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Tommy Dorsey

Tommy Dorsey, in The Fabulous Dorseys
Background information
Birth name Thomas Francis Dorsey Jr.
Born November 19, 1905(1905-11-19)
Origin Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, USA
Died November 26, 1956 (aged 51)
Genres Big band
Occupations Bandleader
Instruments Trombone
Years active 1920's -1956
Labels RCA, Decca, OKeh, Columbia
Associated acts California Ramblers
Jimmy Dorsey
Jean Goldkette
Paul Whiteman
Frank Sinatra
Buddy DeFranco
Buddy Rich
Jo Stafford
Connie Haines
Glenn Miller
The Boswell Sisters
Dick Haymes
Gene Krupa
Sy Oliver
Nelson Riddle
Notable instruments

Thomas Francis Dorsey (November 19, 1905 – November 26, 1956[1]) was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing".[2]. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey[3]. After Dorsey broke with his brother in the mid thirties, he led an extremely popular band from the late thirties into the nineteen fifties. Dorsey disliked improvisation and had a reputation for being a perfectionist.[4] He was volatile and also known to hire and fire (and sometimes rehire) musicians based on his mood.[5] [6]


Early life

Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr. was a native of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the second of four children born to Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr. and Theresa (née Langton) Dorsey.[7] The Dorsey brothers' two younger siblings were Mary and Edward (who died young).[8]

At age 15, Jimmy Dorsey recommended his brother Tommy as the replacement for Russ Morgan in the germane 1920s territory band "The Scranton Sirens." Tommy and Jimmy worked in several bands, including those of Tal Henry, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Lopez, and especially Paul Whiteman. In 1928, the Dorsey Brothers had their first hit with "Coquette" for OKeh records.[9] The Dorsey Brothers band signed with Decca records in 1934, having a hit with "I Believe In Miracles".[10] Future bandleader Glenn Miller was a member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1934 and 1935, composing "Annie's Cousin Fanny"[11] and "Dese Dem Dose" both recorded for Decca[12] for the band. Ongoing acrimony between the brothers, however, led to Tommy Dorsey's walking out to form his own band in 1935, just as the orchestra was having a hit with "Every Little Moment." [13]

Tommy Dorsey as a member of Bix Beiderbecke and his Rhythm Jugglers, a pickup band formed, and dissolved, in 1925. From left to right, Howdy Quicksell (banjo), Tom Gargano (drums), Paul Mertz (piano), Don Murray (clarinet), Beiderbecke (cornet), and Tommy Dorsey (trombone).

His own band

Tommy Dorsey's first band was formed out of the remains of the Joe Haymes band. The new band was popular from almost the moment it signed with RCA Victor with "On Treasure Island", the first of four hits for the new band in 1935. The Dorsey band had a national radio presence in 1936 first from Dallas and then from Los Angeles. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra took over comedian Jack Pearl's radio show in 1937.[14]

By 1939, Dorsey was conscious of criticism that his band lacked a jazz feeling and Dorsey hired arranger Sy Oliver, from the Jimmy Lunceford band to arrange for his band.[15][16]Sy Oliver's arrangements for Tommy Dorsey include "Well Git It" and "On The Sunny Side of the Street".[17] In 1940, Dorsey hired singer Frank Sinatra from bandleader Harry James. Frank Sinatra made eighty recordings from 1940 to 1942 with the Dorsey band.[18] Two of those eighty songs are "In The Blue of Evening" and "This Love of Mine".[19] Frank Sinatra achieved his first great success as a vocalist in the Dorsey band and claimed he learned breath control from watching Dorsey play trombone.[20][21] In turn Dorsey said his trombone style was heavily influenced by that of Jack Teagarden.[22] Among Dorsey's staff of arrangers was Axel Stordahl[23] who arranged for Frank Sinatra in his Columbia and Capitol records years. Another member of the Dorsey band was trombonist Nelson Riddle, who later had a partnership as one of Sinatra's arrangers and conductors in the 1950s and afterwards.[24] Another noted Dorsey arranger, who in the nineteen-fifties, married and was professionally associated with Dorsey veteran Jo Stafford, was Paul Weston.[25] Bill Finegan, an arranger who left Glenn Miller's civilian band, arranged for the Tommy Dorsey band from 1942 to 1950.[26]

The band featured a number of future famous instrumentalists, singers and arrangers in the thirties and forties, including trumpeters Zeke Zarchy[27], Bunny Berigan[28], Ziggy Elman[29][30], Carl "Doc" Severinsen[31], and Charlie Shavers[32], pianists Milt Raskin, Jess Stacy[33], clarinetists Buddy DeFranco[34], Johnny Mince[35], and Peanuts Hucko[36]. Others who played with Dorsey were drummers Buddy Rich[37], Louie Bellson[38], Dave Tough[39] and singers Jack Leonard[40],Edythe Wright[41], Jo Stafford with The Pied Pipers[42], Dick Haymes[43] and Connie Haines[44] In 1944, Dorsey hired The Sentimentalists who replaced The Pied Pipers[45]. Dorsey also performed with singer Connee Boswell[46] Dorsey hired ex-bandleader and drummer Gene Krupa after Krupa's arrest and scandal for marijuana possession in 1943.[47] In 1942 Artie Shaw broke up his band and Dorsey hired the Shaw string section. "They're used in the foreground and background (note some of the lovely obbligatos) for vocal effects and for Tommy's trombone."[48]

Dorsey branched out in the mid nineteen forties and owned two music publishing companies, Sun and Embassy.[49] After opening at the Los Angeles ballroom, The Hollywood Palladium on the Palladium's first night, Dorsey's relations with the ballroom soured and he opened a competing ballroom, The Casino Gardens circa 1944.[50] Dorsey also owned for a short time a trade magazine called The Bandstand.[51] Dorsey was also part owner of the Bob Chester band in 1940. He was also an early investor in Glenn Miller's second successful band of 1938.[52]

Tommy Dorsey disbanded the orchestra at the end of 1946. Dorsey might have broken up his own band permanently following World War II, as many big bands did due to the shift in music economics following the war, but Tommy Dorsey's album for RCA, "All Time Hits" placed in the top ten records in February, 1947. In addition, "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" a single recorded by Dorsey became a top ten hit in March, 1947. Both of these successes made it possible for Dorsey to re-organize a big band in early 1947.[53] The Dorsey brothers were also reconciling. The biographical film of 1947, The Fabulous Dorseys describes sketchy details of how the brothers got their start from-the-bottom-up into the jazz era of one-nighters, the early days of radio in its infancy stages, and the onward march when both brothers ended up with Paul Whiteman before 1935 when The Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra split into two.[54] In the early nineteen fifties, Tommy Dorsey moved from RCA Victor back to the Decca record label.[55]

Jimmy Dorsey broke up his own big band in 1953. Tommy invited him to join up as a feature attraction and a short while later, Tommy renamed the band the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra featuring Jimmy Dorsey. In 1953, the Dorseys focused their attention on television.[56] On December 26, 1953, the brothers appeared with their orchestra on Jackie Gleason's CBS television show, which was preserved on kinescope and later released on home video by Gleason. The brothers took the unit on tour and onto their own television show, Stage Show, from 1955 to 1956. On one episode they introduced future noted rock musician Elvis Presley to national television audiences.[57]

Married life

Dorsey's married life was varied and, at times, lurid.[58] His first wife was 16-year-old Mildred Kraft, with whom he eloped in 1922, when he was 17. They had two children, Patricia and Tom (nicknamed "Skipper"). They divorced in 1943 after Dorsey's affair with his former singer Edythe Wright[59]. He then wed movie actress Pat Dane in 1943, and they were divorced in 1947[60], but not before he gained headlines for striking actor Jon Hall when Hall embraced Dorsey's wife. Finally, Dorsey married Jane Carl New [61] on March 27, 1948 in Atlanta, Georgia. She had been a dancer at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. Tommy and Jane Dorsey had two children, Catherine Susan and Steve.

Death and aftermath

On November 26, 1956, Tommy Dorsey died at age 51 in his Greenwich, Connecticut home. Tommy Dorsey had eaten a heavy meal and began choking in his sleep. Tommy Dorsey customarily began taking sleeping pills at this time and he was so sedated he was unable to awaken and died from choking.[62] Jimmy Dorsey led his brother's band until his own death of throat cancer the following year. At that point, trombonist Warren Covington assumed leadership of the band with Jane Dorsey's blessing[63] as she owned the rights to her late husband's band and name. Billed as the "Tommy Dorsey Orchestra Starring Warren Covington", they topped the charts in 1958 with Tea For Two Cha-Cha.[64] After Covington led the band for a short period, Sam Donahue led it starting in 1961, continuing until the late sixties.[65] The Tommy Dorsey orchestra today is conducted by Buddy Morrow. Jane Dorsey died of natural causes at the age of 80, in Miami, Florida in 2003. Tommy and Jane Dorsey are interred together in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.[66]

The grave of Tommy Dorsey in Kensico Cemetery

Number One Hits

Tommy Dorsey had a run of 286 Billboard chart hits.[67] The Dorsey band had seventeen number one hits with his orchestra in the 1930s and 1940s including: "On Treasure Island", "The Music Goes 'Round and Around", "You", "Marie", "Satan Takes a Holiday", "The Big Apple", "Once in a While", "The Dipsy Doodle", "Our Love", "All the Things You Are", "Indian Summer", and "Dolores". He had two more number one hits in 1935 when he was a member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra: "Lullaby of Broadway", number one for two weeks, and "Chasing Shadows", number one for three weeks. His biggest hit was "I'll Never Smile Again", featuring Frank Sinatra on vocals, which was number one for twelve weeks on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1940. "In the Blue of Evening"[68] was number 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1943.[69]

Songs Written by Tommy Dorsey

written ca. 1932: "Three Moods"[70]

1937: "The Morning After"

1938: "Chris and His Gang"

Also, Tommy Dorsey wrote the song "Peckin' With Penguins" for a 1938 Frank Tashlin directed Porky Pig cartoon, "Porky's Spring Planting" for the studio Warner Bros.[71]

1939: "To You"[72][73], "This Is No Dream", "You Taught Me To Love Again"[74], "In The Middle Of A Dream", "Night In Sudan"

1946: "Nip and Tuck"

1947: "Trombonology"[75]

Honors and Posthumous Recognition

In 1977, bandleader Bill Tole portrayed Tommy Dorsey in the movie New York, New York.[76] In 1982, the 1941 Victor recording "I'll Never Smile Again" was the first of a trio of Tommy Dorsey recordings to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[77] His theme song, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" was inducted in 1998, along with his recording of "Marie".[78] In 1992, Bob Gunton portrayed Dorsey in the CBS miniseries Sinatra, starring alongside Philip Casnoff.[79] In 1996, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey postage stamp.[80]


In the "Filmography" portion of the website "Thomas (Tommy) Dorsey 1905-1956"[3], two movies are listed for 1929 that suggest that Tommy Dorsey appears in them. They are Segar Ellis and His Embassy Club Orchestra and Alice Boulden and Her Orchestra[81]

Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra appear in the following films for the studios Paramount, MGM, Samuel Goldwyn, Allied Artists and United Artists[82]:

The Dorsey Brothers appear in the 1953 sixteen-minute Universal-International film called The Dorsey Brothers Encore.[93]


  1. ^ Tommy Dorsey at Find a Grave
  2. ^ "Dorsey, Thomas, Francis, Jr. (“Tommy,” “The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing”)". Pennsylvania Center For The Book/Lisa A. Moore. Date published unknown. 
  3. ^ ""Dorsey, James Francis 'Jimmy'"". Pennsylvania Center For The Book/Nicole DeCicco. Date published unknown. 
  4. ^ "Jazz Wax: Interview Buddy DeFranco Opus 1". Marc Myers. July 9, 2009. 
  5. ^ Peter Levinson quotes Tommy Dorsey as saying "Nobody leaves this band. I only fire people." Drummer Louis Bellson sees a more a benign Dorsey, as the same website quotes him, "[H]e wanted you to play your best every night." see
  6. ^ On George Spink's website saxophonist Bud Freeman says that he quit twice and was fired three times during his employment with Dorsey. Also the same website says that singers Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers quit the Dorsey band in 1942 because of an argument with Dorsey. see
  7. ^ Dorsey, Thomas Francis Jr. ('Tommy,' 'The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing')
  8. ^ Levinson, Peter (2005). Livin' In A Great Big Way. New York: DaCapo. p. 3. ISBN 0-306-81111-1. 
  9. ^ "Tommy Dorsey". VH1/William Ruhlmann/All Music Guide. date published unknown. 
  10. ^ "Tommy Dorsey". Billboard. 
  11. ^ "Tuxedo Junction Tommy Dorsey". George Spink. 2009. 
  12. ^ "Dorsey Brothers Orchestra". Scott Alexander. date published unknown. 
  13. ^ ""Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians, Dorsey, Tommy"". 
  14. ^ All radio references from "Dorsey, Thomas, Francis, Jr."
  15. ^ "Jazz Wax"
  16. ^ "When I moved from the Lunceford band to Tommy Dorsey, I didn't change my writing approach. He made the transition. The band that Dorsey had when I joined him was Dixieland-orientated [sic], and my sort of attack was foreign to most of the fellows he had. We both knew that to be the case, but he wanted a Swing band—so he changed personnel until he got the guys that could do it." Sy Oliver. see
  17. ^ ""The Sy Oliver Story, Part 1"". Les Tomkins. 1974. 
  18. ^ "The Kennedy Center Biography of Frank Sinatra". The Kennedy Center. 
  19. ^ ""Sinatra The Complete Guide". Brett Wheadon. 1986. 
  20. ^ "Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians"
  21. ^ Later Sy Oliver and Frank Sinatra would do a posthumous tribute album to Tommy Dorsey on Sinatra's Reprise records."I Remember Tommy" appeared in 1961. See
  22. ^ "Teagarden's technique had an enormous influence on trombonists after him. Tommy Dorsey, who was to become one of the most popular trombonists of the swing era, so respected Teagarden's playing that he refused to play a solo while Teagarden was in the same room." see "Online Trombone Journal" by David Wilken,
  23. ^ Simon Says p.297 also see "Jerry Jazz Musician: Interview With Peter Levinson"
  24. ^ "Yes, the musical discipline of Tommy Dorsey, that was such an ingredient of everything he did, was something that Nelson grabbed on to. As an arranger, Dorsey knew what he wanted and Nelson had to deliver a high standard of arranging. As Bill Finegan pointed out to me, playing all of those Sy Oliver charts gave Riddle the sense of how to write very dynamic arrangements, which he did about ten years later for Sinatra." see "Jerry Jazz Musician: Interview with Peter Levinson"
  25. ^ "Jo Stafford Biography". The University of Arizona College of Fine Art School of Music. Unknown. 
  26. ^ "Tommy Dorsey: Lonesome Road". 2009?. 
  27. ^ "Ruben 'Zeke' Zarchy: Big Band Trumpeter". Los Angeles Times. April 17, 2009.,0,2295015.story. 
  28. ^ "Box Sets: Gift Guide by Harvey Pekar Tommy Dorsey The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing". Austin Chronicle Corp.. December 9, 2005. 
  29. ^ ""Jazzed In Cleveland Part 117 Tommy Dorsey's Dance Caravan". Joe Mosbrook. 2007. 
  30. ^ "Elman played a month with violinist Joe Venuti's band, then joined Tommy Dorsey's orchestra in August [1940], at a salary of $500 a week (other players might have been getting, say, $100). But he also had some extra responsibility, and became Tommy's right-hand man, acting as 'straw-boss,' conducting rehearsals, filling in as director when Dorsey was momentarily off the bandstand during the course of a night, or, just for fun, when Tommy would play trumpet and Elman would play trombone." see: "Ziggy Elman: Fralich In Swing" by Chris Popa[1]
  31. ^ "Space Age Pop Doc Severinson". Spaceagepop. 2008. 
  32. ^ "Legends of Big Band History". 2004-2007. 
  33. ^ "Obituaries: Jess Stacy". Independent News and Media, Limited. January 4, 1995. 
  34. ^ "Buddy's Bio". CYber Sytes Inc.. Unknown Date. 
  35. ^ Harvey Pekar
  36. ^ "Peanuts Hucko". Independent News and Media Limited. 2003. 
  37. ^ "Buddy Rich". Drummerworld. Unknown date. 
  38. ^ "Louie Bellson 1924-2009". Jazzwax. 2009. 
  39. ^ Harvey Pekar
  40. ^ "Solid! Jack Leonard". Parabrisas. 1996-2005. 
  41. ^ "Legends of Big Band Music History Tommy Dorsey". 2004-2007. 
  42. ^ "Songwriters Friends Jo Stafford". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Unknown. 
  43. ^ "Solid! Dick Haymes". Parabrisas. 1996-2005. 
  44. ^ "Connie Haines: Performer who sang with Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey Band". Independent News and Media, ltd.. 2008. 
  45. ^ Levinson 174-175
  46. ^ Harvey Pekar
  47. ^ "Biography [Gene Krupa"]. Shawn C. Martin. 1997-2001. 
  48. ^ Simon, George (1971). Simons Says: The Sights and Sounds of the Big Band Era. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House. p. 192. ISBN 0-88365-001-0. 
  49. ^ Dorsey, Thomas Francis Jr.
  50. ^ Dorsey, Thomas Francis Jr.
  51. ^ Dorsey, Thomas Francis Jr.
  52. ^ Simon, George (1980). Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. New York: DaCapo. p. 147. ISBN 0-306-80129-9. 
  53. ^ VH1/William Rulmann/All Music Guide
  54. ^ "The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)". IMDB. date published unknown. 
  55. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  56. ^ see "Tommy Dorsey" IMDB
  57. ^ "CBS Studio 50 The Ed Sullivan Theater". James V. Roy for Scotty Moore. date published unknown. 
  58. ^ Levinson 171-172
  59. ^ Levinson 148
  60. ^ Levinson 211
  61. ^ b. 20 October 1923 in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia; d. 24 August 2003 in Bay Harbor Island, Miami-Dade County, Florida see Jane Carl New Dorsey] at Find a grave
  62. ^ Levinson 299
  63. ^ "Tommy died with no will and reportedly left only about $15,000[...]. Since [Dorsey's widow] Janie New continued to need money to support her family and because she legally owned the rights to Tommy's library of arrangements, she was naturally very interested when [Willard] Alexander approached her about creating a Tommy Dorsey band." Levinson 308-309
  64. ^ Levinson 309
  65. ^ Levinson 309-310
  66. ^ Jane Dorsey date of death and internment facts from Levinson 320
  67. ^ Levinson 308.
  68. ^ "RCA Victor [...] scored with 'There Are Such Things', which had a Sinatra vocal; it hit number one in January 1943, as did 'In the Blue of the Evening', another Dorsey record featuring Sinatra, in August, while a third Dorsey/Sinatra release, 'It's Always You,' hit the Top Five later in the year, and a fourth, 'I'll Be Seeing You', reached the Top Ten in 1944. see "Frank Sinatra Biography" at
  69. ^ The website "Tommy Dorsey A Songwriter's Friend" says: "the orchestra had over 200 top twenty recordings including the #1 hits ‘The Music Goes Round and Round’ (1935), ‘Alone’ (1936) ‘You’ (1936), ‘Marie’ (1937), ‘Satan Takes a Holiday’ (1937), ‘The Big Apple’ (1937), ‘Once in a While’ (1937), ‘The Dipsy Doodle’ (1937), ‘Music, Maestro, Please’ (1938), ‘Our Love’ (1939), ‘Indian Summer’ (1939), ‘All the Things You Are’ (1939), ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’ (1940), ‘Dolores’ (1941), ‘There are Such Things’ (1942), ‘In the Blue of the Evening’ (1943)." see
  70. ^ Tommy Dorsey recorded two takes of this song for OKeh records, August 6, 1932 in New York City. see which also lists Tommy Dorsey as composer.
  71. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" IMDB
  72. ^ "To You" appears as part of a medley by Glenn Miller, paired with "Stairway to the Stars" both sung by Ray Eberle for the Glenn Miller orchestra's performance at Carnegie Hall on October 6, 1939. See "Solid!-The Glenn Miller Carnegie Hall Concert" at
  73. ^ Glenn Miller recorded "To You" for Bluebird records on May 9, 1939 released as Bluebird 10276-B, with the "A" side, "Stairway To The Stars" both sung by Ray Eberle. see Moonlight Serenade: A Bio-discography, John Flower, Arlington House, New Rochelle, 1972, p.63 ISBN 0-87000-161-2
  74. ^ recorded by Sarah Vaughan for Columbia records on July 7, 1949.[2]
  75. ^ Levinson 214 Levinson refers to the 1947 recording of Dorsey's composition as the band's "one important recording of that year." "Trombonology" was recorded July 1, 1947 and was released on an RCA Victor 78 rpm record, catalogue number Vic 20-2419. Information taken from the liner notes to the 1993 compact disc The Post-War Era, Bluebird/RCA 66156, written by Loren Schoenberg.
  76. ^ "New York, New York 1977". IMDB. date published unknown. 
  77. ^ "I'll Never Smile Again" was recorded February 17, 1941 with vocals by Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. see the liner notes to the compact disc The Best of Tommy Dorsey by Mort Goode, 1991. Bluebird/RCA 51087-2. According to Peter Levinson in Livin In A Great Big Way, "I'll Never Smile Again" was recorded May 23, 1940. "I'll Never Smile Again" had the catalogue number for its initial 78rpm release as Victor 26628. Tommy Dorsey and/or RCA Victor also released the song as a V-Disc, V-Disc 582. See the website "Songs By Sinatra" at for discographical information about that V-Disc.
  78. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Award". The Recording Academy. 2009. 
  79. ^ "Sinatra, 1992". IMDB. unknown date. 
  80. ^ Tommy Dorsey IMDB
  81. ^ Dorsey biographer Peter Levinson considers Alice Bolden and Her Orchestra to be mediocre. Tommy Dorsey appeared in it in 1929. See Levinson 34
  82. ^ see individual films and their references for the studio that produced which movie
  83. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" IMDB
  84. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  85. ^ ""Presenting Lily Mars"". Scott Brogan. 1999. 
  86. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  87. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  88. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  89. ^ "Tommy Dorsey IMDB" uncredited role according to source.
  90. ^ Credits "The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)". Turner Classic Movies. date published unknown. Credits. 
  91. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  92. ^ "Tommy Dorsey" Billboard
  93. ^ "The Dorsey Brothers Encore (1953)". IMDB. date published unknown. 


  • Peter J. Levinson, Tommy Dorsey: Livin' in a Great Big Way: a Biography (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005) ISBN 978-0-306-81111-1
  • Robert L. Stockdale, Tommy Dorsey: On The Side (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1995) ISBN 0-8108-2951-7

External links

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