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BILLY MAY THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TOUCH

A Centenary Tribute His 52 Finest 1939-1961

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4297

 

 

 

 

    Billy May was a jazz-pop trumpeter, composer, arranger, and bandleader. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1916 and began his music career playing the tuba. Billy’s first professional gig was with Gene Olsen’s Polish-American Orchestra in 1933. He also performed with other bands in the Pittsburgh area, including those led by Barron Elliot, Al Howard and Lee River, before Charlie Barnet hired him in 1938 as a trumpeter and arranger. Billy joined Glenn Miller’s band in 1940 and stayed until they broke up in 1942. During the rest of the 1940’s Billy arranged music for Les Brown, Alvino Rey, Phil Harris, Ozzie Nelson, NBC studios, and the Capitol studio orchestra. In 1951 he started his own studio band, with vocalists Peggy Barrett and the Encores. Billy was a prolific music arranger and worked with many other musicians during his career; including Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Frankie Laine, Billy Eckstine, Vic Damone, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Rosemary Clooney, Anita O’Day, Jack Jones and Dinah Shore to name a few. He also wrote music for television and film scores during the 1950’s. This 2-disc set has 52 songs from his career between 1939 and 1961.

    Billy was known for writing tight arrangements with bold and elaborate brass parts and quick tempos. One of Billy’s trademark sounds was the “slurping saxophones’ riff that he created while arranging Ray Noble’s tune Cherokee for Charlie Barnet’s band. The song was originally recorded in July 1939 on Bluebird records. Billy composed Long Tall Mama in 1941 and performed it with Glenn Miller in November, 1941 on Victor records with a tight, swinging arrangement featuring Billy on trumpet, Glenn playing trombone, and a brass-heavy rhythm section. Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster wrote Memphis In June, a slow, breezy ballad sung by Hoagy accompanied by Billy and his orchestra. The song appeared in the 1945 movie Johnny Angel, starring George Raft, and was recorded for the Decca label in December 1947. Billy wrote Lean Baby in 1951 and recorded it for Capitol Records in August 1951. The tune is a wailing swing number that rocks like an easy chair, led by a marvelous brass section that alternates the lead between the trumpets, trombones and saxophones. Kay Starr sings a lively version of the country-swing dance tune Honky-Tonk Hardwood Floor, enhanced by Billy’s big-band brass arrangement, recorded for Capitol in October, 1951. Billy recorded the album Big Fat Brass for Capitol Records in May 1958. His band was also called Big Fat Brass, and featured six trumpets, four trombones, four French horns, and two tubas, along with piano, guitar and percussion. The combination of these instruments created a marvelously rich, dynamic sound, and Billy’s arrangements were lively and explosive, performed by a group of first-rate musicians. Four numbers from that album are on Disc Two, including Billy’s own compositions Ping Pong and Solving The Riddle. Ella Fitzgerald joined Billy and his Orchestra in the Verve Records studio in January, 1961 and created a beautiful rendition of Over The Rainbow, written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. The arrangement also features alto saxophonist Benny Carter and a 20-piece string accompaniment.

    This is an outstanding collection of music from Billy’s long tenure in the music business, and is representative of the many facets of his career. He was truly the man with the golden touch as a music arranger. This collection was compiled by Ray Crick. Martin Haskell performed the audio restoration and re-mastering. Digby Fairwater supplied the liner notes and commentary for the 16-page booklet included with the discs. The sound quality is excellent.

    Bruce McCollum

    See also review by Bert Thompson

    DISC ONE (1939-1952)

    Charlie Barnet & his Orchestra

    1. Cherokee

    2. Wings Over Manhattan

      Glenn Miller & his Orchestra

    3. Long Tall Mama

    4. American Patrol

      The Capitol International Jazzmen

    5. Clambake In B Flat

      Charles LaVere & his Chicago Loopers

    6. Lazy River

      Billy May & his Orchestra

    7. Memphis In June ( with Hoagy Carmichael)

      Billy May & his Rico Mambo Orchestra

    8. Fat Man Mambo

    9. Minor Mambo

      Billy May & his Orchestra

    10. I Get Ideas (with Peggy Lee)

    11. All Of Me

    12. My Silent Love

    13. Lulu’s Back in Town

    14. Mean To Me (with Nellie Lutcher)

    15. Fat Man Boogie

    16. Lean Baby

    17. I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan

    18. Walkin’ My Baby Back Home (with Nat King Cole)

    19. Honky-Tonk Hardwood Floor (with Kay Starr)

    20. Charmaine

    21. Unforgettable

    22. When Your Lover Has Gone

    23. Mayhem

    24. You’re Driving Me Crazy

    25. Perfidia

      Disc One Total Playing Time: [78:16]

      DISC TWO (1952-1961)

      Billy May & his Orchestra

    1. Gin And Tonic

    2. Easy Street

    3. Cocktails For Two

    4. Top Hat, White Tie And Tails

    5. Little Brown Jug

    6. Let’s Put Out The Lights And Go to Sleep

    7. Rose Marie

    8. Thou Swell

    9. Blues In The Night

      Billy May & his Dixie Band & his Orchestra

    10. South Rampart Street Parade

      Billy May & his Orchestra

    11. The Man With The Golden Arm-Theme

    12. I’ll Never Say “Never Again” Again

    13. Say It Isn’t So

    14. These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You (with Nat King Cole)

    15. Moonlight In Vermont (with Frank Sinatra)

    16. It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling (with Frank Sinatra)

      George Shearing & his Quintet; Billy May & his Brass Choir

    17. Burnished Brass

    18. Cheek To Cheek

      Billy May & his Big Fat Brass

    19. Brassmen’s Holiday

    20. Autumn Leaves

    21. Ping Pong

    22. Solving The Riddle

      Billy May & his Orchestra

    23. I Can’t Get Started (with Keely Smith)

    24. All Of You (with Anita O’Day)

    25. The Preacher (with Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong)

    26. Two Of A Kind-Indiana (with Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer)

    27. Over The Rainbow (with Ella Fitzgerald)

      Disc Two Total Playing Time: [79:11]


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