Harry James

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Harry James rehearsing for the Coca Cola radio show, New York, between 1946 and 1948, Image: William P. Gottlieb
Stan "Cuddles" Johnson, Fraser MacPherson , Bob Smith, Harry James, Al Johnson, Stew Barnett at The Cave Supper Club , 1970

Harry Haag James (born March 15, 1916 in Albany , † July 5, 1983 in Las Vegas , Nevada ) was an American jazz trumpeter and band leader of the swing era. He is considered the discoverer of Frank Sinatra .

Live and act

“If you have a good, clean approach, it adds shine to the game.” Harry James knew how to shine: he was the son of a circus conductor and became the typical star soloist with a crystal clear beam, technically perfect up to great heights. He managed to make a name for himself not only as a soloist but also as an orchestra leader.

Harry James began his musical career at the age of nine when he appeared in his father's circus orchestra, Everett James, who was also a trumpeter. He attended high school in Beaumont, Texas. After a short guest appearance in Herman Waldman's band, James worked mainly in Texas with Territory bands , u. a. at Doc Ross ' Jazz Bandids; from 1935 he played together with Ben Pollack , the first recordings being made in 1936, and then became a sought-after musician in New York's studio scene.

In 1937 he was engaged by Benny Goodman and was one of the star soloists in his orchestra with Ziggy Elman . In addition to his commitment to Goodman, he was involved in recordings of Teddy Wilson in 1937 and Lionel Hampton in 1938. With a studio band composed of Basie and Goodman musicians, he had his first of a total of 73 hits in February 1938 (until 1953) with a version of " One O'Clock Jump " (# 7). At the end of 1938 he separated from Benny Goodman and a month later formed his own big band, which made its debut at Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Hotel .

One of the orchestra's first hits in 1939 was All or Nothing at All . His orchestra played stylistically on the border between jazz and dance music , as often happened in the swing style. The band was often supplemented by strings. In 1943 he married the 1940s film star Betty Grable . The big band played some great singers like Louise Tobin (whom he was married to before Grable), Frank Sinatra , who began his career with James in 1939, Helen Forrest , Dick Haymes and Kitty Kallen . In addition, many greats such as Ray Conniff , Ray Sims , Willie Smith , Buddy Rich , Corky Corcoran , Nick Fatool and Juan Tizol played . Harry James demonstrated his trumpet technique with virtuoso pieces such as “Concerto for Trumpet” in 1939, “Carnival of Venice” , “Flight of the Bumble-Bee” in 1940 and “Trumpet Rhapsody” in 1941. With his vibrator-rich , "sweet style", according to his biographer Digby Fairweather , James became an early pop music idol and winner of numerous polls. He toured frequently with his orchestra, appeared on radio shows and starred in a number of films, such as Springtime in the Rockies in 1942 . In 1944 he composed " I'm Beginning to See the Light " alongside Duke Ellington , with which he had a number one hit in 1945. James also played with the Metronome All-Stars during this time .

The decline of the great swing band also affected the Harry James Orchestra ; the band existed until December 1946. Then James formed a smaller formation, The Music Makers , with its stars Willie Smith, Juan Tizol and Buddy Rich . In 1957 he had again formed a big band, with which he also celebrated success in Europe and recorded numerous albums for Capitol , such as Harry James in Hi-Fi , and later from 1959 to 1964 for Verve . However, this band was seen by many critics as a stale copy of the Count Basie Orchestra, which contributed to the fact that James Count Basies employed arrangers such as Ernie Wilkins and Neal Hefti and covered Basie records such as the M-Squad Theme . In Fairweather's judgment, the Harry James Orchestra was - in contrast to the Basie Band at the time - characterized by James' "sweet" style and his Dixieland frontline, with which it sounded more like Bob Crosby's orchestra. During his time with the Verve label, however, Richard Cook made some of his best recordings, to which musicians and arrangers with Thad Jones , Ralph Burns and again Ernie Wilkins contributed. In the late 1960s, James performed with his orchestra mainly in Las Vegas . In the 1970s, James continued touring with his formations; At the beginning of the 1980s he had health problems and developed cancer.

Filmography (selection)

Discographic notes

James' record work from the pre-LP era is documented on the Classics label from 1937 to 1942 .

  • Greatest Hits (Rec, 1939-46) (Columbia 9430)
  • Feet Draggin 'Blues (Hep, 1944-47)
  • There They Go (Fresh Sound, 1948)
  • In Hi-Fi (Capitol, 1955)
  • Trumpet Blues (Capitol, 1955-58)
  • Verve Jazz Masters 55: Harry James (Verve, 1959-64)
  • 1964 Live! Holiday Ballroom, Chicago (Jazz Hour, 1964)


Individual evidence

  1. cf. Bloom, p. 149: "Sinatra was on the radio for the small station Rustic Cabin in Englewood, New Jersey when James heard the program at home. He immediately liked the young singer's voice, drove over to Englewood and picked him up at once Contract. Harry James is considered a mentor of Sinatra's early career. When Sinatra received an offer from Tommy Dorsey , James then took Dick Haymes into his band. "
  2. Early recordings are included in the anthology "Yes Indeed" (ASV, 1936–42) James sings on a 1936 track with Pollack. See Fairweather, p. 323.
  3. Irving Townsend wrote of James that "he was as hungry for solos as if he hadn't had one for weeks"; quoted after Digby Fairweather, p. 323.
  4. Goodman supported the formation of the band and was later financially involved in the success of Harry James' orchestra; see. Bloom, p. 149.
  5. in July 1939 with an appearance at the Roseland Club ; see. Fairweather, p. 323.
  6. The song "I've Heard That Song Before" with her was sold more than a million times in the early 1940s.
  7. Nevertheless, Harry James is said to have said that he only regards singers as a “necessary evil”, cf. Cook & Morton, p. 777
  8. "sweet style" ; see. Fairweather.
  9. Besides Ellington and James, Don George and Johnny Hodges were also responsible for the music and text; see. Bloom, p. 143.
  10. Cook and Morton criticize his album from this time, The Golden Trumpet of Harry James (London, 1968) as "pure Las Vegas, with a faceless orchestra" recorded. Significantly, the musicians' information is missing on the LP cover; see. Cook & Morton, p. 776.
  11. There are contradicting statements about the management of the band after James' death in 1983; after Martin Kunzler, Joe Gravas took over the band after James' death; After Digby Fairweather's biography, the English trumpeter Kenny Baker unsuccessfully led the band.

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