Friday, January 14, 2011
SPOTLIGHT ON TOMMY DORSEY
Probably my favorite era of music is from the Big Band era from 1935 to 1945. The music was so alive and vibrant. The music helped a society recover and get through the Great Depression and World War II. One of my favorite bands was the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Thomas Francis "Tommy" Dorsey, Jr. was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", due to his smooth-toned trombone playing. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. After Dorsey broke with his brother in the mid-1930s, he led an extremely popular band from the late '30s into the 1950s. Dorsey had a reputation for being a perfectionist. He was volatile and also known to hire and fire (and sometimes rehire) musicians based on his mood.
Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr. was a native of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the second of four children born to Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr. and Theresa (née Langton) Dorsey on November 19, 1905. The Dorsey brothers' two younger siblings were Mary and Edward (who died young). At age 15, Jimmy Dorsey recommended his brother Tommy as the replacement for Russ Morgan in the germane 1920s territory band "The Scranton Sirens." Tommy and Jimmy worked in several bands, including those of Tal Henry, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Lopez, Nathaniel Shilkret, and especially Paul Whiteman. In 1928, the Dorsey Brothers had their first hit with "Coquette" for OKeh records. The Dorsey Brothers band signed with Decca records in 1934, having a hit with "I Believe In Miracles". Future bandleader Glenn Miller was a member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1934 and 1935, composing "Annie's Cousin Fanny" and "Dese Dem Dose" both recorded for Decca for the band. Ongoing acrimony between the brothers, however, led to Tommy Dorsey's walking out to form his own band in 1935, just as the orchestra was having a hit with "Every Little Moment."
Tommy Dorsey's first band was formed out of the remains of the Joe Haymes band. The new band was popular from almost the moment it signed with RCA Victor with "On Treasure Island", the first of four hits for the new band in 1935. The Dorsey band had a national radio presence in 1936 first from Dallas and then from Los Angeles. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra took over comedian Jack Pearl's radio show in 1937.
By 1939, Dorsey was aware of criticism that his band lacked a jazz feeling. He hired arranger Sy Oliver away from the Jimmie Lunceford band. Sy Oliver's arrangements include "On The Sunny Side of the Street" and "T.D.'s Boogie Woogie"; Oliver also composed two of the new band's signature instrumentals, "Well, Git It" and "Opus One". In 1940, Dorsey hired singer Frank Sinatra from bandleader Harry James. Frank Sinatra made eighty recordings from 1940 to 1942 with the Dorsey band. Two of those eighty songs are "In The Blue of Evening" and "This Love of Mine".
Frank Sinatra achieved his first great success as a vocalist in the Dorsey band and claimed he learned breath control from watching Dorsey play trombone. In turn Dorsey said his trombone style was heavily influenced by that of Jack Teagarden. Among Dorsey's staff of arrangers was Axel Stordahl who arranged for Frank Sinatra in his Columbia and Capitol records years. Another member of the Dorsey band was trombonist Nelson Riddle, who later had a partnership as one of Sinatra's arrangers and conductors in the 1950s and afterwards. Another noted Dorsey arranger, who in the 1950s, married and was professionally associated with Dorsey veteran Jo Stafford, was Paul Weston. Bill Finegan, an arranger who left Glenn Miller's civilian band, arranged for the Tommy Dorsey band from 1942 to 1950.
Dorsey branched out in the mid-1940s and owned two music publishing companies, Sun and Embassy. After opening at the Los Angeles ballroom, The Hollywood Palladium on the Palladium's first night, Dorsey's relations with the ballroom soured and he opened a competing ballroom, The Casino Gardens circa 1944. Dorsey also owned for a short time a trade magazine called The Bandstand. Dorsey was also part owner of the Bob Chester band in 1940. He was also an early investor in Glenn Miller's second successful band of 1938.
Tommy Dorsey disbanded the orchestra at the end of 1946. Dorsey might have broken up his own band permanently following World War II, as many big bands did due to the shift in music economics following the war, but Tommy Dorsey's album for RCA, "All Time Hits" placed in the top ten records in February, 1947. In addition, "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" a single recorded by Dorsey became a top ten hit in March, 1947. Both of these successes made it possible for Dorsey to re-organize a big band in early 1947. The Dorsey brothers were also reconciling. The biographical film of 1947, The Fabulous Dorseys describes sketchy details of how the brothers got their start from-the-bottom-up into the jazz era of one-nighters, the early days of radio in its infancy stages, and the onward march when both brothers ended up with Paul Whiteman before 1935 when The Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra split into two. In the early 1950s, Tommy Dorsey moved from RCA Victor back to the Decca record label.
Jimmy Dorsey broke up his own big band in 1953. Tommy invited him to join up as a feature attraction and a short while later, Tommy renamed the band the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey. In 1953, the Dorseys focused their attention on television. On December 26, 1953, the brothers appeared with their orchestra on Jackie Gleason's CBS television show, which was preserved on kinescope and later released on home video by Gleason. The brothers took the unit on tour and onto their own television show, Stage Show, from 1955 to 1956. On one episode they introduced future noted rock musician Elvis Presley to national television audiences.
On November 26, 1956, Tommy Dorsey died at age 51 in his Greenwich, Connecticut home. Dorsey had eaten a heavy meal and began choking in his sleep. Dorsey customarily began taking sleeping pills regularly at this time, therefore he was so sedated that he was unable to awaken and died from choking. Jane Dorsey (Tommy's wife) died of natural causes at the age of 79, in Miami, Florida in 2003. Tommy and Jane Dorsey are interred together in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York...