Big Band Arranger Billy May Dies

Discussion in 'Music' started by Peter Kline, Jan 22, 2004.

  1. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Billy May, a 1950s bandleader, composer and arranger with a highly distinctive style who worked with such leading recording artists as Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, died of a heart attack Thursday at his home in San Juan Capistrano. He was 87.

    May began his career as a trumpeter with the Charlie Barnet Band in 1938. He soon was contributing arrangements characterized by what the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz described as "wailing, 'scooping' saxophones voiced in thirds."
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    The best-known of his arrangements for Barnet was for the hit recording of "Cherokee," the Ray Noble song that became a standard of the swing era and Barnet's signature tune.

    In 1939, May joined the Glenn Miller band, where his arrangements included "Take the 'A' Train" and "Serenade in Blue." With Miller, he was perhaps best-known for his trumpet playing, notably on "I dreamt I dwelt in Harlem" in 1941 and "American Patrol" in 1942.

    During the 1940s, May also wrote arrangements for the Les Brown, Woody Herman and Alvino Rey orchestras and worked in studios and for NBC.

    During the 1950s, he led his own band, which scored successes with his arrangements of "All of Me," "Lulu's Back in Town," "Charmaine," "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street," "Lean Baby" and "Fat Man Boogie." The latter two were his own compositions.

    During the 1950s and 1960s, he also worked as arranger-conductor for a number of artists, including Sinatra on the singer's famous "Come Fly With Me" album in 1958. He was associated with Sinatra for three decades after meeting the singer in a New York saloon in 1939.

    His television work included composing, with Milton Raskin, the theme song for "Naked City," the popular ABC police drama that aired from 1958 to 1963, and music for the Red Skelton and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson shows.

    May is survived by his wife, Doris; daughters Cynthia May, Laureen Mitchell, Joannie Ransom and Sandra Gregory; and a brother, John.
     
  2. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    One of the behind-the-scenes giants of American song.
     
  3. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Unfortunately, another jazz great died yesterday as well. His name was Milt Bernhart. Milt was a trombone player in the bands of Stan Kenton, Les Brown and others. He played the famous trombone solo on Frank Sinatra's Capitol recording of "I've Got You Under My Skin". During the 50s and 60s he was a regular studio musician in Los Angeles playing on recording dates with Sinatra, Nat Cole, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and other greats. Most recently Milt was Managing Director of The Big Band Society.
     

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