Friday, March 1, 2013

"What's the Powell Flute?"

Verne Powell
Continuing on from the excerpt we posted last week of Les Waddington's 1984 interview with Edward Powell (Verne Powell's son), we learn a bit more as Edward recounts the reaction to Powell flutes in the earliest days of the company:

Les Waddington: Well, we continue our discussion, and Ed, you were about to carry on from the point where your father had pulled away (from the Haynes company) and had set up a plant.  I need to know some dates...

Edward Powell:  Well,  I think I mentioned earlier, it was 1926, when I took off for Lido, Venice, with the Harvard dance band.  He was making the change then, and having a rather hard time of it.  Then, upon my return and during the next couple of years, I was busy.  I had to keep playing to earn money, and finishing some school, and taking a course at MIT.  I wanted to catch up on some electrical engineering mathematics.  But, this period, over the crash, you know between '27, 28, '29, and up to 1935, during that period, he had a struggle.  He was having a hard time, and what flutes he made were mostly, well, in this period, he got to the Boston Symphony with his flute and satisfied Laurent from France, that he had something that was as similar to, or equivalent to, or equal to, or satisfactory as the (Louis) Lot flute.  So, this was my dad's whole aim -- to carry on the Louis Lot tradition, and not only tonally, but also aesthetically.  He turned out a lovely looking instrument and knew how to handle the precious metals, polish, and the keywork, and patterns, and this sort of thing.  And so by 1935, he was well grooved in his designs, patterns, and little production, and had moved out to Huntington Avenue -- opposite the New England Conservatory.  At that time, the people working for him were, well, when he left the Haynes company, a couple of the leading men from Haynes moved in with him, especially John Schwelm who was an excellent flutemaker and mechanic, and Hans Haugaard, who was a plodding padder, and I mean plodding.  He could not pad one flute in a whole day, where my dad could do two a day.  But the importance of it was such, and Hans was such a devoted person that the team worked, and they were beginning to produce flutes.  In the meantime, we engaged a young guy out of mechanical school, Northeastern, or something, Austin Nickerson, who was a good shop man.  He could handle the lathes and tools, and punch press, and things.

Verne's Bench

That's about the time that I took off for New York, following the burgeoning of the radio network business, and I was fortunate in the sense that I was in the right place at the right time, and I moved into New York, April, 1935.  And within six months, I had 5 substitutes working for me, there was so much work.  But my principal achievements or recognition lay in my being part of the Kostelanetz, the CBS Symphony Orchestra, and of the, well, numerous radio programs at that time, when freelance and radio was the big thing, just coming into its own.  I won't bother with naming those things, but the point is that I moved ahead so fast that it was almost dizzying to meet that much success in such a short time, but the point is that the Powell flute was relatively unknown in New York.  And in the meantime, old man Haynes had set up an office, a little extension of his showroom, right next to Radio City, and he was attracting all the flute players, and at that time of course, doublers were numerous.  Now, I immediately ran into people who would say, "What's the Powell flute?  Never heard of it."  But in a very short time, they were coming to me because I had, let's say, come out of the ranks of the George Laurent school of flute playing, the Paris Conservatory method let's say.  And it was catching on.  People liked it.  I was getting all the playing offers I could handle.  And other flute players were coming to me about advice for flutes, which I passed right on to my dad.  And his big spurt in production and success began from the moment I went to New York.  And I don't like to say that in a bragging sense, but time wise, it just happened that way.  So, I gave great boost to my father's business and success, and reputation, while in New York, and daily, spending hours next to, sitting with, playing with Julie Baker and John Wummer, and Arthur Lora.  I played with all these people.  And it gets around fast, you know, that, well, it's time to switch to a Powell flute.  So, this was a booming thing from 1935. 

Huntington St. Building.  Vern Powell's original shop was on the second floor in the corner office.


  1. Why is there is no mention of Wm Kincaid and his platinum Powell?

    1. Not sure, exactly. This was an excerpt from an interview with Verne's son, Edward. William Kincaid and the platinum Powell is certainly important!


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