Claude Thornhill

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Claude Thornhill, c. 1947.
Photograph by William P. Gottlieb .

Claude Thornhill  (born August 10, 1909 in Terre Haute , Indiana ; † July 1, 1965 in New York , New York ) was an American arranger , bandleader and pianist of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, the jazz versions of popular dance and entertainment pieces in swing , Played bebop and cool jazz .

Live and act

Claude Thornhill played the piano as a child and studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory and the Curtis Institute of Music. His musician career began in the band of Austin Wylie, where he also met Artie Shaw ; he then arranged for Hal Kemp from 1928 to 1931 ; In 1935/36 he was also arranger and pianist in the Ray Noble Band. He then worked for Bing Crosby until 1939 , but also for Benny Goodman , John Kirby , Paul Whiteman and Maxine Sullivan , for whom he arranged the Scottish folk song Loch Lomond . He also worked as a pianist / arranger on recordings of Billie Holiday , which he accompanied on You Go to My Head in May 1938. In 1937/38 the first recordings were made under his own name and he went on tour with Maxine Sullivan.

In the summer of 1939, after a long stay on the west coast , where he was musical director of the Skinnay Ennis Band and had come to prominence through the hit success of Gone With the Wind by Maxine Sullivan, Thornhill founded his own orchestra. They played a few gigs in California around 1940-42, such as the Glen Island Casino in March 1941; Musicians like the clarinetist Irving Fazola , the trumpeters Conrad Gozzo and Rusty Diedrick and the trombonists Tasso Harris and Bob Jenney played in Thornhills Band . From this band records were recorded as the title Where or When, Sleepy Serenade, Snowfall, her signature tune and arrangements of classical music reverie and the Hungarian Dance # 5. Among the instrumental pieces, the piece sticking out Portrait of a Guinea Farm by its humorous arrangement.

In the summer of 1942 the Thornhill Orchestra played again at the Glen Island Casino . Meanwhile the band had grown; she included - in addition to her seven clarinetists - two french horns and a number of singers, including Lilian Lane, Martha Wayne and Buddy Stewart. The band recorded other pieces, including a. Somebody Else is Taking My Place or the Gil Evans arrangements from There's a Small Hotel and Buster's Last Stand. However, since many musicians were called up for military service during this time, the band fell into disrepair until Thornhill himself was drafted into the Navy in October 1942 . After the interruption due to the war effort - Thornhill played while serving in the Navy with the Artie Shaw Band and organized shows - the Thornhill Orchestra and Gil Evans, who had been part of it since 1941, moved to New York in 1946 .

Claude Thornhill Orchestra, a. a. with Joe Shulman , Danny Polo , Lee Konitz , Louis Mucci , Barry Galbraith , Bill Barber , c. 1947.
Photograph by William P. Gottlieb .

There he founded a new big band in 1946, which was joined by former members and which at times included musicians such as Lee Konitz , Red Rodney , Tony Scott , Danny Polo , Joe Shulman , Bill Barber, Louis Mucci and Barry Galbraith ; The band's singers were Fran Warren, who established herself with A Sunday Kind of Love , and Buddy Hughes . Another vocalist was Gene Williams , who later led his own band. With Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan as arrangers, the concept that had been created since 1941 was further developed and carried into a more swinging context.

In addition to Stan Kenton's swing orchestra, which is the leader in this genre , the orchestras of Boyd Raeburn and Claude Thornhill also began to approach the young bebop in the 1940s . On the other hand, the trained composer Thornhill expanded his orchestra to include “classical” instruments such as the French horn and later also the tuba - which in turn were used by the creative arranger Gil Evans to create unusual, new and fuller timbres, sometimes precursors to cool jazz .

In addition to Evans, the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan also contributed arrangements. When Evans separated from Thornhill in 1948 because his sound ideas were too gloomy, the musician and music theorist George Russell was his successor. Highlights are the unusual, deep-horned versions of Donna Lee, Anthropology, Yardbird Suite and Lover Man , which were created in 1947. This sound was influenced by Evans, Mulligan and Konitz in 1948-50 on the historic Miles Davis Nonet with the Birth of the Cool recordings at Capitol .

In 1948, when the big band boom was over, after the recordings of For Heaven's Sake and Let's Call it A Day , Thornhill broke up the band. A few months later he appeared with Hal McKusick , Tony Scott, Nick Travis , Gene Quill and Bob Brookmeyer ; his activities in the jazz scene became less. After a nervous breakdown in the 1950s, Thornhill occasionally formed new big bands between longer periods of illness, for example for a performance in Birdland in 1956 , and then later worked with partly semi-professional and smaller groups. He lived in New Jersey around 1965 ; He died on the night of July 1, 1965 after two heart attacks .

His band was "gentle and yet powerful, delicate and yet strong, fine and yet radiant, funny and yet profound," said George T. Simon in his work on the big band era.

Discographic notes

  • Snowfall ( Hep Records , 1940/41)
  • Buster's Last Stand (Hep, 1941-47)
  • The Transcriptions Performances 1947 (Hep, 1947)
  • The 1948 Transcriptions Performances (Hep, 1948)
  • The Crystal Gazer - the Later Recordings (Sounds of Yesteryear, 1946–56)

Individual evidence

  1. George T. Simon : The Big Bands . With a foreword by Frank Sinatra. 3rd revised edition. Macmillan Publishing, Collier Macmillan Publishers, New York City, New York 1974, p. 434.
  2. Martin Kunzler: Jazz Lexicon . Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1988, p. 1179.


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