Victor 25523 – Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra – 1937

The nineteenth of November marks the anniversary of the birth of the legendary “Sentimental Gentleman of Swing”—Tommy Dorsey.  I could pay tribute to him with some rare and obscure hot jazz disc from his early days, but frankly, I’d rather commemorate the occasion with my favorite of his records, one of his biggest swing hits.

A young Tommy Dorsey in the 1920s.

The younger of the famed Dorsey Brothers, Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr. was born on November 19, 1905 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, one of four Dorsey children, of whom three survived into adulthood.  Tommy initially took up the trumpet as a boy in his father’s band, and later switched to trombone.  He played both instruments proficiently throughout his career.  Tommy got his first professional gig in 1921, when his brother Jimmy recommended him to replace trombonist Russ Morgan in Billy Lustig’s Scranton Sirens Orchestra, and both brothers played in that band until Jean Goldkette poached them for his own orchestra in 1923.  Tommy made his first recordings with Goldkette in 1924, but remained in the band’s roster—which also famously included the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, and Eddie Lang—only until 1925, when he left to join the California Ramblers. and began working prolifically as a studio musician.  Before departing, Tommy, along with other members of Goldkette’s orchestra, sat in at the first session of Bix Beiderbecke’s Rhythm Jugglers in 1925.  Both Dorsey brothers joined “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in 1927.  He made his first record under his own name in 1928: a pair of trumpet solos on the Okeh label.  The Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra also made their first records for Okeh in 1928, originally strictly as a recording band made up of studio men, an arrangement which continued into the 1930s.  Not long after forming a “real” band around 1934 with a recording contract for Decca, Tommy—always the temperamental one—stormed off the stage in 1935, creating a rift between the brothers.  Thereafter, the brothers split up; Jimmy continued to lead the former Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra for Decca, while Tommy bought out Joe Haymes’ orchestra and began recording for Victor.  Both Dorseys enjoyed great success leading their own orchestras, and the two became leading names as the swing era began.

With “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” as his theme song, Dorsey’s orchestra was known for playing music on sweet side, but he also led a smaller jazz group: the Clambake Seven.  Among the many hits to Tommy Dorsey’s name were “Song of India” and “Marie” in 1937, “I’ll Never Smile Again” in 1940, and “Opus No. 1” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in 1944, the latter two featuring arrangements by Sy Oliver.  In 1939, Dorsey replaced vocalist Jack Leonard with a young man from Hoboken, who had previously made his first records with the orchestra of Harry James: Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra remained in his band until 1942, when, as things tended to go with Tommy Dorsey, they parted ways acrimoniously.  In 1947, both Dorsey brothers appeared in the biographical picture The Fabulous Dorseys, and in 1953, they finally reunited when Jimmy disbanded his own band was invited to join Tommy’s.  Together once again, they began appearing on television.  Tommy Dorsey died after choking in his sleep on November 26, 1956.  Jimmy took over and led his band until his own death the following year.  Like that of fellow bandleader Glenn Miller, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra continued to operate and perform into the modern day.

Victor 25523 was recorded at RCA Victor’s Studio 2 in New York City on January 29, 1937 in a session supervised by Leonard Joy.  The orchestra is made up of Bunny Berigan, Jimmy Welch, Joe Bauer, and Bob Cusumano on trumpets, Tommy Dorsey, Les Jenkins, and E. W. “Red” Bone on trombones, Joe Dixon on clarinet and alto sax, Fred Stulce and Clyde Roundson alto sax, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Dick Jones on piano, Carmen Mastren on guitar, Gene Traxler on string bass, and Dave Tough on drums.  It originally appeared with Victor’s “scroll” label, which was discontinued in 1937, this pressing dates to soon after, probably around 1938.  It was Tommy Dorsey’s first big hit with his own orchestra, after his split with brother Jimmy.

On the “A” side, designated a “Swing Classic”, the boys swing the old “Song of India”, originally from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1896 opera Sadko, with an enticing arrangement by Dorsey.

Song of India, recorded January 29, 1937 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

On “B”, they play a song that’s truly near the top of my very long list of favorites, Irving Berlin’s “Marie”, with a lead vocal by Jack Leonard, backed by a chorus made up of members of the band—and a solid trumpet solo provided by Berigan.  I tell you, all the really best swing records have Bunny Berigan in the lineup.

Marie, recorded January 29, 1937 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

Victor 26525 – Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra – 1940

December 12 marks the monumental occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth.  For such an occasion, I’d love to post Sinatra’s first record with Harry James’ orchestra.  Unfortunately, I don’t own a copy, so here’s the earliest Sinatra record I do have, this classic swing with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra in 1940.

Francis Albert Sinatra was born December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey, the only son of Italian immigrants.  Sinatra began singing as a child, and idolized Bing Crosby.  In 1935, he joined a local vocal trio called the 3 Flashes, which became known as the Hoboken Four after Sinatra joined.  After a successful performance on Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour, they embarked on a tour of the United States and Canada.  Following that engagement, Sinatra found work as a singing waiter in a New Jersey roadhouse, and he began to perform on WNEW in New York.  In 1939, Sinatra began performing with Harry James’ orchestra, and made his first commercial recordings for Brunswick that year.  Before long, he left James band to replace Jack Leonard as vocalist for Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra.  After great success with Dorsey, by 1942 Sinatra wanted to go solo, and he parted ways unceremoniously with the bandleader.  Rumor has it that Sinatra’s mobster godfather Willie Moretti forced Dorsey to release Sinatra from his binding contract at gunpoint.  After going his way, Sinatra signed with Columbia records while the musicians’ strike and subsequent recording ban was in effect, and his first solo recordings were quite successful.  The rest, as they say, is history, with Sinatra going on to huge success, the Rat Pack days, all with a few slumps in between, for the next five decades or so, until his death in 1998.

Victor 26525 was recorded on February 26, 1940 in New York City, not long after Sinatra joined Dorsey’s orchestra.  The Dorsey orchestra is in fine form , and on these earlier recordings, Sinatra sings a bit higher than he did in his greatest fame, and to my ear, honestly resembles a better Ray Eberle.  Nonetheless, as always, he had a very pleasant voice. In the band are Zeke Zarchy, Ray Linn, and Jimmy Blake on trumpets, Ward Silloway and Lowell Martin on trombones, Johnny Mince on clarinet and alto sax, Les Robinson and Fred Stulce on alto sax, Paul Mason and Babe Russin, on tenor sax, Bob Kitsis on piano, Benny Heller on guitar, Gene Traxler on string bass, and the great Buddy Rich on drums.

First up, Old Blue Eyes croons the Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen tune, “Shake Down the Stars”.

Shake Down the Stars, recorded

Shake Down the Stars, recorded February 26, 1940 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (Vocal refrain by Frank Sinatra).

On the back, Sinatra sings and swings “Moments in the Moonlight”.

Moments in the Moonlight, recorded

Moments in the Moonlight, recorded February 26, 1940 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (Vocal refrain by Frank Sinatra).

Updated on August 19, 2016.