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.

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.

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