Tommy Dorsey .....
The Sentimental Gentleman
Of Swing

Tommy Dorsey

In Big Band history, Tommy Dorsey's is widely recognized as one of the greatest bands of them all. It could swing with the best of them, and no other band could come close to Tommy's when it came to playing ballads. Tommy Dorsey, "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", was a master at creating moods - warm, sentimental and forever musical moods – at superb dancing and listening tempos. Tommy selected arrangers who could sustain these moods: Paul Weston, Axel Stordahl and Sy Oliver. He showcased singers who could project those moods wonderfully: Jack Leonard, Jo Stafford, the Pied Pipers, Frank Sinatra and others. And, of course, to top it all there was Tommy's trombone, I has often been suggested that his band was built around his singers and his sidemen and its arrangements. And yet through the twenty years of its almost continuous existence, its most pervading and distinguishing sound remained the warm, silken, sometime sensuous, more times sentimental horn of its leader.
Jack Leonard sang with the band for almost four years, recording such fine sides as "For Sentimental Reasons", "Dedicated to You", "If It's The Last Thing I Do", "Little White Lies", "Once in a While", and probably the most famous side of all, "Marie." The other side of "Marie" was also a huge Dorsey hit. "Song of India".
Frank Sinatra blossomed with Dorsey and with Sinatra the band became more successful than ever. Frank often admitted that listening to Tommy helped him to develop his phrasing, his breathing, his musical taste and his musical knowledge. Dick Jones, a Sinatra friend and Dorsey arranger said, "Frank's musical taste was developed at Tommy's elbow." As Frank put it in the mid forties in a Metronome interview: "There's a guy who was a real education to me in every possible way. I learned about dynamics and phrasing and style from the way he played his horn, and I enjoyed my work because he sees to it that a singer is always given a perfect setting."
Sy Oliver infused the band with a new musical spirit. It was sort of a gentler version of the rocking, rhythmic sounds he had created for Lunceford, now toned down somewhat and played with more precision by the Dorsey band. But swing they did, including some great original pieces Sy wrote for the band: "Easy Does It", "Quiet Please", "Sing High", "Yes, Indeed", "Swingin' on Nothing", and others.
As for the singers, they worked individually and they worked together, turning out a slew of hits, all of them superior quality. Thus there was Sinatra's "Violets for Your Furs", and "This Love of Mine", Jo Stafford's "For You", and "embraceable You", and the Pied Pipers and Sinatra's "There Are Such Things", "Just As Though You Were Here", "Street of Dreams", "Oh, Look At Me Now", and of course their biggest hit of all, the one that established vocal groups forever, "I'll Never Smile Again".
This was the era in which the band was at its best. In the summer of 1941, it outranked every other band to finish first in one of the most indicative of all popularity polls, Martin Block's "Make Believe Ballroom" contest. Actually, this may have pleased Tommy less than most people suspected because for years he had subscribed to the theory that it'sbest not to be Number one: once you get there you have no place to go but down. Jack Egan reports that at one time, on Tommy's instruction, he went out on the road and extolled the virtues not of Tommy's band, but of Artie Shaw"s, because Tommy feared he himself might be getting too popular!
By late 1946, it was becoming apparent that the band business was slacking off. In the single month of December 1946, eight top bandleaders -- Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Les Brown, Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Ina Ray Hutton and Tommy Dorsey--announced they were calling it quits. This was the official end of the Big Bands' heyday. And yet, it was Tommy Dorsey, more than any of the other big names, who in the years immediately following was to fight for the cause of Big Bands, with words and action. Less than two years later, he was fronting a formidable new group! It's about time somebody started things going again," Tommy said at the time. "You can expect to have any real interest in dance bands if the bands don't go around the country and play for the kids."
Actually, Tommy never gave up trying until the very end. Much help came
from his old pal, Jackie Gleason, who featured the Dorsey band -- into which
he had brought his brother Jimmy and which was once more known as the
Dorsey Brothers Orchestra -- on its own TV series, which spotted, in addition
to the unusual band numbers, various guests, including two comparatively unknown singers uncovered by Gleason and producer Jack Philbin --Elvis Presley and Connie Francis.

Who knows what went through his mind on the night of November 26, 1956
exactly one week after his fifty-first birthday. .That was the night he reportedly had eaten a huge dinner that apparently did not sit very well. He had also taken several sleeping pills in hopes of getting a good night's rest, possibly to get relief from the terrific tension building up in his home. In his sleep, it has since been surmised, he
became nauseous, then violently sick to his stomach. He began to vomit, and then gag...and then to choke..and all the while the sleeping pills kept him in such a state that he was unable to rouse himself. The next morning he was found dead in his bed. Apparently he had choked to death.

A few days later a bunch of Tommy's friends, headed by Jackie Gleason,
put on a one hour television show called "A Tribute to Tommy Dorsey."
It was a fantastic affair, in which a host of musicians and singers who had
been associated with Tommy took part. In the script's closing lines,
assigned to Gleason, reflected the mood of the program:
"I wish I could say, the way the announcers used to do, "Join us again tomorrow
night for more music by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.' But I can't, because
there are no tomorrow's left for us with Tommy...Good night, everybody."

-The Big Bands 4th Edition -- George T. Simon