Berl Olswanger, dubbed “Mr. Music of Memphis” by the local press, grew up in Memphis in the 1920s and 1930s where he heard music that would later influence him as a composer. He quickly developed an affinity for the piano and began playing professionally at the age of 12. After a stint on WMC radio in his twenties, he joined the tour of the George Olsen Orchestra, which led him across the country from New York to Hollywood as he accompanied legendary acts like Bing Crosby and Jack Benny.

With the start of the Second World War, Berl landed in the Navy. Admiral “Bull” Halsey immediately recognized the young pianist’s talent and placed him in charge of all music and entertainment for the South Pacific. After the War and Berl’s return to Memphis, local impresario Ike Myers asked him to avoid public appearances in order to prepare for a Middle Brow concert at Ellis Auditorium.

The concert was a sell-out. Myers gave Berl all the proceeds to go to New York where the William Morris Agency represented him for bookings. The Morris Agency said it would take several years to build up his name in order to be a drawing card at concerts and arranged for Berl to start by touring with Danny Kaye as his accompanist. After getting a good look at show business in New York, Berl decided that he loved Memphis more and left for home.

During the rest of his life he opened several music stores, influenced local music education, composed famous jingles, wrote classic songs, and performed with his own popular orchestra. From the 1940s until the 1980s in Memphis, if music was involved, Berl was there in some way. As the local press made clear, Berl could have been a big star, but he chose to live in Memphis with the family and friends he loved. Memphis, in turn, loved him. As a columnist for the Memphis Press-Scimitar wrote when Berl died in 1981, “His music will be missed, true, but what I will miss even more than his music will be Berl Olswanger, the man.” The life of “Mr. Music of Memphis” was legendary on both a local and national scale.

News

February 3, 2022
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Albums

The Berl Olswanger Show

Release Date: April 22, 2022
Catalog Number: BR8971
20th Century
Jazz
Piano
Grab a drink, take a seat, and sway with your sweetie to the swinging sounds of pianist Berl Olswanger and his band on THE BERL OLSWANGER SHOW, Big Round Records’ fourth release of recordings by “Mr. Music of Memphis.” Recorded live in 1974, the never-before-heard album transports listeners to stageside seats as the band plays a historic set of toe-tapping tunes, from the horn-heavy Proud Mary to the country-western Green, Green Grass of Home. No matter the track, Olswanger’s presence is front and center, from his genre-blending skills and his technical chops at the piano to his ability to keep the band crisp and tight as they boogie through the set.
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Berl Olswanger and the Olswanger Beat

Berl Olswanger and the Olswanger Beat

Release Date: May 28, 2021
Catalog Number: BR8969
20th Century
Jazz
Piano
Trombone
Trumpet
Blues and big band lovers are in for a swingin' treat with Big Round Records' new archival recording of BERL OLSWANGER AND THE OLSWANGER BEAT, the label’s third released recording by “Mr. Music of Memphis." Olswanger, whose musical career spanned over a half-century, could easily be called a jack-of-all-trades: a popular bandleader, a prolific composer of swing music, a serial entrepreneur, and a wildly successful teacher bringing the art of music-making to the masses.
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Berl Olswanger at pepper records

Berl Olswanger at Pepper Records

Release Date: March 26, 2021
Catalog Number: BR8967
20th Century
Jazz
Piano
Voice
Berl Olswanger returns for a second installment of timeless archival recordings on Big Round Records, with BERL OLSWANGER AT PEPPER RECORDS, a collection of tunes recorded during the late-50’s golden era of the Memphis record business. Olswanger hit the state-of-the-art studios at Pepper Records to record 10 songs by William “Pat” Best, Floyd Huddleston, Olswanger himself, and more.
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Berl Olswanger at the piano

Berl Olswanger at the Piano

Release Date: January 8, 2021
Catalog Number: BR8965
20th Century
Jazz
Guitar
Piano
Big Round Records presents the first of three albums by “Mr. Music of Memphis,” Berl Olswanger, featuring tunes by Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, and more. From pop standards and jazz ditties to good old-fashioned polka, pianist Berl Olswanger wrested command of just about every style.
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