Jerry Gray

Pic of Jerry Gray

Jerry Gray 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 always 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 and friendship that resulted between Gray and Miller was historic.

With Gray 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.

 
Listen to "A String of Pearls" by Glenn Miller (Composed by Jerry Gray)

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 was Jerry Gray who conducted 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.


Listen to "Crew Cut" by Jerry Gray

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 the 1960's, Gray finally settled 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.

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