Jack Morton was a successful and popular band leader in Washington back in the 1940s.
To this date, many area business leaders still think of Glenn Miller stylings and Benny Goodman beats when introduced to Morton. This is natural, because Morton has been a fixture at annual conventions of the D.C. Bankers Association for years -- gathering attended by the local business elite, who sit on the various banks' boards.
Morton arranges entertainment for a final convention banquet each year, and the orchestra is always listed under his name.
In truth, though, it's been a long time since Morton lifted his hand to guide a band. And the local entertainment business he started some 40 years ago has grown into a substantial, national corporation that is now the largest single buyer of talent for a relatively young branch of show biz -- conventions and business meetings.
Jack Morton Productions Inc. moved beyond booking local dances to producing shows for American business about 30 years ago. A pioneer in this line of work, Morton's firm now has an annual volume of about $10 million in sales and marketing meetings, conventions, trade shows and exhibitions, award presentations, corporate ceremonies and promotional events.
In addition to his headquarters here, Morton has offices and production facilities in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco.
To Jack Morton, whose office in downtown Washington features autographed pictures of such friends as George Burns and the late Jack Benny, the only difference between traditional entertainment and his business communications work is the number of opening nights.
When the curtain goes up at a convention for Charles of the Ritz or the lights go down for a complex, 15-projector, audio-visual show that his firm has created for the National Alliance of Business, Morton's creativity and talent are subjected to the same tests of performance as any show.
"Business communications and industrial theater were born of the needs of corporate clients but are now beginning to be appreciated and used extensively by associations," Morton said of his enterprise. "To our knowledge, no other company offers the same broadbased services available through one single source with as many offices throughout the U.s."
Morton employs 90 full-time persons in sales, production, management and creative endeavors. Hundreds more are employed as needed for specific productions in various conventions and meeting centers. Major investments have been made in modern technological equiqment for picture and sound reproduction.
On an annual basis, Morton Productions creates about 1,000 different functions or events. There can be several thousand performances. During May, for example, Morton productions were staged in New York, Miami, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Washington, Scottsdale, Ariz., and a dozen other cities or resorts for a variety of customers that ranged from Boys Club of America to the American Mining Congress.
Corporate customers have included Bank of America, Ford Motor Co., the Gillette Co., General Foods Corp., Philip Morris, Renault and Sony.
One example of the work produced from Morton's shop is a motion picture, "A Case of Commitment," that recently won a first-place gold plaque in the Chicago International Film Festival.J. I. Case dealers were introduced to a new line of tractors and farm transportation products in the film, which was shot on location in Florida and Wisconsin and used aerial photography as well as extensive computer-generated animation (a hallmark of recent Morton works). The film included an original score played by a 20-piece orchestra.
For Kawasaki Motor Corp., Morton introduced five new motorcycles at corporate dealer shows in Atlanta; Atlantic City, N.J.; Reno, Nev.; Houston, Los Angeles and Lake Geneva, Wis. The cycles were demonstrated in a live show with riders, as part of two-hour productions that included audio-visual work.
"We do not represent talent," Morton emphasized, although many of the business productions he stages or the training films he creates have included the best talent in the entertainment business. "We buy talent literally all over the world," he added.
Morton's approach has created steady business expansion, which he attributes to his conclusion that people like to meet and that "there are two times to have a meeting" -- when things are going well and everyone wants to celebrate or when sales are weak and people need an uplift.
As for his success and many repeat clients over the past three decades, Morton looks to the best of show-business traditions. "Good theater techniques and practices always are used, and you can still make inexpensive shows look more expensive," he said. He can attract a George Burns and cigar for an industrial show because Morton has a long reputation in the entertainment business for "giving them everything they need."
And there is the final ingredient in any impresario's performance, Morton's own judgment. Asked what makes him tick, Morton said: "An ear of music, a good judge of talent, and I know what people like and enjoy." He follows that advice each year when he selects a band to play for the D.C. bankers, a group that generally has no idea how big a business Morton really conducts.