Billy May

Picture of Billy May

Billy May was a very good trumpet player, but his influence on The Big Band Era was felt most in his skills as an arranger.  May wrote arrangements for many of the top singers of the time, including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters and many, many more.

May got his start in 1938 when he joined Charlie Barnet's Orchestra.  He played trumpet and arranged for the band.  His arrangement of the Ray Noble's "Cherokee" became a major hit of the era and a defining song for Charlie Barnet.  May remained with Barnet from 1938 to 1940 and played a large role in Barnet's rise as a bandleader.

In 1940, Glenn Miller hired May away from Barnet.  Billy May's trumpet playing can be heard on many of those Miller hits from the early 1940's, but his arrangements were rarely used. His arranging skills were, in my opinion, under-utilized with Glenn Miller's Orchestra. May's trumpet playing mixed well into the "Miller Sound", but his arrangements did not.  Jerry Gray and Miller himself were the arrangers responsible for that classic sound and style, but May's contributions should never be overlooked.

After leaving Miller's orchestra, May relocated to Los Angeles, where he became a much-coveted arranger and studio orchestra leader, working for top recording stars of the day.  He also led some good bands of his own that put out some great, swinging music throughout the 1950's.

Listen to "Charmaine" by Billy May and His Orchestra from 1952

In the late 1950's, May made his debut as film composer and went on to find much success in film and television through the 1960's and 70's.

You can hear many of Billy May's arrangements and recording right here on Swing City Radio.

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Luis Russell

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Luis Russell was a pianist from Panama that led a couple of great bands in the 1930's and 40's.  He began playing professionally in 1917 at a casino in Colon, Panama, where he would provide the live music for silent films.

He later won $3,000 in a local lottery and used it to move to the U.S. along with his mother and sister. They settled in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he worked as a pianist for a few years.

Russell relocated to Chicago in 1925 to play with bandleader King Oliver, then left to form his own band in 1929.  His first band became one of the leading groups in the New York City scene and included some big names including Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham. They soon became the backup band for Louis Armstrong, who eventually took over the band in 1935. Russell remained with the orchestra for over eight more years serving as the musical director.

In 1943, Russell formed a new band under his own name, which played at the Savoy and Apollo in Manhattan and Atlantic City, New Jersey. He retired from the music business in 1948.

Listen to "Ease On Down" by Luis Russell and His Orchestra

You can hear the music of Luis Russell right here on Swing City Radio.

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"You Was Right, Baby" by Peggy Lee

Picture of Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour

Today's video features Peggy Lee singing one of my favorite tracks by her, "You Was Right, Baby."  This Snader Telescription was filmed in September of 1950 in Hollywood, CA and was released into television syndication shortly afterward.  Learn more about Snader Telescriptions.

"You Was Right, Baby" was one of ten "Snaders" Peggy filmed in the fall of 1950.  She is backed by her then husband, Dave Barbour, and his Quartet.  Dave Barbour is the gentleman on the guitar along with Jess Bourgeouis on bass, Sid Hurwitz playing piano and drummer Alvin Stoller.  The Dave Barbour Quartet was such a talented group and provided the perfect musical background for so many great Peggy Lee songs.

Such a great video.  Enjoy!

Watch: "You Was Right Baby" by Peggy Lee

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Podcast: Episode 80 - Some Forrest and Sherwood

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The Big Band and Swing Podcast - Some Forrest and Sherwood - Episode 80 - 

This episode includes some vintage music by Louis Jordan and Tony Pastor.  We also listen to some performances from the old AFRS variety show, "Mail Call" by Helen Forrest and Nora Lou Martin.

* All music in this podcast are Creative Commons.  Artists are credited within the podcast.

Listen to The Big Band and Swing Podcast

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