The term band has changed much from the ‘Big Band’ days of jazz and swing, and no ‘Big Band’ was bigger than Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra. Tommy Dorsey and his brother Jimmy were pushed by their father, Thomas F. Dorsey, to play music in order to keep them from working the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Both his dad, who had taught himself to play five instruments, and Jack Teagarden were big influences on Tommy.
Listening to The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing: Centennial Collection brings to mind images from film and television of giant dance halls filled with people dancing to the music of the orchestra playing on stage. I feel partly regretful for not being alive during the swing era and never getting a chance to see a ‘Big Band’ perform live. Listening to “Liebestraum” or “Dusting The Donkey (Aka “The Pay-Off”)” brings instant admiration to an orchestra’s workmanship. The dedication is almost unparalleled in today’s music industry, and maybe even today’s society. Where could you find such devoted people that are focused to bringing something so beautiful?
My personal favorites are “Ten Little Miles From Town” with its remarkable trumpets, and “I Got Rhythm” with its infectious melody. What swing music brought to the world was an extension of innocence and carefree living. That extension might have turned into nostalgia, but the feelings are still real. This collection showcases a multitude of songs, each empathizing different emotions, feelings and states of mind: happiness (“Cinderella Brown”), love (“Marie”), desire (“After You”) and dreariness (“Blues”).
Tommy Dorsey’s music amazed even the great musicians of his time. Everyone wanted to be a part of the Tommy experience from Bing Crosby (“How Deep Is The Ocean?”) to Duke Ellington (“Minor Goes Muggin’”) to Elvis Presley (“Heartbreak Hotel”) to even one of Tommy’s idols Frank Sinatra (“Daybreak”).
Tommy’s leadership skills are unmatched, but those around him – his orchestra and the dozens of musicians that have played with him – must be praised as well. “Pussy Willow” is a great example of how integrated musician and every instrument must be in the song from the trombones to the trumpets to the reeds to the guitars to the piano to the bass and to even the arranger. Usually the magic happens only when everything can align perfectly, and this collection is a testament to what kind of a sorcerer Tommy Dorsey was.
“The entire personalities of Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich came out of Tommy Dorsey.” – Buddy DeFranco