Big Bands

John P. Smith was one of thousands of young musicians who toured the country on the buses, cars, and trains that carried the territory bands of the swing era from high school sock hops to hotel ballrooms. John’s trombone skills made him a sought-after musician who worked with several of the name...
Bernie Vance played the saxophone in a number of big bands during the swing era. He was drafted and served during World War II, only to come home and find that musical tastes had changed. The big band era was over so Bernie turned to what he knew best, his horn. If he couldn’t play it for a living...
Martin Denny cornered the market on the musical style of the early 1950s known as exotica. The smooth melody of the songs were enhanced by hundreds of different tropical sounding instruments, jungle noises and the call of birds. Martin began his musical career as a composer and piano playing...
Lou Mitchell was a product of the big band era and cut his teeth on swinging trumpet solos, such as those of his musical heroes of the 1930s. After meeting Rafael Mendez (his life-long friend), Lou moved to Hollywood and worked for the movie studios on countless soundtracks. He worked beside Rafael...
Murray Davison was a trumpet player who had a few gigs during the Big Band Era, but had to get a day job after the war. While he became a successful businessman, music was never far away. In the 1960s, he established the "Jazz at Noon" concert series in New York City and, a decade later, began...
Jimmy Cheatham was one of the coolest jazz cats in the industry. Having worked with many of the top jazz players such as Duke Ellington and Ornette Coleman, Jimmy brought the sounds of traditional jazz to film scores and television programs over several decades. Jimmy’s warm personality was only...
Jeannie Cheatham played roots music before anyone was calling it that. She grew up on church music, and progressed to the blues in a time and place where black women were encouraged to express their emotions through music.  Jeannie was there when rhythm and blues became popular and played her own...
Sammy Nestico revolutionized the band and orchestra repertoire by composing and arranging top jazz charts for all levels of bands. As a result, this arranger of Count Basie’s band in the 1950s is as well known to music fans as he is to beginning music students in school bands. Along the way Sammy...
Walter Fuller played trumpet for Earl “Fatha” Hines when Earl, a pianist, formed his first big band in 1936. Walter gained fame as trumpet player and singer on several of the band’s hit recordings. During our interview, Walter spoke of working in clubs owned by mobsters, bringing the Chicago style...
Del Roper performed the xylophone for several society big bands, playing on radio with Xavier Cugat in the early 1930s. Del was later a powerful force in studio orchestras and developed a double decker xylophone, which he played on several variety TV programs in the 1950s. The instrument, named the...

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