Fred Raiser - Pioneer Award
BMHOF Class of 2015
Freddy Raiser was the ultimate pro.
For 27 years, he and his band – the Blades – played three shows nightly, six days a week at Frank’s Casa Nova, at the corner of Bailey and East Ferry in Buffalo.
In fact, when his daughter, Beverly Semenow, was married, she said, they had to make sure festivities were wrapped up so he could get to the club to play be 9 p.m.
Such was the life of a working musician during Buffalo’s jazz golden age of the 1940s to the 1970s. Do the math and you’ll see that by the time Raiser wrapped up his act Frank’s Casa Nova in 1974, he had played approximately 25,272 shows!
But Raiser’s career wasn’t defined just by that gig, not in a life that started pre-World War I. He began playing piano in 1918, at 5 years old. It was the first of a half dozen instruments he would learn play.
His leadership in music showed early, when, while attending East High, he formed a small jazz band among his classmates. Raiser played saxophone. This was the first of many bands he would lead.
After graduating, in 1931, he booked his band on international cruise ships. They traveled to Greece, Italy and Egypt, ending their cruise gigs on the S.S. Excaliber in 1935.
Realizing that there was money to be made in showmanship, Raiser raised the caliber of his performance and moved from simply playing jazz to combining it with overall entertainment. He joined the band Madhatters.
Deep in World War II, people looked to live entertainment for relief from the stresses of war and war-time rationing. The Madhatters fit the bill. As implied by their name, the Madhatters were comedic in nature, with musicians changing hats throughout the show, playing on old-time instruments – tub bass, washboard, etc., and accompanying their music with hilarious antics. They were a hit on the New York circuit, and played everywhere from Copa Cabana to the Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo.
Raiser taught music while he worked, and was an in-demand songwriter and arranger for local and national bands. This included writing music for Anne Miller, an up-and-coming burlesque performer.
Semenow recalls her father practicing show tunes with his band. Reflecting the era, Raiser and the Blades provided the music for the nightclub’s floor show.
“It was a nice show. They had a comedian, a stripper, a dancer,” she said. “It was a nice place to eat, to have a few drinks. And a lot of well-known people came in when they were in town. I know I heard Mae West came in one night.”
Raiser opened the Genesee Music House in 1953, selling instruments, sheet music and giving private lessons. He often gave free or reduced cost lessons to neighborhood children who loved playing music, but couldn’t afford the expense.
Teenagers from WEBR’s “High Teen” program received access to new record demos free of charge at the Dellwood Ballroom. He was a Mason, literate in Polish and German, and devoted to volunteering at Shriners events, at the Masons’ Christmas parties, and in 1955 wrote, produced and recorded “Rock & Roll Rylander” and “Bump Fender Rylander.” These songs played on local stations and were popular at the German and Polish neighborhood dances.
He had five children – James,, Fred (Fritz), Janet and Donald, as well as Beverly, all of whom learned instruments. Holidays were a festive and musical time for the family.
“He played the organ a lot at home,” said Semenow. “He could play anything; I liked to hear him play harmonica. And I’ll always remember him for his Christmas music he did at home.”
It was a contrast from his work environment – ads from that era call out “Gorgeous Go-Go girls!” … “wild floor shows nitely (sic)!” But at the center of it all was Fred Raiser’s Dance Band – and the music.
Raiser died five days shy of his 72nd birthday on Jan. 13, 1985. His wife of 45, Julia, died on Aug. 11 of this year, five days after the announcement her late husband would be entering Buffalo Music Hall of Fame for all the music he shared throughout his lifetime.
(Profile by Elmer Ploetz and Melissa Kate)