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He was born in Seattle, Washington, United States. His mother was a violinist and his father a singer, and the family was in vaudeville, so he was early exposed to music. In 1933 he joined Horace Heidt's orchestra as a vocalist and pianist. Later on, he formed his own band, with Dick Haymes as vocalist. He became vocal coach, arranger, and accompanist for Martha Tilton, and worked with a new vocal group, the Stafford Sisters. Jo Stafford, one of the sisters, joined the Tommy Dorsey band in 1940 and persuaded Dorsey to hire Dennis as arranger and composer. Dennis wrote prolifically, with fourteen of his songs recorded by the Dorsey band in one year alone, including "Everything Happens to Me," an early hit for Frank Sinatra.
After three and a half years in the United States Air Force in World War II, Dennis returned to music writing and arranging, getting a boost from his old friend Dick Haymes, who hired him to be the music director for his radio program. With lyricist Tom Adair he wrote songs for Haymes' program.
Dennis made six albums most of which are out of print; however his 1953 song "Angel Eyes" (with lyricist Earl Brent) has become a frequently recorded jazz standard; less frequently recorded, but notably by Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins is "Will You Still Be Mine".
Songs with music by Matt Dennis
- "Angel Eyes"
- "Compared To You"
- "Everything Happens to Me"
- "It Wasn't the Stars"
- "Junior and Julie"
- "Let's Get Away from It All"
- "Little Man With A Candy Cigar"
- "Love Turns Winter To Spring"
- "Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World"
- "The Night We Called It a Day"
- "Violets for Your Furs"
- "Will You Still Be Mine"
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