Jimmy Dorsey

James “Jimmy” Dorsey (February 29, 1904 – June 12, 1957) was a prominent American jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, and big band leader. He was known as “JD”. He composed the standards “I’m Glad There is You (In This World of Ordinary People)” and “It’s the Dreamer in Me”.

Jimmy Dorsey was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the son of a music teacher and older brother of Tommy Dorsey who also became a prominent musician. He played trumpet in his youth, appearing on stage in a Vaudeville act as early as 1913. He switched to alto saxophone in 1915, and then learned to double on clarinet. Jimmy Dorsey played on a clarinet outfitted with the Albert system of fingering, as opposed to the more common Boehm system used by most of his contemporaries including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

With his brother Tommy playing trombone, he formed Dorsey’s Novelty Six, one of the first jazz bands to broadcast. In 1924 he joined the California Ramblers (who were based in New York City). He did much free lance radio and recording work throughout the 1920s. The brothers also appeared as session musicians on many jazz recordings. He joined Ted Lewis‘s band in 1930, with whom he toured Europe.

From “The Fleet’s In” (1942) Vocals by Helen O’Connell & Bob Eberly.

After returning to the United States, he worked briefly with Rudy Vallee and several other bandleaders, in addition to the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra with Tommy. He appeared on at least seventy-five radio broadcasts (many with his brother), as a member of Nathaniel Shilkret‘s orchestra on programs such as the 1932 program, “The Music That Satisfies,” also known as the Chesterfield Quarter Hour. Tommy broke off to form his own band in 1935 after a musical dispute with Jimmy. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra became the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, and included musicians such as Bobby Byrne, Ray McKinley, and Skeets Herfurt along with vocalists Bob Eberly and Kay Weber.

In 1939 Jimmy hired Helen O’Connell as his female singer. She and Eberly possessed a “boy and girl next door” charm and their pairing produced several of the band’s biggest hits. Many of the Eberly-O’Connell recordings were arranged in an unusual 3-section “a-b-c” format. The three-part format was reportedly developed at the insistence of a record producer who wanted to feature both singers and the full band in a single 3-minute 78 rpm recording. Eberly sang the first minute, usually as a slow romantic ballad, the next minute featured the full band backing Jimmy’s saxophone, and the last minute was sung by O’Connell in a more up-tempo style, sometimes with lyrics in Spanish.

Jerry Lewis‘ first wife Patti Palmer (birth name Esther Calonico) was a singer with his orchestra for less than a year, starting about 1944.

Jimmy continued leading his own band until the early 1950s. In 1953 he joined Tommy’s Orchestra, renamed “Tommy Dorsey and his Orch. featuring Jimmy Dorsey”. On December 26, 1953, the brothers and their orchestra appeared on Jackie Gleason‘s CBS television program. The success of that television appearance led Gleason to produce a weekly variety program, Stage Show, hosted by the brothers on CBS from 1954 to 1956. Elvis Presley appeared on several of the telecasts. These were Presley’s first appearances on national TV.

Helen O’Connell with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra

Jimmy took over leadership of the orchestra after Tommy’s death. Jimmy survived his brother by only a few months and died of throat cancer, aged 53, in New York City. Broadcasts of Jimmy Dorsey and The Fabulous Dorsey Orchestra on NBC Bandstand survive from December 25, and December 31, 1956. At least two other extant broadcasts from the month of December 1956 are available as well. It is hoped that recordings of the band from their winter 1957 tour will surface eventually, as they would provide the last aural evidence of Dorsey’s work. It is thought that Dorsey’s last appearance was in Joplin, Missouri, on March 12, 1957.

“Green Eyes”

Shortly before his death, he was awarded a gold record for “So Rare,” which was recorded on November 11, 1956. Dick Stabile did not have the alto solo on “So Rare,” it was Dorsey. In fact, Tommy Dorsey was so incensed by Jimmy’s uncharacteristic solo that he believed that it would count against the Dorsey name. That track also has the distinction of reaching the number-two spot in Billboard Magazines popularity rankings, becoming the highest-rated song by a big band during the first decade of the rock-and-roll era.

Jimmy Dorsey is considered one of the most important and influential alto saxophone players of the Big Band and Swing era, and also after that. Charlie Parker mentioned him as a personal favorite.

During his early days as a musician, Jimmy Dorsey performed with various other ensembles and artists including the Scranton Sirens, The California Ramblers, Red Nichols, Jean Goldkette, Ben Pollack, and Paul Whiteman. He and his younger brother Tommy formed several bands known as “The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra” during the late 1920s and early 1930s which suddenly ended in May, 1935, when Tommy stormed off the bandstand after an onstage argument. For several months, Jimmy continued leading the band, keeping the Dorsey Brothers name, hoping that his younger brother would return, but he did not. In September, 1935, the Dorsey Brothers band legally became the “Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra”, after Jimmy found out that Tommy Dorsey now had his own band, and had signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. Jimmy Dorsey remained with Decca Records as the two brothers were now competing with each other musically.

Helen OConnell and Bob Eberly, with Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, introduced Star Eyes in the 1943, MGM musical, I Dood It.

Jimmy Dorsey’s first hit record was “You Let Me Down” in 1935. His early band was considered to be more jazz-oriented than his brother’s, and recordings of some instrumental swing classics soon followed: Dorsey Stomp, Tap Dancer’s Nightmare, Parade of the Milk Bottle Caps, John Silver, and Dusk in Upper Sandusky. The band was featured on Bing Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall radio show, and did quite well commercially, although being overshadowed by Benny Goodman, (also a clarinetist), whose big band had grabbed center stage in the mid thirties. Dorsey’s main vocalist was Bob Eberly, considered to be the best in the music business, and in 1939, Helen O’Connell joined the band, and the idea to have them do duets together proved to be highly successful. Almost every record released during 1939-1943 were hits, but especially records made with a Latin American flavor like “Amapola”, “Maria Elena”, and “Green Eyes”, which topped the charts in 1941. Certainly vocalists Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly, were two very important factors in Jimmy Dorsey’s rise in popularity. They continued singing with his band for future records and motion picture appearances. Despite personnel changes, Jimmy remained one of the top big band leaders after World War II and into the 1950s, always updating the sound of his band, but the big band business was beginning to decline.

1957 “So Rare” Quite a change from their original sound, but the Big Band Era had come to an end and the bands were finding new ways to remain popular.

In 1953, he and his brother reunited to form a (new) “Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.” Tommy was the leader of the group, making Jimmy the co-leader and featured soloist. In 1954, Jackie Gleason chose their band to star in a weekly television show that centered on their band. The show, called “Stage Show,” was a huge hit, and gave other big band leaders hope in a business that was steadily declining.

Tommy’s death in 1956 and Jimmy’s own health problems resulted in the end of his television and musical career in 1957.

Jimmy Dorsey appeared in a number of Hollywood motion pictures, including That Girl From Paris, Shall We Dance, The Fleet’s In, Lost in a Harem with Abbot and Costello , I Dood It, and the bio-pic with his brother Tommy, The Fabulous Dorseys in 1947.

“I Cried For You”

In 1938, Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra also appeared in a movie short performing many of his hits including “It’s the Dreamer in Me”, “I Love You in Technicolor”, and “Parade of the Milk Bottle Caps”.

Jimmy Dorsey composed “Mood Hollywood”, “Shim Sham Shimmy”, “So Many Times”, which reached no. 20 in 1939 on Billboard, staying on the charts for one week, also recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra and Jack Teagarden and his Orchestra, “Beebe”, “Oodles of Noodles”, “John Silver”, which reached no. 13 on Billboard in 1938, staying on the charts for 2 weeks, “Parade of the Milk Bottle Caps”, “Dusk in Upper Sandusky” with Larry Clinton, “Shoot the Meatballs to Me Dominick Boy” with Toots Camarata, “A Man and his Drums”, “Mutiny in the Brass Section”, “Praying the Blues”, “Contrasts”, his theme song, “Major and Minor Stomp”, “Tailspin”, the classic jazz standard “I’m Glad There is You (In This World of Ordinary People)”, “Clarinet Polka”, “I Love You in Technicolor”, “The Champ”, “All The Things You Ain’t”, “Jumpin’ Jehosaphat”, “I’ll Do Anything For You”, “Dorsey Stomp”, “Grand Central Getaway” with Dizzy Gillespie, “Sunset Strip” with Sonny Burke, “Town Hall Tonight”, “Outer Drive” with Herb Ellis, the jazz standard “It’s the Dreamer in Me”, recorded by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Count Basie, Bing Crosby, and Harry James, and other songs during the Big Band Era. According to the tsort.info database (http://tsort.info/music/wjc1ce.htm), the Harry James recording of “It’s the Dreamer in Me” reached no. 9 in 1938 on Billboard, staying on the charts for 3 weeks.

Jimmy Dorsey co-wrote the jazz and pop standard “I’m Glad There is You (In This World of Ordinary People)” with Paul Madeira, who is also known as Paul Madeira Mertz, in 1941 and released the song on Decca as Decca 18799 with Dee Parker on vocals. “I’m Glad There is You” is a song that has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Adam Jackson, Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett, Grover Washington, Jr., Jamie Cullum, Lillie Kae, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, Mildred Bailey, Ray Anthony, Shirley Bassey, Jack Jones, Smokey Robinson, Johnny Mathis, Connie Francis, Natalie Cole, Julie London, Jackie Gleason, Cannonball Adderley, Rosemary Clooney, The Temptations, Toni Tennille, Chris Montez, Boots Randolph, Nancy LaMott, Wesla Whitfield, Matt Monro, The Four Freshmen, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dorothy Dandridge, Hazel Scott, Art Garfunkel, Stan Kenton, Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Gloria Lynne, Vic Damone, Freddy Cole, and Beyonce Knowles. Jimmy Dorsey had eleven number one hits with his orchestra in the 1930s and the 1940s: “Is It True What They Say About Dixie?”, “Change Partners”, “The Breeze and I”, “Amapola”, “My Sister and I”, “Maria Elena”, “Green Eyes”, “Blue Champagne”, “Tangerine”, “Besame Mucho”, and “Pennies from Heaven” with Bing Crosby. In 1935, he had two more number ones as part of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra: “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Chasing Shadows”. His biggest hit was “Amapola”, which was number one for ten weeks in 1941 on the Billboard pop singles chart. On August 17, 1936, Bing Crosby recorded “Pennies from Heaven” with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, a recording that went number one for ten weeks and became one of the top records of 1936. And finally, there was a late hit in 1957, “So Rare”, which went to the #2 position, and was on the record charts for 26 weeks.

“The Nearness Of You”

Quick Bio Facts:

Jimmy DorseyJimmy Dorsey AKA James Dorsey

Born: 29-Feb1904
Birthplace: Shenandoah, PA
Died: 12-Jun1957
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Cancer – Lung
Remains: Buried, Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary Church Cemetery, Shenandoah, PA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Popular bandleader and swing musician

Jimmy Dorsey rose to fame in the 1930’s as co-leader with his brother Tommy Dorsey of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. An extremely successful act, the orchestra featured many of the big names of the swing era. Temperamental Tommy split with the band in 1935 to lead his own even more popular band, but Jimmy kept his group working and successful into the 1950’s, recording such songs as Green Eyes and Tangerine.

A biopic of the two brother’s careers was made by United Artists in 1947, and during the filming the pair reconciled. In 1953, Jimmy joined Tommy’s band – which was promptly given the ‘Dorsey Brothers’ title. The two worked together both in the band and on a popular network television program until Tommy’s death in 1956.

Brother: Tommy Dorsey (musician, b. 1905, d. 1956)

Hollywood Walk of Fame 6505 Hollywood Blvd (recordings)

The Fabulous Dorseys (21-Feb-1947) Himself
Hollywood Canteen (15-Dec-1944) Himself
Lost in a Harem (8-Nov-1944) Himself
Four Jills in a Jeep (17-Mar-1944) Himself
I Dood It (Sep-1943) Himself
The Fleet’s In (24-Jan-1942)


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