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Re: [RedHotJazz] Obit: Bill Finegan; big-band arranger; 91

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  • Dan Van Landingham
    The first Finegan arrangement I ever heard was on Miller s Bluebird 78 Little Brown Jug . It was one of the best recording Miller ever made.I didn t know
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 13, 2008
      The first Finegan arrangement I ever heard was on Miller's Bluebird 78 "Little Brown Jug".
      It was one of the best recording Miller ever made.I didn't know much of Finegan until then
      I read George T. Simon's book "The Big Bands(Macmillan,1967)" as well as Simon's 1974
      biography "Glenn Miller and his Orchestra(Da Capo Press).I came away with the impres-
      son that somehow Miller intimidated him.According to Simon,Finegan would bring one of
      his charts to a Miller band rehearsal and after Miller played it through,MIller would tell him
      to "bring it down to OUR level".I recall,in the book "The Song is You(Will Friedwall)it was
      Finegan to taught arranging to a young Nelson Riddle.In the book,Finegan comes off as
      a smart,savvy "in the know" kind of man.That smart,savvy arranger crumbles under Miller.
      I came away wondering if that was Miller's way of showing envy regarding the fact that
      Miller was a good but not great arranger.Regarding the charts he did,Billy May once said
      that his heart bled for Finegan after Miller and Chummy MacGregor would,in his eyes,b-
      utcher one of Finegan's charts.
           After Miller went into the Army Air Corps,Finegan returned to Dorsey writing a good
      chart Dorsey recorded in "Bingo,Bango,Boffo";I had that on a worn out Victor 78.I also
      have "Then I'll Be Happy" recorded around the time "The Fabulous Dorseys" was filmed.
      There was a LaserLight CD that came out back in 1991 that has Dorsey playing an exp-
      anded version of the chart.I vaguely remember "Doodletown Fifers";I did have an RCA
      45 of "Nina Never Knew" but it disappeared many years ago.It was a nice chart with a
      good vocal by Joe Mooney who was,as I understand it,a blind accordionist.The record
      dated from 1951 or '52.Finegan will be sadly missed by those,myself included,who re-
      cognised his talent and his immense contribution to the Big Band Era.Perhaps we s-
      hould also recognise Eddie Sauter's contributions to the Era as well.In either case,bo-
      th men should be given equal recognition for their efforts.

      --- On Fri, 6/13/08, pdqblues <PDQBlues@...> wrote:

      From: pdqblues <PDQBlues@...>
      Subject: [RedHotJazz] Obit: Bill Finegan; big-band arranger; 91
      To: RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Friday, June 13, 2008, 2:35 PM

      Obit: Bill Finegan; big-band arranger; 91

      http://www.signonsa ndiego.com/ uniontrib/ 20080613/ news_1m13finegan .html

      Bill Finegan; big-band arranger; 91

      By Douglas Martin

      June 13, 2008

      Bill Finegan, who arranged hits for Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and
      who then formed a big band with Eddie Sauter, another legendary
      arranger, that was famed for skill, daring and very odd instruments -
      including the kazoo and glockenspiel - died June 4 in Bridgeport,
      Conn. He was 91.

      The cause was pneumonia, said his son, James.

      Arrangers, the largely behind-the-scenes masterminds of the big-band
      era, took compositions by bandleaders and others and refashioned them.
      Mr. Finegan heavily arranged Miller's first big hit, "Little Brown
      Jug," and virtually everything he recorded in 1938 and 1939. He later
      became a regular arranger for Dorsey.

      After the swing era faded, Mr. Finegan started working with Sauter,
      who had arranged for Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, among others.
      Sauter died in 1981.

      In forming the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, the two envisioned an
      innovative kind of music, defiant of convention but still inspired by
      musical traditions, especially classical ones.

      Wit was implicit, and unexpected instruments were the most conspicuous
      novelty. They included the piccolo, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, harp,
      English horn, recorder, tuba, glockenspiel, tympani, kazoo and not one
      but two xylophones. In their arrangement of "Troika" from Prokofiev's
      "Lieutenant Kije" suite, Mr. Finegan conveyed the dull pounding of
      distant horses' hooves by beating out the rhythm on his chest.

      At the band's peak, 21 musicians played 77 instruments, not counting
      Mr. Finegan's chest.

      But those and other gimmicks had the serious purpose of creating
      provocative but inviting sounds. Counterpoints, dissonance and even
      gaping spaces of silence - as well as a lushness some likened to that
      of a full symphony orchestra - coalesced in an effect that critics
      said recalled the Impressionist school of painting.

      John S. Wilson of The New York Times called the group's arrangements
      "shards, slivers and layers of sound that mixed peeps, rumbles, airy
      piccolos, pastoral English horn passages, blustering trombones,
      tightly muted trumpets and the percussion section bristling with
      mallet instruments. "

      The orchestra's theme song, "Doodletown Fifers," took an old Civil War
      song, "Kingdom Coming," and gave it panoramic sweep. It reached No. 12
      on the charts in the early 1950s, making it the group's biggest hit.

      "Nobody has laid a finger on what they did," trombonist and arranger
      Bob Brookmeyer said. "It's a watershed effect we probably won't see

      William James Finegan was born in Newark, N.J., on April 3, 1917, and
      grew up loving music almost as much as fishing. His son said he played
      the trumpet in high school. After winning an amateur competition, his
      small high school jazz band toured widely.

      Dorsey was impressed with Mr. Finegan's arrangement of "Lonesome Road"
      and recommended him to Miller, who hired him in 1938. During World War
      II, Mr. Finegan served in the Army, then became an arranger for Dorsey.

      In 1947 and 1948, Mr. Finegan studied with Stefan Wolpe, the
      avant-garde composer whose influences included Schoenberg's 12-tone
      technique and Arabic scales. From 1948 to 1950, Mr. Finegan lived in
      Europe and studied at the Paris Conservatory. He began corresponding
      with Sauter, who was in a sanitarium recovering from tuberculosis,
      according to the Allmusic Internet guide. They mutually deplored the
      state of popular music.

      The two decided to team up, describing their plans in a statement for
      Down Beat and Metronome magazines. They promised "pop music that is
      danceable, listenable and lookable." They renounced the
      "too-convenient rationalization to dub the public as moronic."

      They quickly produced a stream of compositions and arrangements, and
      got a recording contract from RCA Victor for some singles. They
      recruited a stable of outstanding musicians.

      Wally Kane, who played the clarinet, alto and baritone saxophone, bass
      clarinet, flute and, later, bassoon for the group, described the
      informal approach of the bandleaders. There were no first, second or
      third chairs; rather, every musician was given equal prominence. Each
      arrangement was written with individual players in mind.

      "Never since that experience have I been handed a piece of music with
      my name on it," Kane said.

      DJs, desperate for fresh sounds, loved the band. Time magazine called
      it "the most original band heard in the U.S. for years."

      The orchestra, mostly known for recording, finally hit the road, but
      big bands in general were dwindling. The group began a long decline,
      and in 1958 Sauter and Mr. Finegan gave it up, except for occasional
      short-term revivals, with both going on to various other music-related

      "Everything went wrong but the music," Mr. Finegan once said.

      His wife, the former Rosemary O'Reilly, died in 2001. In addition to
      his son, James, of Monroe, Conn., Mr. Finegan is survived by his
      daughter, Helen Dzujna of Shelton, Conn., and three grandchildren.

      Kane suggested that the band was less highbrow than some remember, or
      perhaps just fast on its feet.

      He recalled the day the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra showed up at a beer
      bash in Nebraska. A man in dusty overalls complained about the music
      and demanded something to which people could dance.

      Nick Travis, a trumpet soloist, announced that the band would play
      "Bridge Over Nebraska," a name he had just made up. The orchestra
      struck up a rollicking rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In,"
      everyone danced, and happiness reigned.

      (c) Copyright 2008 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. � A Copley Newspaper Site

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