"The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing," the embodiment of a leader of the big-band era, was actually a temperamental martinet of the age, says music biographer Levinson (September in the Rain, 2001, etc

"The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing," the embodiment of a leader of the big-band era, was actually a temperamental martinet of the age, says music biographer Levinson (September in the Rain, 2001, etc.).

Dorsey (1905–56) was a coal miner's boy. He and his talented brother Jimmy were taught music by Pop Dorsey as a way out of the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania. The Dorsey Brothers traveled a long way, indeed: Gentle Jimmy, on the sax, may have been more talented, but younger Tommy, with his trombone, was the boss, able to shout louder and longer. For a while, they had a joint band, but fraternal altercations (in which they often demolished each other's brass) ended that enterprise. With the heart of a latter-day corporate raider, firing players arbitrarily and stealing talent from other bands, Tommy went on to stardom and riches. Levinson knows the music business as it was practiced at the Birth of Swing. He follows Dorsey's career from speakeasies, nightclubs and roadhouses through radio and movies. Here, from Bunny Berigan to Zeke Zarchy, are all the sidemen, band singers, band boys, agents and arrangers. (Perhaps the only missing personnel: Jan Garber, Ish Kabibbile). Featured are Buddy Rich and Ziggy Elman, Jackie Gleason and, up front, Frank Sinatra—with details about the notorious contract abrogation. The exhaustive catalogue of names and recording gigs occasionally smacks of liner notes gone wild, but the evocation of what was for many The Golden Age of Pop works as well as mere words, without the music, can.

An extensive presentation of life on a bandstand and the man who blew his own horn that will be of special interest to jazz buffs and swing groupies.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print