Tommy Dorsey at 100

Today is the centennial anniversary of the birth of trombonist and bandleader Tommy Dorsey. It was Frank Sinatra’s nearly three-year tenure with the Dorsey band that prepared him to launch his solo career in the fall of 1942. In his first post-Capitol recording on his own label, Sinatra paid tribute to Dorsey twenty years later in his beatiful “I Remember Tommy,” with arrangements by former Dorsey arranger Sy Oliver.

The liner notes to the “I Remember Tommy” compact disc quote a 1965 Life magazine interview of Sinatra:

“How in the hell did he do it? I used to sit behind him on the bandstand and watch, trying to see him sneak a breath. But I never saw the bellows move on his back. His jacket didn’t even move. Finally, after a while, I discovered that he had a ‘sneak’ pinhole in the corner of his mouth — not an actual pinhole, but a tiny place where he was breathing. In the middle of a phrase, while the tone was still being carried through the trombone, he’d go shhh and take a quick breath and play another four bars with that breath. Why couldn’t a singer do that too?”

Sinatra obviously learned something about breathing from Dorsey, and you can hear it yourself in “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” the first and last tracks on the recording.

Mike Laprarie of Mike’s Noise (“Mixing Conservative Politics, Christianity, and Classic Jazz since 2004”) knows Dorsey inside and out. He’s celebrating this milestone anniversary of Dorsey’s birth seriously and in depth. Start here and scroll down.

UPDATE: The incomparable Mark Steyn reminds me that the current Commentary carries Terry Teachout’s centenary special: “The Dorsey sound.”


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