by Frederick D. Fairchild
(b. Baltimore, Maryland USA June 27, 1906; d. July 15, 1984)
World renowned businessman and percussionist Carroll Bratman was the founder and owner of Carroll Sound, Inc. Starting percussion in 1921 as a member of the Baltimore Evening Sun Newsboys Band, he studied with Harry Soistmann and Adolph Riehl, received a scholarship to Peabody Conservatory in 1924, and in one year was playing in the Baltimore Symphony. He went to the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. in 1930, all the time playing diverse percussion jobs, and stayed until 1941 when he moved to New York. He did extensive radio and recording, serving on the staffs at NBC and CBS and playing for many noted conductors. He soon found himself loaning his equipment and, in 1945, decided to go into the rental business, the beginning of what was to become a major enterprise. In 1983, Bratman donated a collection of his instruments to the Percussive Arts Society.
Carroll Bratman Interview
by Dick Smith
Almost every person in the music trade, especially every drummer and percussionist, knows of Carroll Musical Instrument Service. However, they may not know the founder of that service and his outstanding background and contribution to percussion.Carroll Bratman started his business in 1945. Prior to that, in the mid-'30s and early '40s, he was producing many specialized sound effects for popular radio shows, as well as performing in concert halls and recordings.
Dick Smith: When and where were you born?
Carroll Bratman: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, June 27, 1906. My father was a tailor and we had a family of nine, so it was pretty complicated in those days, but they managed it better than they do today.
Smith: How did you decided to start taking drum lessons and move into the area of percussion and timpani?
Bratman: Music was a luxury in those days. I'm going back to about 1921-22, and the way we got our start was that a newsboys' band was being formed by the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper, and my brother and I heard about it. We went to this armory, 104th Regiment Armory, I think it was called, on Fayette Street in Baltimore. And we saw a swarm of kids from all over town and instruments lying all over the hall, and most of the things were being gobbled up except for a few clarinets and some snare drums. So I ran and got myself a snare drum; my brother got a clarinet. We started in with music lessons and we went on from that point.
Smith: Who was your first teacher?
Bratman: My very first teacher was Harry Soistmann. He was one of the greatest living exponents of rudimental drumming. He worked at the Gaiety Theater at that time, which was a burlesque theater, and I used to take my lessons from him once - sometimes twice - a week, backstage between shows. This was in 1922. Then I latched onto a very fine timpani player by the name of Adolph Riehl. He came to Baltimore to join the Baltimore Symphony in 1913, and I took timpani lessons with him. I was 14 at the time.
A few years after that, I was watching all the symphony orchestras. The New York Philharmonic and, especially, the Philadelphia Orchestra gave so many concerts. I used to go to as many as I could afford in those days. And then I got a scholarship at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, where I studied with Mr. Riehl. The following year, in 1925, I think, I got my union card and I was able to join the Baltimore Symphony as one of the percussionists. It was just about three years after I started in music.
Smith: Who was conducting the symphony at that time?
Bratman: I think Gustav Strub was the conductor. He was also renowned at the Peabody Institute for books that he wrote on harmony and theory, and he conducted the Peabody Orchestra. I got a big foundation grant with the Peabody Orchestra, playing percussion and timpani there.Smith: How did you happen to move from Baltimore?Bratman: As I said, I played with the Baltimore Symphony. I also played in the municipal band, and I played about every phase of the music business: dance bands and weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, burlesque, symphony. I got into everything. In 1930 or '31 they formed the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. I was called for that, and I went over and joined. In that same year, I got an opportunity to go to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia on a scholarship. So, I was traveling between Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia for lessons and making a livelihood. I think I stayed with the National Symphony until 1941.
My brother and I had a dance band in Baltimore and we could have as many as four engagements over a weekend. That was very lucrative in those days, and that's what helped keep us going. In 1941, I came to New York and I had to wait for my union card to go through. After about a half year, I was doing quite a bit of radio shows; I was working with Morton Gould and with Andre Kostelanetz. I was doing quite a few recordings for RCA and Columbia. And I also was on staff at NBC and CBS. I had some very, very good, lucrative work; it was very interesting.
I should mention that in 1941 I went along with Stokowski on a tour - what they called the Youth Symphony. I wasn't exactly a youth anymore, but I got sort of dragged into it. In 1944, I was asked a lot by different percussion players who didn't have their own equipment to borrow a gong, to borrow this, to borrow that, which laid the groundwork for the rental business. In 1945, I opened a small place with a collection of my equipment and I started out a rental business in a very small way.
Smith: In the 1950s, who were the top percussionists and timpanists in New York?
Bratman: Saul Goodman with the New York Philharmonic and Karl Glassman with the National Broadcasting Company were the two leading percussion players. Glassman joined NBC around 1948, and he was working some of the theaters. Some of the better names in mallet work were Harry Breuer, Billy Dorn - who was also on staff at NBC - Sam Barotkin, Art Layfield and Harry Stipman.
Smith: What brands of percussion instruments were being used in the major symphony orchestras in the 1940s?
Bratman: As far as timpani, I think Leedy was about the biggest in commercial work. Then Ludwig took hold, but Leedy carried on. As for radio and TV work, in the beginning, Leedy had the best of it as far as timpani were concerned, because they were so easy to operate. And then Ludwig came on the scene, and I think today it's practically 100 percent Ludwig, outside of Slingerland here and there. For those in symphonic work who could afford their own timpani, the Ringers or Saul Goodmans or Hingers or Fred Lights - whatever else you could import would also be in use.
Smith: Who were some of the conductors you worked with?
Bratman: There was hardly a big-name conductor I didn't play with, including Toscanini. I played with the greatest soloists at the time - Rachmaninoff at the piano, Heifetz at the violin. We really had some great conductors, especially Reiner and Mitropoulos and the Frenchmen Monteux and Munch. It was fabulous to work with these guys.
Smith: Did any of these have a better grasp for the use of percussion than any of the others?
Bratman: I'd say Stokowski had the greatest grasp for percussion because he, in his own arrangements, demanded so much of color in percussion that it was just like a painting with him. Every piece of percussion work he did was unbelievable - the effects he got. When I went to Philadelphia to the Curtis Institute, I used to go on Friday afternoons to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra when Stokowski was in his prime to listen to such things as Strauss' great tone poem, "Salome." It made you feel you were in another world entirely.
Smith: You have at your shop instruments from around the world, including many Far Eastern exotic instruments. Do you find that contemporary composers are using more of these or are exotic percussion instruments being used less?
Bratman: I'd say they're using them more and more. Today's composers write for so many exotic instruments - antique cymbals and tuned this and tuned that. On one, "Time and the River," 35 various tuned antique cymbals are used, as well as, I think, 10 or 12 sets of two small bell bars that are passed out to different members of the orchestra. It's incredible.