at Brokensha’s Farewell Concert but unfortunately the concert booking failed to reap its expected returns and resulted in financial struggle for a time.  Life for professional band musicians, even for those with Ernests experience and capability, has always been fraught with difficulties and uncertainties.

 

When Arthur Murray opened his South Pacific dance branch in the Savarin Restaurant, George Street Sydney in December 1953, Ernest and his band were engaged for the opening night, playing vibrant Latin American music.

 

The group consisted of Ernest (clarinet), Alan Wood (trumpet), Percy Winnick (tenor), George Dudley (alto), Ian Nick (bass), Billy Lake (piano) and Mark Bowen (drums).  The band played regularly afterwards at functions for teachers and students.

 

Apart from venues mentioned above, Ernest played at Romanos (with band leader and fellow Englishman Eric Tann), The Trocadero and Sammy Lees (later the Flamingo) and at many private functions.

 

In 1953, Ernest joined Paul Lombard again, this time at Chequers, and remained with the band until his death in January 1958.

 

 

LATIN AMERICAN MUSIC AND RADIO BROADCASTS

 

Ernests main musical passion was Latin American music and, using the professional name of Ernesto Rittez, he formed the Orquesta Cubana in London in 1937.  Broadcasts of the band, by the BBC, were directly transmitted to Australia on the Empire wavelength.  Ernest wanted to re-form an Orquesta Cubana (a Cuban-style orchestra) in Australia after his arrival but mentioned in a letter to his mother that he was unable to find a suitable vocalist.  Nevertheless he was able to create an Orquesta Cubana in Sydney in 1948, after returning from Brisbane.

 

The music of his Orquesta Cubana, which played both Cuban and Brazilian music was excitingly rhythmic and his colourful Latin percussion instruments included claves, marcas, guiro (a gourd scraper), madruga (tins full of seed or rice), tambors (deep hollow drums), bongos and castanets.  Many of the instruments came from Cuba, sent by his wife Patricias sister, the acclaimed poet and author Mary Stanley- Low.  Marys eldest daughter, Helga, remembers the family searching for bongos and testing many of them before choosing the ones that sounded best.

 

The musicians dressed in the traditional costumes worn by Cuban dancers performing in Comparsas or parades, including ruffled shirts with big sleeves, bright scarves and cummerbunds.  Patricia, an accomplished seamstress, made all the shirts and Caroline remembers being paid a couple of shillings to iron each one.  Patricia also made a wrap ruffled skirt for the female singer, worn daringly open at the front or side.

 

Ernest continued to gain expertise in Latin American music and not only wrote music for his own bands but also scored arrangements for other musicians.  Many of the bands songs were written and sung in Spanish.

 

By the end of 1946 he had regular broadcasting spots on the ABC, leading his bands, The Rushcutters and Ernest Rittie and his Orchestra and then in 1948, Ernesto Rittez and his Orquesta Cubana.  On 21 June 1948, the Orquesta Cubana broadcast on 2FC the first of the series Saludo Senoras! a thirty-minute program of music, South American style.

 

In mid-1948 the Orquesta Cubanas musicians were Ernest (clarinet, saxophone), Gerry Goodwin and Norman Litt (trumpet), Len (Lennie) Hailes (flute, piccolo, clarinet), Emil Kew (piano), Juan Ricardo (guitar), Alan Plummer (bass), Roy Stewart (drums) and Robert Rizal and Marcia Rose (vocals).

 

A personnel list in the first issue of Music Maker for 1949 presented a slightly altered lineup for Ernests new ABC programme Saludos Amigos!  It included Ernest Rittie (clarinet, saxophone), Gerry Goodwin (trumpet), Len Hailes (flute, clarinet), Emil Kew (piano), Juan Ricardo (guitar), Alan Plummer (bass), Roy Stewart (drums) and Marsh Goodwin  (unknown, possibly vocals).

 

The Orquesta also featured on ABC TVs first broadcast in Australia, on November 5, 1956 and made numerous recordings, many on the Pacific label.

 

In August 1949, ABC administrative cuts forced Ernest to reduce the Orquesta Cubana to a four-piece combo of guitar, clarinet, piano and Latin American percussion instruments as the Cuban Quartet.  Only Don Andrew on guitar is named as a member of the renamed combo but, going by the personnel of the Orquesta Cubana listed in Music Maker of January 1949, the three instrumentalists retained from the Orquesta Cubana are most likely to have been Len Hailes on clarinet and flute, Emil Kew on piano and Roy Stewart on Latin percussion.  On the credit side of the ledger this month is an exceedingly neat little session in which my dearly beloved Ernest Rittie makes a romantic return to the ABC with his Cuban Quartet”….. Ernesto manages to whip up some simply ravishing music. Music Maker, September 1949.

 

Ernest began a series of nine monthly technical articles on Latin American music, Music in the Latin American Manner and Music in the South American Manner, in October 1949.  They were published exclusively in Music Maker with the last article appearing in the June 1950 issue.

 

Dr John Whiteoak, a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Music at Monash University has contributed some valuable information about Ernests career, including the following:

 

On September 2, 1951, Ernesto Rittez and his Latin American Band with Alan Wood (trumpet), Jack Flower (drums), Jimmy Henny (piano), Len Hailes (flute) and Ernest and Loritaon vocals, presented a History of Latin American Rhythmat the Sydney Bill McColl Jazz Concert.  This was reviewed in the November 1951 issue of Music Maker by Frank Owen Baker who described the Latin American music presented at the concert as inauthentic’.

 

Ernest was very upset by this blatant insult and wrote a rejoinder that was published in the December issue of Music Maker as Ernesto Rittez Comments on Owen Bakers Concert Review.

 

In the rejoinder, Ernest explains that he had studied and specialised in Latin Music of all typessince the BBC broadcast his first Orquesta Cubana in 1937 and that the later success of his Latin orchestras was entirely due to the fact that he had concentrated on authenticityand that the rhythms presented at the September concert were entirely original.  He then suggests that the editor of Music Maker should ask Frank Owen Baker to state publicly in what way the rhythms were inauthentic and what authority he bases his criticisms upon. 

 

Frank Owen Baker replied on the same page claiming that Ernest had misunderstood him and that he was really complaining that while the act was billed as a historyof Latin American rhythms, the band in fact presented modern Latin American music.  He agreed that the rhythms presented at the concert were authentic and that he held Ernest in the highest esteemas a musician. 

 

As if to compound his embarrassment, a letter from Armando Machado, Cuban Diplomatic Observer, who had attended this concert was also published on the same page.  In this letter in support of Ernest, Armando states these were my thoughts on the night I attended the concert.  I felt more Cuban than ever when I listened to the pure unadulterated (Cuban music) beautifully played by Maestro Ernesto Rittez and his Orchestra.

John Whiteoak.

 

Apart from his 1950s club, concert and radio work, his ensemble recorded many sides during 1950 for the Pacific label as Ernesto Rittez and his Orchestra.

Salvador the Toreador and The Wedding Samba (Pacific 10-0022 not released) and Rio de Janiero and Cumana (Pacific 10-0023) were recorded in early 1950 with unknown instrumentalists except for Ernest on alto sax, Emil Kew on piano and vocalist, June Miller.  

In mid-1950, the ensemble recorded Brazil and Scottish Samba (Pacific 10-0031) Canasta and Jungle Fantasy (Pacific 10-0032) and Mambo Jambo (Que Rico El Mambo) and Mama, Whatll I Do (Pacific 10-0040), with the last two tracks being the most successful of these six sides.  The only known performers on these tracks are Ernest on alto sax and clarinet), Lloyd Haverfield on trumpet, Jimmy Henney on piano, Don Andrews on guitar and vocalist Dawn Lake.

Autumn Leaves and You Wonderful You (Pacific 10-0054) and September Song and Forever Samba (Pacific 10-0055) were recorded in late 1950 with a lineup comprising Ernest on alto sax and clarinet again, Gerry Goodwin, Marsh Goodwin and Lloyd Haverfield on trumpets, Len Hailes on clarinet, flute and piccolo, Jimmy Henny on piano, Alan Plummer on bass, Johnny Blevins on drums and vocalist Marty OSullivan.

Ernest also co-wrote Oriental Mambo with Paul Lombard and Dorothy Dodd, which was recorded for Columbia (DO 3717) in 1955 to some acclaim.

Listing of Ernest Rittie recordings from Ross Lairds  A Discography of Popular Music Recorded in Australia or by Australians Overseas, 1925-1950. (5th rev. ed.), Canberra, Discographic Researchers, 1997, page 145.

Somehow Ernest found time over the years to teach clarinet to a handful of students.  He also composed music for film and was in demand for his brilliant musical arrangements.

 

 

FAMILY LIFE

 

Ernest and Patricia loved Australia and Australians from the moment they arrived and embraced the more casual way of life.

 

After Kings Cross, the family settled for some time at Silva Street Bondi, then moved again to Gaerloch Avenue Tamarama and some years later to Bronte Beach.

 

It was at Tamarama that all his children began to learn music.

 

Antoinette completed her final three years of schooling at the Conservatorium of Music High School where very few students were accepted.  Showing great talent, she shone at singing, played the piano beautifully, and also learnt to play descant, tenor and bass recorder.  Antoinette has lived in America since she was twenty-one.

 

David and Caroline mucked about on the recorder for a while and both took lessons in piano and violin.  David later played guitar in a number of bands.

 

Caroline loved music, but art was her passion and her chosen career path from the age of five.  She was only ten years and two months old when she enrolled in her first course: Saturday morning classes at East Sydney Technical College, later known as the National Art School.  After completing a five-year full time course, she graduated from the same College in 1960 with a Diploma in Illustration (ASTC).

 

Davids hobbies were music and mechanics.  As a boy he made crystal sets, took every clock in the place apart, much to his mothers chagrin, and was always fixing everyones cars.  He eventually became an aircraft maintenance engineer at Qantas where he rose to senior management.  Since retiring he has built and flown his own small aeroplanes.

 

Ernest and Patricia bought their first home in 1952 at Bronte Marine Drive, right on the beachfront.  Patricias parents, Vernon and Hilda Stanley-Low had arrived in Australia some years earlier and settled in Brontes House with the Blue Roof with a view over the bay.  The new Rittie family home had an adjoining garden with the Stanley-Lows.

 

Ernest continued to read the transcripts of Krishnamurtis talks for the rest of his life and in the early 1950s had the opportunity to meet him privately at a series of lectures in Sydney.  He embraced Krishnamurtis teachings and lived his life a quiet, kind and thoughtful man. His peers in the music world saw him as a gentle man and a gentleman.  

 

Ernests modesty or lack of ego was equally noticeable.  In a letter to his sister Sheila in January 1946, he talked about taking a course in harmony at the Conservatorium of Music, noting several of the more advanced dance musicians had been doing this, as present day arranging requires much more academic knowledge than ever before I should naturally like to know as much theoretically as anyone else in the band.  Sadly, he did not have the opportunity to realise this dream, however his arrangements were considered quite brilliant without this additional knowledge.

 

With such a formal name, any other Australian musician would have been dubbed Ernie but he was always referred to and addressed as Ernest.  As a non-smoker, teetotaler and vegetarian, which were almost unheard of among fellow musicians, he captivated everyone with his delightful sense of humour.

 

He was also proficient at tennis and golf for most of his life and spent as much time as he could with his closest friends, Percy Winnick, the brother of British musician and band leader Maurice Winnick, and Dave Rutledge, both professional musicians.

 

Ernest enjoyed being a father and loved playing magic tricks.  To amuse a sick child he would sew his fingers together with invisible thread and try to drink a cup of tea.  When they were running late he played hurry-up music on the piano, which he made up on the spot, often with hilarious embellishments.

 

He also delighted his young children by writing mock music exam marks with classic comments such as: Scales: very boring up and down, up and down and rubatos too rubato, staccatos too staccato, legatos too legato, tomatoes too expensive and could do better if she had the ability. 

 

While living at Bronte, Ernest wrote a musical arrangement specifically for his family, titled The Spraunce Music, which was such a success he followed it with The Spraunce Music No 2.  In both pieces each member of the family played an instrument: Ernest (clarinet and flute), Patricia (piano), Antoinette (bass recorder), Caroline (descant recorder) and David (violin). 

 

Sadly, Ernest did not see his parents or siblings again after leaving England but his mother Lillie and sister Sheila kept many letters he wrote from Australia.

 

Lillie also kept a manuscript of what is possibly Ernests earliest musical composition, Mothers Birthday Waltz.  Its faded and tattered now.  The tune is simple, written in pencil in a childish way, with many rubbings out.

 

Philip Ritte died on the 14th December 1954, the same day as Ernests birthday.  It was late in the day when he received the news and he sat at the piano, played softy for some time and then without speaking, quietly went to bed. 

 

Lillie, who sadly outlived Ernest, died ten years later in 1964.  She and Philip never met Ernest and Patricias three children, who were their only grandchildren. 

 

In November 1957, Ernest became the professional manager for Allan & Co Pty Ltd, D. Davis & Co Pty Ltd (Melbourne music publishers) and Nicholsons Pty Ltd of Sydney, handling Sydney music publishing and professional work for these companies (Music Maker, December 1957).  That, together with his broadcasting work and his regular nighttime job at Chequers Nightclub, exhausted him.

 

Less than four years after his fathers death, Ernest died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Bronte on the 12th January 1958.  He was only 53 and his children were by his side.  His peer musicians were shocked and all spoke of a man they respected, honoured and loved.

 

Patricia mourned him for the rest of her life and did not remarry.

 

Ernests wish was that he be cremated and his ashes scattered.  His reasoning was to help those who loved him move on and not have a specific place to grieve.

 

He wanted no tombstone, no sorrowful or funereal remembrances, but hoped that grass would grow over the place where he rested and that children would run and laugh on the greensward, wrote his daughter Antoinette.

 

Patricia found herself unable to agree to his wish to be cremated.  So he was buried at Waverley Cemetery in an unmarked grave, without boundaries and after a while it became a pathway between graves.

 

In 2006 she was buried in the same grave, her tombstone noting she was the wife of Ernest Gordon Rittie.  However Patricia did not reveal he was also buried there, thus respecting his desire to leave no sign of his resting place.

 

In 1999, many years after Ernest died, his family decided to mark this gentle man’s passing in the Australia Remembers walkway section of the Australian Memorial Walk at North Fort in Manly. In collaboration with his remaining sibling, Leonard Ritte, the paver was laid with the inscription: “Ernest Rittie 1904-1958. Much loved”.

 

Ernest was a beautiful man, delighting in life, family, music, astronomy, philosophy, history and the English language.  His exquisite clarinet and saxophone passages can still be heard on many albums including tracks on Dennis Potters original English television series Pennies from Heaven.

 

 

© Caroline Rittie & Vickie Smiles, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014

 

 

Postscript

 

In 1981, Ernests family donated all the records of his music collection to Canberras National Library of Australia Sound Recording, which included 105 items, of 10-inch diameter, 78-RPM (acetate) recordings.

 

It has recently been discovered that only some of the recordings remain with the NFSA (the National Film and Sound Archives) in Sydney, due to the culling of non-Australian items from the original collection.  This is very sad for the family, who did not receive copies as promised until April 2014.  Nevertheless they are delighted with the 16 recordings so far delivered.

 

The lost records are probably still in Canberra but may not have been catalogued.  The NFSA have promised to search for any other recordings that include Ernest and to provide the family with digital copies.

 

 

Acknowledgments.

 

Our grateful thanks to

Denis King, Sydney, and

Dr John Whiteoak, (Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University), who supplied many details, including recordings, dates and some band personnel details.