The leader of one of the Swing Eras most oft-quoted dance-orchestras and a model for later jazz players, clarinettist, master-alto-saxophonist and composer James Dorsey was born in Shenandoah, Philadelphia, on 29th February, 1904. The elder brother of trombonist Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956), as a child Jimmy was at first encouraged by his ex-coal miner, bandmaster father to play slide-trumpet and cornet but by the age of eleven he had switched to reeds. With Tommy he co-fronted The Dorseys Novelty Six and the pioneering US radio white jazz-band The Wild Canaries before joining the Scranton Sirens with Tommy in the early 1920s (in that group violinist Joe Venuti and guitarist Ed Lang were their frequent colleagues). In September 1924 he joined the New York-based California Ramblers and subsequently, between 1925 and 1934, was active primarily in studio big-bands, often in company with Tommy, as a sideman in groups led by Jean Goldkette, Red Nichols (including recording sessions with the legendary Bix Beiderbecke), Paul Whiteman and Ted Lewis (in July 1930, as sax soloist with Lewis visiting orchestra he made a lasting impression in London jazz circles and even recorded five sides with Spike Hughes Three Blind Mice, for Decca).
In April 1934, with the irascible Tommy as co-leader, mild-mannered Jimmy founded Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. A popular and highly successful venture this sadly proved short-lived owing to the brothers heated and often publicly-aired quarrels. In 1935, after Tommy quit following a disagreement over the tempo of a song, Jimmy replaced him with Ohio-born trombone ace Bobby Byrne (born 1918) and the band, now billed Jimmy Dorseys Orchestra, continued the "sweet-swing" style they had recently evolved and took up residence on the Kraft Music Hall programme, initially as a backing-group to Bing Crosby.
The newly-liberated Dorsey band scored an instant commercial hit and, thanks to skilful arrangements by Toots Camarata, Larry Clinton, Skeets Herfurt, Fud Livingston, Bobby Van Eps and others, struck a chord with dancing enthusiasts of the younger set while retaining its core element of jazz. Undeniably, jazz purists have been too ready to dismiss it merely as commercially-driven, claiming that for its survival it inclined too much towards the masses with slushy novelties and songs of the "Robins And Roses" variety to qualify as a first-rate jazz ensemble. However, with such technically outstanding, forward-looking sidemen as Byrne, trumpeter Camarata and drummer Ray McKinley in its ranks, the dismissal with hindsight seems a little harsh.
By December 1935, the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra had charted its first US pop hit ("You Let Me Down", an Al DubinHarry Warren number from the film Stars Over Broadway, at No.19) and this was followed during 1936 by other hits, including a No.5 cover-version of Harold Adamson and Walter Donaldsons "You" from The Great Ziegfeld, a No.19 hit-version of "Whats The Reason" (plus alternative versions backing Bing Crosby and Frances Langford), a No.19 cover of Johnny Burkes title-song for the film Pennies From Heaven and their first No.1, "Is It True What They Say About Dixie?", with refrain by resident vocalist Bob Eberly.
In 1937 an augmented Jimmy Dorsey orchestra recorded the film soundtrack for Gershwins Shall We Dance (for RKO a significant box-office success starring Bing Crosby and Ginger Rogers) and by the end of 1938 their list of US Top Ten commercial hits, mainly covers of songs from films, included "At A Perfume Counter" (No.9), "Love Walked In" (No.7), The Love Bug Will Bite You" (No.6), "Howd Ya Like To Love Me?"(No.4), "I Fall In Love With You Every Day" (No.3) and a further No.1 (Irving Berlins "Change Partners", from Carefree). Having around this time decided to pursue a more populist direction than that of the distinctly more jazz-inclined Tommy, by the close of the following year Jimmy had instituted some significant changes aimed at improving the tone and balance, commercial and otherwise, of the band. He introduced pianist Joe Lippman as his arranger and hired vocalist Helen OConnell (heard here in The Jumpin Jive, Go Fly A Kite, Six Lessons From Madame La Zonga (US No.4 hit) and Boog It) to inject a little female sensuality by way of contrast with the laid-back balladeering of the ever-popular Bob Eberly, whose version of Lecuonas The Breeze And I in 1940 provided Dorsey with a third US No.1 and best-seller.
Peter Dempsey, 2002
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
A tenor singer of wide range and performing experience, Peter Dempsey specialises in Victorian and Edwardian genre ballads and art-song, and has recorded various CDs, including Loves Garden Of Roses for Moidart. Quite apart from his personal enthusiasm for music in the broadest sense, through his assiduous collecting and study of 78s over many years, Peter has acquired not only a wide knowledge of recorded musical performance but also a heartfelt awareness of the need to conserve so many "great masters" who were it not for CD might now be lost for future generations. A recognised authority on old recordings, Peter now regularly researches and produces CD albums from 78s.