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Born in Huntington, New York, Purtill dropped out of high school and started out as a freelance drummer in New York Studios. At the age of 20, he would then go on to play with Red Norvo at the beginning of 1936. Purtill's big break came when he played in Glenn Miller's first (and unsuccessful) band in December 1937. Purtill then went on to play with Tommy Dorsey until 1938. After his stint with Dorsey, he joined Miller on April 6, 1939 where he remained until September 27, 1942 when Miller broke up his band to join the Army. Purtill appeared on virtually all of Miller's hit records.
After the breakup of Miller's band in 1942, Purtill went on to play with Kay Kyser until 1944, he then joined the Navy and entered World War II. After his discharge, he played briefly, in 1946, with the reformed Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Tex Beneke.
Purtill went on to record in the studio on various projects. He would sometimes participate in a few Miller retrospective projects, although Purtill did not like to discuss his times in the band. He was good friends with well-known drummer Buddy Rich, bassist Trigger Alpert and saxophonist Jack Palmer. Purtill resided in New York City until the early 1970s, when he relocated to Sarasota, Florida.
Purtill was married twice; the first time was to jazz singer Nancy Flake. Together they had two children, John (now deceased) and William (Bill) Purtill. Nancy Flake Purtill died in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on December 15, 1968. He remarried in 1970 to Lida Pavlik, and together they had a son, Tom Purtill. The couple moved to Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Moe Purtill retired in 1978. He died at Valley Hospital located in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
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