Harry James

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For other people named Harry James, see Harry James (disambiguation).
Harry James
Harry James Billboard 4.jpg
Background information
Birth name Harry Haag James
Born (1916-03-15)March 15, 1916
Albany, Georgia, United States
Died July 5, 1983(1983-07-05) (aged 67)
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Genres Jazz, big band, swing music
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, trumpeter
Years active 1933-1983
Associated acts Frank Sinatra, Ben Pollack, Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Helen Forrest

Harry Haag James (March 15, 1916 – July 5, 1983) was an American musician who is best known as a trumpet playing band leader who led a big band from 1939 to 1946. He broke up his band for a short period in 1947 but shortly after he re-organized and was active again with his band from then until his death in 1983. He was especially known among musicians for his astonishing technical proficiency as well as his superior tone, and was extremely influential on up and coming trumpet players from the late 1930s into the 1940s. He was also an actor in a number of motion pictures that usually featured his bands in some way.

Early life[edit]

From left: Stan "Cuddles" Johnson, Fraser MacPherson, Bob Smith, Harry James, Al Johnson, Stew Barnett. (The Cave Supper Club, May 1970)
From left: Harry James, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable. (The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, 1958)

Harry James was born in Albany, Georgia,[1] the son of Myrtle Maybelle (Stewart), an acrobat and horseback rider, and Everett Robert James, a bandleader in a traveling circus, the Haag Circus. According to the Bill Sterns Sports Newsreel broadcast on September 12, 1942, on which James appeared, he was saved from being trampled, at the age of 6, by his mother's horse after performing with the horse.[2] By the age of 10 he was taking trumpet lessons from his father, who placed him on a strict daily practice schedule. Each day, James was given one page to learn from the Arban's book and was not allowed to pursue any other pastime until he had learned that particular page.

Career[edit]

In 1931, his family settled in Beaumont, Texas. It was here, at 15 years of age, that James began playing in local dance bands. James played regularly with Herman Waldman's band, and at one performance was noticed by nationally popular Ben Pollack.[3] In 1935 he joined Pollack's band, but at the start of 1937 left to join Benny Goodman's orchestra, where he stayed through 1938. He was nicknamed "The Hawk" early in his career for his ability to sight-read. A common joke was that if a fly landed on his written music, Harry James would play it. His low range had a warmth associated with the cornet and even the flugelhorn, but this sound was underrecorded in favor of James' brilliant high register.

With financial backing from Goodman,[4] in January 1939 James debuted his own big band in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but it didn't click until 1941 when he added a string section.[5] This big band became known as Harry James and His Music Makers.[6] His hit "You Made Me Love You" was in the Top 10 during the week of December 7, 1941.[7] He was in two featured roles in two films, Private Buckaroo and Springtime in the Rockies. He toured with the band into the 1980s. He started recording with the minor label Varsity in 1940.[8] To this day the Harry James Orchestra still exists, now led by Fred Radke.[9]

Bandleader[edit]

His was the first "name band" to employ vocalist Frank Sinatra, in 1939. James signed Sinatra to a one year contract, of which Sinatra worked seven months before going to sing for Tommy Dorsey[10] He wanted to change Sinatra's name to 'Frankie Satin' but Sinatra refused.[11] His later band included drummer Buddy Rich. His featured vocalist was Helen Forrest.[10] Johnny MacAfee was featured on the sax and vocals and Corky Corcoran was a youthful sax prodigy.

Radio[edit]

His orchestra succeeded Glenn Miller's on a program sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes in 1942, when Miller disbanded his orchestra to enter the Army. In 1945, James and his orchestra had a summer replacement program for Danny Kaye's program on CBS.[12]

A major reason James disbanded his big band group in 1946 was lack of income, so James decided to call it quits.[8] After disbanding his band, he continued his career in a smaller jazz group, Harry James and His Music Makers.[13]

Film[edit]

He played trumpet in the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn,[14] dubbing Kirk Douglas. In the album from that movie, he backed Doris Day and the album charted at #1. James's recording of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" appears in the motion picture My Dog Skip (2000). His music is also featured in the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters. James recorded many popular records and appeared in many Hollywood movies.

Musical style and image[edit]

Influences[edit]

With James's childhood spent as a musician in a traveling circus, he picked up a flamboyant style that utilized such techniques as heavy vibrato, half valve and lip glissandi, valve and lip trills, and valve tremolos. These techniques were popular at the time in what some have called a "hot" jazz style, with James's idol Louis Armstrong providing an example of one who used these techniques, but they later fell out of favor in the 1950s with the advent of "cool" jazz.[15] James's father instituted a rigorous regime of practice for James as a child, and this allowed James to achieve an exceptional technical proficiency in the more classical techniques of range, fingering and tonguing. Growing up in the south, James was also exposed to blues music, which had an influence on his style. As James explained, "I was brought up in Texas with the blues — when I was eleven or twelve years old down in what they call 'barbecue row' I used to sit in with the guys that had the broken bottlenecks on their guitars, playing the blues; that's all we knew."[16] Louis Armstrong, after hearing Harry James solo on several numbers while at a Benny Goodman one-nighter with his friend Lionel Hampton, exclaimed to Hampton in the vernacular of the time, "That white boy — he plays like a jig!"[17]

Move towards pop[edit]

After James left Benny Goodman's band in 1939 to form his own band, he soon found that leading a commercially viable musical group required a broader set of skills than those needed to be a gifted musician playing in someone else's band. The James band ran into financial trouble, and it became increasingly difficult for James to make payroll and keep the band together. In 1940, James lost his contract with Columbia Records (he returned in 1941), and Frank Sinatra left the band that January. It was not long after this that James made a pivotal decision: he would adopt a "sweeter" style that added strings to the band, and the band would deliver tunes that were in more of a "pop" vein and less true to its jazz roots. From a commercial standpoint, the decision paid off — James soon enjoyed a string of chart topping hits that provided commercial success for him and his band. Indeed, a U.S. Treasury report released in 1945 listed Harry James and Betty Grable as the highest-paid couple in the nation.[18] What worked well commercially with the public, however, had the opposite effect on those in the circle of jazz critics. Dan Morgenstern, the respected critic and Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, called the 1941 release of "You Made Me Love You" "the record that the jazz critics never forgave Harry James for recording."[19] With James continuing to employ his "hot" jazz style on pop hits through the 1940s, his playing was often labeled as "schmaltzy" and dismissed by the critics.[20]

Refocused[edit]

After coasting through the mid-1950s, James made a complete reevaluation of where he was heading in his musical career. Count Basie provided the impetus by making a significant comeback with his newly formed "16 Men Swinging" band, and James wanted a band with a decided Basie flavor.[21] James signed with Capitol Records in 1955, and two years later, after releasing new studio versions of many of his previously released songs from Columbia, James recorded ten new tracks for an album entitled Wild About Harry!. This album was the first in a series released on Capitol, and continuing later on MGM, representative of the Basie style that James adopted during this period, with some of the arrangements provided by former Basie saxophonist and arranger Ernie Wilkins, whom James hired for his own band.[22]

Even after his return to more jazz-oriented releases in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, James never completely regained favor with the jazz critics during his lifetime. More recent reissues, however, such as Capitol's 7-disc set The Capitol Vaults Jazz Series: Gene Krupa and Harry James in 2012, have prompted new, more favorable analyses of James's work. In 2014, Marc Myers of JazzWax commented, "[James's] band of the mid-1940s was more modern than most of the majors, and in 1949 he led one of the finest bands of the year." And on James's releases from 1958-1961, Myers noted, "The James band during this period has been eclipsed by bands led by Basie, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. While each served up its own brand of magnificence, James produced more consistently brilliant tracks than the others... virtually everything James recorded during this period was an uncompromising, swinging gem."[23]

Response to the critics[edit]

While in London, Harry James did an interview with the English jazz critic Steve Voce. When Voce asked him if the biggest audience was for the commercial numbers he had recorded, he visibly bristled. James answered, "That would depend on for whom you are playing. If you're playing for a jazz audience, I'm pretty sure that some of the jazz things we do would be a lot more popular than 'Sleepy Lagoon,' and if we're playing at a country club or playing Vegas, in which we have many, many types of people, then I'm sure that 'Sleepy Lagoon' would be more popular at that particular time. But I really get bugged about these people talking about commercial tunes, because to me, if you're gonna be commercial, you're gonna stand on your head and make funny noises and do idiotic things. I don't think we've ever recorded or played one tune that I didn't particularly love to play. Otherwise, I wouldn't play it."[24]

Personal life[edit]

James was married three times. He married singer Louise Tobin on May 4, 1935, and they had two children. They divorced in 1943.[2] That same year, he married actress Betty Grable. They had two daughters, Victoria and Jessica, before divorcing in 1965. James married a third time on December 27, 1967 [25][26] to Las Vegas showgirl Joan Boyd, whom he would divorce in March 1970. Contrary to some assertions, he did not marry a fourth time. He had five children (two by Tobin, two by Grable, one by Boyd) and (as of his death) 16 grandchildren.

James owned several thoroughbred racehorses that won races such as the California Breeders' Champion Stakes (1951) and the San Vicente Stakes (1954). He was also a founding investor in the Atlantic City Race Course. His knowledge of horse racing was demonstrated during a 1958 appearance on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour entitled "Lucy Wins A Racehorse".[27]

Final years[edit]

In 1983, James was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, but he continued to work, playing his last professional job on June 26, 1983, in Los Angeles, California, just nine days before his death in Las Vegas, Nevada.[1][28] The job had become his final performance with the Harry James Orchestra.[6] He died exactly 40 years after his marriage to Betty Grable (July 5, 1943), who was buried exactly 30 years after that date (July 5, 1973). Frank Sinatra gave the eulogy at his funeral, held in Las Vegas.[28]

Filmography[edit]

Singles[edit]

Albums[edit]

  • Boogie Woogie (Columbia Records – C44, 1941, compilation)[35]
  • Young Man with a Horn (soundtrack) (Columbia Records – CL 6106, 1950)[36]
  • Wild About Harry! (Capitol Records – ST 874, 1957)[37]
  • Trumpet Rhapsody (Harmony/Columbia, collection of singles from the 1940s, released ca. 1958)
  • The New James (Capitol Records – ST 1037, 1958)[38]
  • Harry's Choice! (Capitol Records – ST 1093, 1958)[39]
  • Harry James and His New Swingin' Band (MGM, 1959)
  • Harry James...Today! (MGM, 1960)
  • Requests On-The-Road (MGM, 1961)
  • The Spectacular Sound of Harry James (MGM, 1961)
  • Harry James Plays Neal Hefti (MGM, 1961)
  • The King James Version (Sheffield Lab – LAB-3, 1976)[40]
  • Comin' From A Good Place (Sheffield Lab – LAB-6, 1977)[41]
  • Still Harry After All These Years (Sheffield Lab – LAB-11, 1979)[42]

Awards[edit]

Grammy Hall of Fame[edit]

As of 2016, two recordings of Harry James had been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."

Harry James Grammy Hall of Fame Awards[43]
Year recorded Title genre Label Year inducted
1942 Trumpet Blues and Cantabile Jazz (Album) Columbia 1999
1941 You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It) Pop (Single) Columbia 2010

Readers' Polls[edit]

Metronome magazine conducted annual readers' polls for their readers to choose who they considered to be the top jazz musician on each instrument for the year. The winners were invited to join an ensemble known as the Metronome All-Stars that was assembled for studio recordings. The studio sessions were held in the years 1939-42, 1946–53, and 1956, and typically resulted in two tracks which allowed each participant a chance to solo for one chorus. Harry James was chosen to play trumpet with the Metronome All-Stars for the years 1939, 1940 and 1941.

In a similar annual poll conducted by Downbeat magazine, James was chosen by Downbeat's readers as the best trumpet instrumentalist for the years 1937,[44] 1938[45] and 1939,[46] and as favorite soloist for 1942.[47]

Honors and inductions[edit]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, on February 8, 1960 Harry James was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6683 Hollywood Blvd.[48]

In 1983, James was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.[49]

Pedagogical writings[edit]

  • Harry James Studies & Improvisations for Trumpet, Harry James, ed. Elmer F. Gottschalk, New York: Robbins Music, 1939
  • Harry James Trumpet Method, Harry James, Everette James, ed. Jay Arnold, New York: Robbins Music, 1941

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The Dead Rock Stars Club". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved July 17, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b William Ruhlmann. "Harry James | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  3. ^ Harry James and his big band. Touchoftonga.com. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  4. ^ Gilliland 1994, tape 2, side B.
  5. ^ Billboard, July 18, 1942
  6. ^ a b James, Harry (Haag) – Jazz.com | Jazz Music – Jazz Artists – Jazz News. Jazz.com. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  7. ^ "The Official Site of the Harry James Orchestra". Harryjamesband.com. 2015-05-10. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  8. ^ a b [1] Archived November 24, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "The Life of Harry James". Fredradke.com. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  10. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854.  Tape 1, side A.
  11. ^ "The Night Sinatra Happened". vanityfair.com. Retrieved 2016-01-29. 
  12. ^ "Radio". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. June 7, 1945. p. 21. Retrieved April 15, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read
  13. ^ Harry James: Information from. Answers.com. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
  14. ^ "Harry James". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  15. ^ "W W Norton & Company Study Space: Jazz, Ch 12 Cool Jazz and Hard Bop". wwnorton.com / Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  16. ^ The Merv Griffin Show. November 15, 1977. 
  17. ^ Levinson, Peter (1999). Trumpet Blues - The Life of Harry James. p. 50. ISBN 0-19-514239-X. 
  18. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk: Harry James". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  19. ^ Levinson 1999, p. 94.
  20. ^ Yanow, Scott (2000). Swing. p. 85. ISBN 0-87930-600-9. 
  21. ^ Levinson 1999, p. 195.
  22. ^ "Harry James And His Orchestra – Wild About Harry". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-18. 
  23. ^ "Harry James: 1958-'61". jazzwax.com / Marc Myers. Retrieved 2016-01-20. 
  24. ^ Levinson 1999, p. 251.
  25. ^ UPI wirestory published nationally Dec.28, 1967
  26. ^ AP wirephoto published nationally Dec.28, 1967
  27. ^ "The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour Lucy Wins A Racehorse". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  28. ^ a b "Harry Haag James (1916 - 1983) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2015-08-27. 
  29. ^ "Harry James And His Orchestra – Night Special / Back Beat Boogie". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-11. 
  30. ^ Orodenker, M.H. (February 7, 1942). "On the Records" (PDF). Billboard. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  31. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 23. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  32. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 27/8. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  33. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 21. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  34. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 25. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  35. ^ "Various – Boogie Woogie". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-28. 
  36. ^ "Columbia 10-inch Album Discography, Part 2: Main Series (CL 6100 to CL 6199) 1950- 1952". Both Sides Now Publications. Retrieved 2015-12-25. 
  37. ^ "Harry James And His Orchestra – Wild About Harry". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-18. 
  38. ^ "Harry James And His Orchestra – The New James". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-24. 
  39. ^ "Harry James And His Orchestra – Harry's Choice". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-11. 
  40. ^ "Harry James & His Big Band – The King James Version". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-18. 
  41. ^ "Harry James – Comin' From A Good Place". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-18. 
  42. ^ "Harry James & His Big Band – Still Harry After All These Years". Discogs. Retrieved 2015-12-18. 
  43. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame List". Grammy.org. Retrieved 2015-12-26. 
  44. ^ "1937 DownBeat Readers Poll". Downbeat Magazine. Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  45. ^ "1938 DownBeat Readers Poll". Downbeat Magazine. Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  46. ^ "1939 DownBeat Readers Poll". Downbeat Magazine. Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  47. ^ "1942 DownBeat Readers Poll". Downbeat Magazine. Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  48. ^ "Harry James". Official Website, Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  49. ^ "Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame". DavesMusicDatabase.com. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 

External links[edit]