tommy dorsey

Tommy Dorsey was the definitive ballad player of the swing era possessing a beautiful tone and very impressive breath control. A better jazz player than he thought, Dorsey enjoyed playing Dixieland now and then but preferred later in life to stick to ballads. In his early days he played with older brother Jimmy in Dorsey's Novelty Six and the Scranton Sirens before moving to New York and appearing on records with Jean Goldkette, Paul Whiteman and Red Nichols. Tommy Dorsey occasionally doubled on trumpet in the 1920s, playing in a style as rough and primitive as his trombone was smooth. He was a busy studio player during the Depression until agreeing to co-lead the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1934. Late in 1935 a blowup on stage led to Tommy leaving and forming his own big band, taking over the Joe Haymes Orchestra. After a short struggle, major hits in 1937 ("Marie" and "Song of India," both highlighted by classic Bunny Berigan trumpet solos) made the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra into a major attraction. Tommy Dorsey, who learned from Paul Whiteman how to mix together a diverse repertoire, alternated swing romps, ballads (often featuring the vocals of his girlfriend Edythe Wright), novelties and Dixieland from his Clambake Seven (which at times included Yank Lawson and Bud Freeman). In the early '40s with the hiring of Sy Oliver as chief arranger, drummer Buddy Rich and a vocal group featuring Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford, the orchestra evolved and continued to have hits including "I'll Never Smile Again" and "Opus One." In 1942 Dorsey was able to hire the string section of the Artie Shaw Orchestra, greatly expanding his band. By the end of World War II and the collapse of the swing era, Tommy Dorsey had to drop the strings and cut back a bit, even breaking up his band for a period after 1946. He appeared in the unfortunate fictional movie The Fabulous Dorseys with Jimmy in 1947, reformed his orchestra and did his best to ignore bop (which he detested). Charlie Shavers was the key soloist in Tommy Dorsey's band from the mid-'40s on. In 1953 Jimmy Dorsey agreed to join forces with his brother. Tommy Dorsey's band was renamed the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, emphasizing dance music. The nostalgia formula worked well until Tommy's sudden death in November 1956. -- Scott Yanow Tommy Dorsey>



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