You might be somewhat familiar with the biggest names from the big band era of the 1930s and 40s: Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and perhaps even the uncompromising Stan Kenton. They’re all good.
But I feel like one of my jobs as a librarian is to preserve and promote the work of the deserving yet overlooked.
So I’m simply recommending that you check out Claude Thornhill and his orchestra. They did more ballads than jumpin’ numbers so it’s not the bombastic blaring of powerhouse big bands. It’s a more subtle sound that’s often dreamy without being too syrupy. If you need any more convincing, consider that the cool sound that Miles Davis and Gil Evans “birthed” in 1949-50 was largely indebted to Claude Thornhill. Evans was a former arranger for Thornhill.
A few more tidbits:
- To see the connection between Claude Thornhill and one of my favorite Pittsburgh jazz vocalists, Maxine Sullivan, check out this post.
- I am also a champion of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Thornhill’s orchestra plays his song “Love for Love” with vocals by Fran Warren here. The song was from a 1947 Errol Flynn movie titled Escape Me Never and Ted Koehler wrote the lyrics.
- I can’t help mentioning that one of the best places to hear big band and other music from the first half of the 20th century is Mike Plaskett and Dale Abraham’s Rhythm, Sweet & Hot radio show on Pittsburgh’s WDUQ 90.5 FM and syndication.
Enjoy the music of Claude and his contemporaries!