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”
legally changed their surname to Ritte in 1918.
Known within the
family as “Copper”
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 Lillie’s 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
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 London’s famous Café
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 father’s talent.
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
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.
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.
never drank or gambled after this self-transformation and wouldn’t 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.
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”.
Ernest’s daughter, Caroline.
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.
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 Kayne’s Orchestra at the Berkeley Hotel.
and bands from John Chilton’s “Who’s Who of British Jazz”.
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
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
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
had also played with the famous bands of Bert Ambrose’s and Geraldo
(Gerald Bright) but there are no known commercial recordings of these bands
that include Ernest.
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 Fox’s band, Billy’s Amstell’s brother
Mickey Amstell (clarinet and alto sax).
The band also
gained popularity from their regular Wednesday night BBC broadcasts.
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.
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 Stone’s 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.
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 Stone’s band he also recorded film
In the 1980’s a recording of
the Durium Dance Band (Lew Stone’s 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
parents did not give their blessing to the marriage, possibly because Ernest’s family were Jewish or because he was an atheist. Also Ernest’s
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, Patricia’s
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 Patricia’s 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 Patricia’s
cousin, Cuthbert “Sammy”
S.S. Ormonde was requisitioned as a troop carrier on
its return to England.
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 it’s 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
band business in this country is nothing compared to that in England…and 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 Ernest’s reputation as a
fine musician and top arranger preceded him and he was soon in demand as band leader.
contract to Harry Wren of Wren’s Greater Theatres Pty Ltd he was “loaned”
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 Rose’s 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 Ritte’s Rose’s 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 Rose’s
as Ernest Ritte’s Orchestra on Saturday
evenings from 11 to 12.
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 Field’s work on piano.” Music Maker, 30 April 1940.
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 Rose’s Restaurant, late in 1939 (in which I was included) we soon realised that his musical ability was way ahead of anyone
Sydney at the time, and that his modesty was the true modesty of a great
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.
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 O’Shea (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).
the end of September 1940, shortly after the birth Ernest and Patricia’s 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
went straight into rehearsals for Will Mahony and Bob
Geraghy’s Review at
the Cremorne Theatre, conducting Jimmy McLaren’s 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”.
was hailed as a “Musical
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.
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 Patricia’s 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
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
Rittie’s Khaki Rhythm, Ernest Rittie’s Military Band Orchestra and
Ernest Rittie’s Rhythm Four. They played at military camp concerts for
the troops, which were
broadcast through radio 4QR and also stage shows for the Courier Mail’s 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 “What’s next?” Her contributions were very
entertaining and dealt with anything and everything. “What’s 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.
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
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, Patricia’s cousin.
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. White’s band opened at the high-class Prince’s
cabaret-restaurant on December 21 replacing Craig Crawford, who went to
White’s 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
Ernest’s 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 Prince’s
in Sydney to lead the band for seven nights a week at Al Elliot’s new Stork Club Restaurant,
just south of Tom Ugly’s
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 Prince’s.
In a letter to his sister Sheila, dated 11th
December 1946, he wrote: “I
have decided to go back to Prince’s 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 Norman’s tribute to Ernest
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 Ernest—raised ginger eyebrows and all: “My word! How odd!”
In 1949 Ernest
joined Paul Lombard’s
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 It’s 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 Ernest’s 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 Ernest’s 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 Romano’s (with band leader and fellow
Englishman Eric Tann), The Trocadero
and Sammy Lee’s (later the Flamingo) and at many
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
Ernest’s 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.
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 Patricia’s sister, the
acclaimed poet and author Mary Stanley- Low. Mary’s
eldest daughter, Helga, remembers the family searching for bongos and testing
many of them before choosing the ones that sounded best.
dressed in the traditional costumes worn by Cuban dancers performing in “Comparsas”
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.
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 band’s
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 Cubana’s 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 Ernest’s 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 TV’s 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
Ernesto manages to whip up some simply ravishing music.” Music Maker,
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 Ernest’s 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 ‘Lorita’ on
vocals, presented a ‘History of Latin American Rhythm’ at 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 Baker’s
In the rejoinder,
Ernest explains that he had studied and specialised in ‘Latin Music of all
types’ since 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
authenticity’ and 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 ‘history’ of 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 esteem’ as 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.’”
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
Salvador the Toreador and
The Wedding Samba (Pacific 10-0022 – not released) and Rio de
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, What’ll 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 O’Sullivan.
Ernest also co-wrote Oriental
Mambo with Paul Lombard and Dorothy Dodd, which was recorded for Columbia (DO 3717) in 1955 to
of Ernest Rittie recordings from Ross Laird’s
of Popular Music Recorded in Australia or by Australians Overseas, 1925-1950. (5th rev. ed.), Canberra, Discographic Researchers, 1997, page 145.
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.
Ernest and Patricia
loved Australia and Australians from the moment they arrived and embraced the
more casual way of life.
After King’s 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.
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.
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
David’s hobbies were music and mechanics. As a boy he
made crystal sets, took every clock in the place apart, much to his
chagrin, and was always fixing everyone’s 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. Patricia’s parents, Vernon
and Hilda Stanley-Low had arrived in Australia some years earlier and settled
in Bronte’s “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 Krishnamurti’s talks for the
rest of his life and in the early 1950’s had the opportunity to meet him privately at a
series of lectures in Sydney. He
embraced Krishnamurti’s 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”.
Ernest’s 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.
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…
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
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
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.
also kept a manuscript of what is possibly Ernest’s
earliest musical composition, Mother’s Birthday Waltz.
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 Ernest’s 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
who sadly outlived Ernest, died ten years later in 1964. She and Philip never met Ernest and
Patricia’s three children, who were their only
In November 1957, Ernest became the professional manager for Allan & Co Pty Ltd, D. Davis
& Co Pty Ltd (Melbourne music publishers) and Nicholson’s 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 father’s
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.
him for the rest of her life and did not remarry.
Ernest’s 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
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
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 Potter’s original English television series “Pennies from Heaven”.
Caroline Rittie & Vickie Smiles,
2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014
In 1981, Ernest’s family donated
all the records of his music collection to Canberra’s 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
Our grateful thanks
Denis King, Sydney,
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.