It has been said that only through blood, sweat and tears can true success be achieved and for the father of one of the greatest swing bands Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) some of that blood, sweat and tears came from scraping. He is known as the “Sentimental Gentleman” because of the style of play and the man who started in the Ragtime 1920’s continued to succeed through the 1950’s but many left hooks and jabs were thrown along the way.
The son of a part-time musician Tommy learned to play the trumpet from his father and eventually choose the trombone. His older brother Jimmy led a few bands in the 1920’s that Tommy played in. One of Tommy’s first solo hits was Tiger Rag in the late 1920’s and features Tommy playing the trumpet and demonstrates his sensual ferocity.
Although the brothers had been playing in different bands and achieving success they reunited in 1934 for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra but because of Tommy’s temper and perfectionist approach the Fiery Gentleman abruptly quit the band in a public argument in 1935. Apparently, Jimmy believed the tempo was too fast and that really upset Tommy who walked off the stage and the Dorsey’s did not play together until 1953 (18 years later!).
The passionate approach to music and his orchestra led Tommy to sometimes get into disputes and problems with other musicians. The famous orchestra leader would spare no one in seeking top talent. Tommy would buy out musicians contracts from other band leaders to obtain quality musicians and knew what a great orchestra required. One dispute was with Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers on Thanksgiving Day 1942 over who gave the wrong directions to the driver and resulted in the 20 year delay of Blues in the Night (awesome song!).
The Fiery Gentleman created the most popular swing era orchestra and contained some of the great jazz artists who ever lived. The music had a dance tempo and seemed to be going all over the place but was tightly arranged. In 1930 the orchestra adapted a piano piece by PIne Top Smith called Boogie Woogie and it became one of the most successful recordings.
Another great piece was Maria that was featured in the film The Fabulous Dorsey’s (1947) and demonstrates the uptempo arrangement and lively orchestra participation.
One of the singers went on to become a legend, the great Frank “Blue Eyes” Sinatra.
The Fiery Gentleman Tommy Dorsey exemplified passion for the love of his music and orchestra. The idea of compromise and the norm became a burden that he continually shed and was paved with blood, sweat and tears. The music is still played today and should be cherished for the extraordinary effort and talent.
Gentlemen of tradition and distinction have long enjoyed the music of fiery and passionate individuals and my hope is that this will continue.