Doc Severinsen

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Doc Severinsen
Doc Severinsen 1974.JPG
Severinsen in a 1974 publicity photo for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Background information
Birth name Carl Hilding Severinsen
Born (1927-07-07) July 7, 1927 (age 89)
Arlington, Oregon, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Bandleader, trumpeter
Instruments Trumpet
Years active 1952–present
Associated acts Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, The Tonight Show Band

Carl Hilding "Doc" Severinsen (born July 7, 1927) is an American pop and jazz trumpeter. He is best known for leading the NBC Orchestra on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Early life[edit]

Severinsen was born in Arlington, Oregon, the son of Minnie Mae Severinsen (1897–1998) and Carl Severinsen (1898–1972), a dentist.[1] He was nicknamed "Little Doc" after his father. His father, a gifted amateur violinist, wanted his son to play the violin. He gave his young son lessons. Little Doc insisted on playing the trombone. Eventually, their neighbor, Herb Clark, had a trumpet at his house the boy could play. Within a week, Doc was good enough to play in public. Soon, he was invited to play with the high school band.

At the age of twelve, Severinsen won the Music Educator's National Contest. While still in high school, he was hired to go on the road with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. However, his stay with the group was cut short by the World War II draft. After serving in the U.S. Army, Severinsen made his broadcasting debut playing live popular music on KODL radio in The Dalles, Oregon.[2]

The Tonight Show[edit]

Starting in 1954 during Steve Allen's tenure as host of NBC-TV's Tonight, Doc Severinsen played first trumpet in the band directed by Skitch Henderson. He actually joined "The Tonight Show Band" several months before Johnny Carson's becoming host in October 1962. Severinsen took over as bandleader in 1967 and soon became noted for his flashy fashions.

Under Severinsen's direction, The Tonight Show NBC Orchestra became the most visible big band in America. The band played incidental music for sketch comedy, guest introductions, and intermission music during station breaks. Severinsen took the opportunity to update many well known swing music and jazz standards, including classics by Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie, and others.

Adept at comic interplay, Severinsen occasionally substituted for Ed McMahon as Johnny Carson's announcer and sidekick. Severinsen campaigned for the band to get featured slots during the show. The show introduced a "Stump the Band" segment in which audience members challenged the band to play obscure song titles, with the band responding with a comic piece.

Severinsen often cried "key of E", his signal for the band to strike up a western theme, whereupon he would enthusiastically sing a country music-flavored nonsense song. Tommy Newsom was frequently the band's substitute director, whenever Severinsen was away from the show or filling in for announcer Ed McMahon. Severinsen continued as bandleader until Carson's retirement in 1992.

Severinsen appeared on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show in February 2015 when the show traveled to Los Angeles for a week. He played for the evening with the Roots. The appearance helped to promote the 87-year-old's 2015 nationwide tour with his band.

Recording career[edit]

During the 1950s and 1960s, Severinsen put out a number of albums of jazz standards, over which he performed very melodic solos. He served as lead trumpet on many of Enoch Light's Command Records LP's of that era, and his soloing was featured in Tito Puente’s "Night Ritual (Afro Cuban Jazz Mini Suite)" from Puente's classic 1957 album Top Percussion.

Severinsen certainly had a well-developed high-note range with an incredible amount of control and melodic sense. In the 1960s, Severinsen also recorded with the Clarke/Boland Big Band and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band. Severinsen was also the second trumpeter whose recording of the fanfare "Abblasen", composed by Gottfried Reiche, has been used as the theme for the CBS News program Sunday Morning.

During the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, Severinsen released several albums under the band name The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, and later receiving first billing, Doc Severinsen & The Tonight Show Band. He has also recorded with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Severinsen also released albums that have a pop rock basis, some of which include electronic instrumentation components, such as Brass Roots, Good Medicine and Facets. These albums were received with varying degrees of success by the public. He recorded two albums of standards with Henry Mancini and his orchestra in the 1970s, Brass On Ivory and Brass, Ivory And Strings.

Severinsen performed with high school bands and in particular in the 1970s with Don Caneva’s John Hersey High School Bands, where they recorded four separate albums.[3][4][5][6]

Severinsen arranged the score for the nudist-themed cult film Nude on the Moon (1961). In addition, Severinsen co-wrote the Top 10 hit single "Stop and Smell the Roses" with singer-songwriter Mac Davis (1974).

Conducting, academic career, and after[edit]

Doc Severinsen in 2009

Severinsen was the principal pops conductor for several American orchestras during and after his tenure on The Tonight Show. His first was with the Phoenix Symphony in 1983.[7] He held similar positions with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

Severinsen retired from active conducting in 2007, and was named Pops Conductor Emeritus in Milwaukee[8] and Pops Conductor Laureate in Minnesota.[9] Severinsen was also named Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music and Katherine K. Herberger Heritage Chair for Visiting Artists at Arizona State University School of Music in 2001 and 2002.[10] He has also conducted the New York Pops orchestra at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

As of 2012, Severinsen is still performing on a regular basis with the group Doc Severinsen & the San Miguel 5[11] (formerly known as El Ritmo De La Vida[12]). The group plays an eclectic variety of styles, including classical Spanish, gypsy jazz, and Latin and American ballads. In February 2012, the group was called on short notice to replace an ailing Marvin Hamlisch at a concert with the Nashville Symphony.

In 2014, Doc Severinsen was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame along with Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch's Sig Hansen and famed singer, Bobby Vee.[13] In March, 2016, Severinsen appeared with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra as conductor and soloist.

Personal life[edit]

Severinsen with daughter Nancy, in 1974. Nancy was part of a vocal group called "Today's Children" which often performed with him.

Severinsen's children are Nancy, Cindy, Allen, Robin and Judy. He also has eight grandchildren, including Blaire and Gray Reinhard, who write and perform roots rock music together as the Blaire Reinhard Band. Severinsen has been married three times. Television writer and producer Emily Marshall is his third wife. They met when she was working as a secretary to The Tonight Show producer Fred de Cordova.[14]

Severinsen owned Severinsen Custom Trumpets, manufacturer of custom-made horns, including the Destino line of trumpets he personally tests.[15] More recently, Severinsen discovered a new vocation, designing new Destino trumpets for the S.E. Shires Company.[16] Severinsen also enjoyed cooking and collecting American art.


  • 1960: A String of Trumpets (Everest) with Billy Mure
  • 1961: Tempestuous Trumpet (Command)
  • 1962: The Big Band's Back in Town (Command)
  • 1963: Torch Songs for Trumpet (Command)[17]
  • 1965: High – Wide & Wonderful (Command)
  • 1966: Fever! (Command) (Pop No. 147)
  • 1966: Live! The Doc Severinsen Sextet (Command)
  • 1966: Command Performances (Command) (Pop No. 133)
  • 1967: Swinging & Singing (Command)
  • 1967: The New Sound of Today's Big Band (Command)
  • 1968: The Great Arrival! (Command)
  • 1968: Doc Severinsen & Strings (Command)
  • 1970: Doc Severinsen's Closet (Command)
  • 1970: The Best of Doc Severinsen (Command)
  • 1971: Sixteen Great Performances (ABC)
  • 1971: Brass Roots (RCA) (Pop No. 185)
  • 1972: Brass on Ivory (RCA) (Pop No. 74) with Henry Mancini
  • 1972: Doc (RCA)
  • 1973: Brass, Ivory & Strings (RCA) (Pop No. 185) with Henry Mancini
  • 1973: Rhapsody for Now! (RCA)
  • 1973: Doc (Command/ABC)
  • 1973: Trumpets & Crumpets & Things (ABC)
  • 1976: Night Journey (Epic) (Pop No. 189)
  • 1977: Brand New Thing (Epic)
  • 1978: Live from Beautiful Downtown Burbank Tommy Newsom Featuring Doc Severinsen (Direct Disk Labs)
  • 1978: Doc Severinsen and Friends (Everest)
  • 1980: London Sessions (Firstline)
  • 1980: Seductive Strings (Featuring Doc Severinsen) (Bainbridge) with George Siravo
  • 1982: The Best of Doc Severinsen and His Orchestra (MCA)
  • 1985: Doc Severinsen and Xebron (Passport)
  • 1986: Episodes (Pro Arte)
  • 1986: Ja–Da (MCA)
  • 1986: The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen (Amherst) (Pop No. 65)
  • 1988: The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, Vol. II (Amherst)
  • 1988: Facets (Amherst)
  • 1989: The Big Band Hit Parade (Telarc)
  • 1990: Trumpet Spectacular (Telarc)
  • 1991: Once More...with Feeling! (Amherst) with The Tonight Show Band
  • 1991: Merry Christmas from Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Orchestra (Amherst) (Pop No. 171)
  • 1992: Unforgettably Doc (Telarc)
  • 1992: Good Medicine (Bluebird/RCA)
  • 1992: Lullabies and Goodnight (Critique)
  • 1993: Two Sides of Doc Severinsen (The Right Stuff/EMI)
  • 1997: The Very Best of Doc Severinsen (Amherst)
  • 1999: Swingin' the Blues (Azica) with Barbara Morrison
  • 2009: El Ritmo De La Vida (Tejate) with Gil Gutierrez and Pedro Cartas
  • 2010: En Mi Corazon (Tejate) with Gil Gutierrez and Pedro Cartas

As sideman[edit]

With Louis Bellson

With Bob Brookmeyer

With Ruth Brown

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Lena Horne

With Milt Jackson

With Gene Krupa

  • Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements (Verve, 1958)

With Mundell Lowe

With Gary McFarland

With Gerry Mulligan

With Oliver Nelson

With Anita O'Day

With Henri Rene

  • Compulsion to Swing (RCA Victor, 1959)

With George Russell

With Kai Winding


  1. ^ "Doc Severinsen profile". Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  2. ^ "About Us". RadioFreshing KODL. Retrieved April 13, 2009. 
  3. ^ Delta Records Sample.
  4. ^ Daday, Eileen O. (August 11, 2008). "Ex-Hersey band director remembered". Daily Herald. Suburban Chicago IL. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Obituaries, "Don Ernest Caneva"". U-T San Diego. September 8, 2008. Archived from the original on June 21, 2015. Retrieved September 25, 2015. 
  6. ^ Gonzalez, Blanca (September 16, 2008). "Don Caneva; third-generation band director had music in his blood". U-T San Diego. Retrieved September 25, 2015. 
  7. ^ Archived February 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra". Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  9. ^ "News: Doc Severinsen to Step Down as Minnesota Orchestra's Pops Conductor". PlaybillArts. 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  10. ^ ASU HCFA SOM | e-Notes | Severinsen in concert Archived September 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "Home". Doc Severinsen. Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  12. ^ "Home". . Opus 3 Artists. Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  13. ^ "3 new inductees to Scandinavian-American Hall". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  14. ^ Sheff, Vicki (1988-12-19). "Doc Severinsen Finds His Key, and It's Writer Emily Marshall". Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  15. ^ "Severinsen Custom Trumpets - Doc's Dream". Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  16. ^ "Trumpets". Doc Severinsen. Retrieved 2011-10-26. 
  17. ^ Harold, Chuck. "Platter Patter: Album Recalls Kennedy's Death", The St. Petersburg Evening Independent. December 21, 1963. Retrieved 2013-09-30.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Milton DeLugg
The Tonight Show bandleader
Succeeded by
Branford Marsalis