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Lucky Millinder

Lucky Millinder

Lucky Millinder (1910–1966) was a very unique bandleader. He could not read or write music, did not play an instrument and rarely sang. (Pretty strange, huh.) It was his showmanship and musical taste that made his bands successful. His group was said to have been the greatest big band to play rhythm and blues, and history shows that his band gave work to a number of musicians who later became influential at the dawn of the rock and roll era.

In the 1920's he worked in clubs, ballrooms, and theaters in Chicago as a master of ceremonies and dancer. Lucky first fronted a band in 1931 for an RKO theater tour, and in 1932 took over the leadership of Doc Crawford's orchestra which was based in Harlem.

The mid 30's proved to be successful for Millinder, in which many opportunities came his way.  In 1933, he took a band to Europe and played residencies in Monte Carlo and Paris. After gain a lot of experience in Europe, he returned to New York City to take over the leadership of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, which included Henry "Red" Allen and Charlie Shavers among other big names at that time. The band had a regular slot at The Cotton Club.

Browse Lucky Millinder's Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

In 1940, with Bill Doggett a part of the mix Millinder established a residency at New York's Savoy Ballroom and won a contract with Decca Records. Dizzy Gillespie was the band's trumpeter for a while and was featured on Millinder's first charting hit, "When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)."  The follow-up recordings of "Apollo Jump" and "Sweet Slumber" were also big hits, with vocals by Trevor Bacon.

By the mid-1940's the band was drifted towards what came to be known as rhythm and blues and ended up having many hits on the R&B Charts.

You can hear the swing music of Lucky Millinder right here on Swing City Radio.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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Happy Halloween


Swing City Radio wants to wish our listening audience a Happy Halloween.  Have fun and stay safe!

I can't believe that tomorrow is going to be November already!  This year is just flying by.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.



Leo Reisman

Leo Reisman

Leo Reisman (1897–1961) led a band in the 1920's and 1930's.  He was also a violinist. He became famous for having over 80 hits on the popular charts during his career.  Reisman started recording in 1921.  Geez, that's almost 100 years ago.

Leo Reisman recorded for Columbia exclusively through most of the 20's and then bounced back and forth between Victor and Brunswick.  In the 30's Reisman became known for recording many lesser-known Broadway songs, some of which were recorded by no other band. Due to his popularity, he was always one of the prominent bands and he recorded prolifically.

Reisman also had the habit of featuring composers and Broadway performers as band vocalists, including names like Harold Arlen and Fred Astaire.  A notable recording from this era was "Happy Days Are Here Again."

Browse Leo Reisman's Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

Overall, his most popular hits were his #1 recordings of "Night and Day," "The Continental," and "Cheek to Cheek."

Reisman's Orchestra was primarily a dance orchestra; he was not a fan of jazz music, but some of his early recordings were a bit improvisational and "hot".

Eddy Duchin was a member of Leo Reisman's orchestra; it was Reisman who gave Duchin his big break.  Mitch Miller was also a member of his Orchestra for a time.

Leo Reisman died in 1961, at the age of 64.

You can hear Leo Reisman right here on Swing City Radio.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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Rosie the Riveter


I stumbled upon this quick, but very informative, video that focuses on Rosie the Riveter.  Enjoy!



Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.


Squirrel Nut Zippers

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Squirrel Nut Zippers is a Swing/Jazz band formed in 1993 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by James "Jimbo" Mathus, Tom Maxwell, Katharine Whalen, Chris Phillips, Don Raleigh and Ken Mosher.

The band's music is a mix of 1930s–era swing, blues, jazz and other styles. They found commercial success during the swing revival of the late 1990's with their 1996 single "Hell". During the late 1990's Squirrel Nut Zippers released many albums but none of them ever reached the popularity of "Hot" which featured their single.  After a hiatus of several years, the original band members reunited and performed in 2007, playing in the U.S. and Canada.

Browse The Squirrel Nut Zippers Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

"Nut Zippers" is a southern term for a variety of old bootleg moonshine. The band's name comes from a newspaper story about an intoxicated man who climbed a tree and refused to come down even after police arrived. The headline was "Squirrel Nut Zipper." It is also the name of a Squirrel nut caramel candy dating back to 1890.

This is a very talented band and I should note, in this author's opinion, Katherine Whalen was a highly under-rated member of this band.  Her vocals on song's such as "Put a Lid on It" and others had the flavor and feel of some classic Billie Holiday studio performances.  But that's just my humble opinion.

You can hear Squirrel Nut Zippers right here on Swing City Radio.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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Squirrel Nut Zippers Squirrel Nut Zippers Squirrel Nut Zippers

Sammy Kaye

Sammy Kaye

Sammy Kaye (1910–1987) was a prominent name in the Big Band Era whose tag line, "Swing and sway with Sammy Kaye", became one of the most famous of the of that time.  His signature tune was "Harbor Lights".  Kaye could play the saxophone and the clarinet, but he never featured himself as a soloist on either one.

A leader of one of the so-called "Sweet" bands of the Big Band Era, he made a large number of records for many different labels. He was also a hit on the radio because of his radio-friendly "Sweet" style and sound. Kaye was known for an audience participation gimmick called "So You Want to Lead a Band?" where audience members would be called onto stage in an attempt to lead the band.  He just wasn't a good bandleader, he had a great grasp of marketing and band promotion.

Browse Sammy Kaye's Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

His band members included a few big names including Ralph Flanagan and Don Cornell. All the members of the band sometimes sang backing vocals in various combination as the "Kaydets". His musicians were always competent, but because of his radio-friendly style critics felt the band was unoriginal.

Though the critics were hard on Sammy Kaye, this didn't keep him off the charts, and it didn't hinder him from being one of the bigger names of the Big Band Era.

You can hear many of Sammy Kaye's songs right here, on Swing City Radio.

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Jerry Gray

Jerry Gray

Jerry Gray (1915–1976) is widely known for his arrangement work during the Big Band and Swing era. He also led a successful band later in his career. Jerry's name will forever be linked to two of the most famous bandleaders of all time, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. Gray wrote many of Miller's arrangements during the late 1930's and early 1940's.

In 1936 Gray joined Artie Shaw's Orchestra as lead violinist. There, he studied musical arrangement under Shaw and became a staff arranger for the band a year later. During his time with Artie Shaw he wrote and arranged some of the band's most popular arrangements, including "Carioca", "Any Old Time", and the Shaw classic "Begin the Beguine."

In November 1939, Shaw suddenly broke up his band and moved to Mexico. (Gotta love Artie Shaw!) Story has it that Glenn Miller called Gray the very next day, and offered him a job arranging for his band. This was a difficult decision for Gray because under Artie Shaw he enjoyed a lot of musical latitude where Glenn Miller was often more strict with his arrangers and featured a more commercial sound and framework.  But, thankfully, Jerry Gray joined up with Miller found that he was allowed more of the freedom then expected. He appreciated that, and the musical relationship that resulted between Gray and Miller was historic.

With Gray in the mix as an arranger and composer the Glenn Miller Orchestra produced many of the most recognizable and memorable recordings of the Big Band and Swing Era. He arrangements included "Elmer's Tune", "Moonlight Cocktail", "Perfidia", and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and many others, while his compositions included "Sun Valley Jump", "The Man in the Moon", "Caribbean Clipper", "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and his most famous song, "A String of Pearls". And folks, that's the short list. So many of Gray's pieces became best-sellers that he has been described as more responsible for the band's success than Miller himself, although publicly, Gray always described the relationship as mutually beneficial.

Browse Glenn Miller's Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

At this time in history World War II was at full focus in America and the rest of the world.
Gray was again jobless when Miller broke up his band in 1942 to enter the Army Air Forces. Captain Miller used his connections and clout to have Gray posted in his unit; and in early 1943, Gray rejoined his old boss. There, he became became chief arranger for the "Band of the Training Command", better known today as the Glenn Miller Army Air Forces Orchestra.

It fell to Gray to conduct the orchestra's first concert in Paris after Miller's airplane disappeared over the English Channel. When the men returned to the U.S. in 1945, Gray assumed full leadership of the AAF Orchestra until its final performance in November of that year.

Gray was passed over for the job of leading the postwar Glenn Miller Orchestra, reportedly because the Miller Estate felt he did not have the pop-star qualities they wanted in a new leader. Instead, they  hired Tex Beneke whose talents as vocalist and lead tenor sax player in Miller's civilian band provided a much more colorful front for the band. In 1945, Grey was an arranger for the Tex Beneke - Glenn Miller Orchestra.

In 1949 Jerry Gray expressed frustration with musicians which he felt were cashing in on the Miller name even though their connections with the band were thin or non-existent. (This didn't include Beneke. They continued to have a good relationship.) He later accepted a request from Decca Records to lead his own Miller-esque orchestra. The result was what he called "Jerry Gray and the Band of Today", an orchestra featuring his old Miller hits along with new songs. For a number of years the Gray and Beneke bands co-existed, each staffed by many former Miller musicians plus other well-known performers.

Browse Jerry Gray's Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

Listening to the Gray and Beneke orchestras provides an interesting contrast. Gray was arguably closer in spirit to the Miller legacy but never quite achieved the same level of popularity because he was less of a showman than Beneke.  (The Miller Estate was right after all.) But, overall, with all the artists that joined in post-war rush to capitalize on the Miller name, it was Jerry Grey that was responsible for upholding the flavor and integrity of the Miller style.  In my humble opinion, history and Big Band fans alike should be thankful to Jerry Gray for that.

In 1953 he and Henry Mancini worked on The Glenn Miller Story, a movie about Glenn Miller's life. In addition to leading his dance band he wrote and arranged for singers such as Vic Damone and other projects.  The 1960's saw Gray finally settle down in Dallas, where he conducted the house band at the Fairmont Hotel.

You can hear many of Jerry Gray's songs here on Swing City Radio, with, of course, the vast amount of Glenn Miller songs he was responsible for arranging.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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The Speakeasy Three

The Speakeasy Three

Based in Brighton, England, The Speakeasy Three does a great version of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." They released their single early this year and I included a promo video below.

I tried to find out more about the trio but only found their Facebook Page.  Here's the highlights from the About Section of their fan page:

Three Bad-Ass Babes Singing Their Little Hearts Out!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Prepare to swing, sway, sizzle and swoon! The Speakeasy Three are rolling out their show-stopping, room-swinging, after dark agenda for your delight.

Influences:
Influences on the sound, style and personality of the group include The Andrews Sisters, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Josephine Baker, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf...

Like I said, not much info, but they do a good version of the song and have a good sound to them.  Check them out.



You can hear "The Speakeasy Three" on Swing City Radio's - Modern Swing rotation.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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The Speakeasy Three The Speakeasy Three The Speakeasy Three

Claude Thornhill

Claude Thornhill

Claude Thornhill (1908–1965) was the leader of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and a talented pianist, arranger and composer. He penned the standards "Snowfall" and "I Wish I Had You".

Claude was recognized as an extraordinary talent from early on and by his mid-teens, along with Danny Polo, he was already in the scene touring. The early part of his career is linked with Artie Shaw.  Thornhill and Shaw started their professional careers together at the Golden Pheasant in Cleveland, Ohio, with the Austin Wylie Orchestra. They later went to New York together in 1931.  By the mid 1930's he was playing with big names like Glenn Miller, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, and Billie Holiday.

Browse Claude Thornhill's Music Collection (Affiliate Link)

In 1939 he founded the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Danny Polo, a musician he played with in his younger years, was his lead clarinet player. Although the Thornhill band was a sophisticated dance band, it became known for its superior jazz musicians.  Thornhill encouraged the musicians to develop cool-sounding tones. This approach and sound later influenced Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool which was modeled in part on Thornhill's sound and unconventional instrumentation.

The band's most successful records were "Snowfall", "A Sunday Kind of Love", and "Love for Love".

Thornhill was playing at the Paramount Theater in New York for $10,000 a week in 1942 (that was a boatload of money in 1942!) when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy. As chief musician with the Navy, he performed shows across the Pacific.

In 1946, he was discharged from the Navy and reunited his ensemble. Danny Polo and Gerry Mulligan returned with new members, Red Rodney and Lee Konitz, which provided a new energy that took them through the next 10 years or so. In the mid 1950's, Thornhill was briefly Tony Bennett's musical director.

Thornhill died of a heart attack in New Jersey, at the age of 56.

You can hear Claude Thornhill's music on Swing City Radio.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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Claude Thornhill Claude Thornhill Claude Thornhill Claude Thornhill

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