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Doc Severinsen

For 25 years, Doc Severinsen was arguably the best-known trumpet player in America, appearing on television every weeknight as the leader of the Tonight Show Orchestra. Known for his exceptionally loud wardrobe, Severinsen often bantered good-naturedly with host Johnny Carson, while supplying the show's incidental music (bridging commercial breaks, introducing guests, etc.). Despite the musical limitations of that format, the Tonight Show Orchestra was increasingly considered one of the best big-band jobs available as time passed: generous exposure, steady work, and declining options elsewhere. Severinsen maintained a side career to allow himself to stretch out, recording bop, big-band swing, and crossover-friendly instrumental pop for a series of labels beginning in the '60s. When The Tonight Show was on hiatus, he toured with smaller groups and guested with numerous jazz and pops orchestras around the country. He had his critics in the jazz world, partly because his albums weren't strictly jazz, but also partly because he didn't display his chops very often; he was an able bebop soloist with a bright, clean tone and a tremendous range in the upper register of his horn. In the mid-'80s, he finally brought the Tonight Show Orchestra into the studio for a series of popular and well-received recordings. When the orchestra broke up in 1992, Severinsen hit the road with a select group of alumni, and also continued his guest appearances around the country.

Carl Hilding "Doc" Severinsen was born on July 7, 1927, in Arlington, OR, and was initially nicknamed "Little Doc" after his father, a dentist. Starting music lessons at age seven, Severinsen originally wanted to play the trombone, although his violin-playing father urged him to take up that instrument instead. As it turned out, the trumpet was the only brass instrument available in their small town, and Severinsen got so good so quickly that he was performing with the local high school band while still seven years old. At age 12, he won the Music Educators' National Contest, and as a high schooler, he toured with Ted Fio Rito's orchestra. Upon finishing school, he joined a succession of touring big bands starting in 1945, including Tommy Dorsey (where he was a featured soloist), Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, and Noro Morales. In 1949, he settled in New York, where he worked as a staff musician for NBC and a recording session sideman, backing the likes of Dinah Washington and Anita O'Day. He moved over to television in 1952, and appeared on the original, Steve Allen-hosted Tonight Show as a member of Skitch Henderson's orchestra.

In 1962, when Carson took over the show, Henderson made Severinsen his assistant orchestra leader. Around the same time, Severinsen cut the first of a series of albums for the Command label; his earlier efforts were largely standard big-band swing, but by the late '60s he had moved into groovy, swinging instrumental pop in the so-called "now sound" vein, often arranged by Dick Hyman. In 1966, Henderson abruptly departed The Tonight Show under still-mysterious circumstances. Milton DeLugg briefly took over as his replacement, but Severinsen was promoted to the post of orchestra leader and musical director in 1967. His outlandish, brightly colored wardrobe and easy comic chemistry with Carson quickly cemented him into the job, where he would stay for the next 25 years.

In the meantime, Severinsen moved from Command over to RCA in the early '70s, and then went to Epic for 1975's Night Journey, a surprisingly credible foray into jazz-funk fusion. Even more surprisingly, Severinsen landed some disco play with the dance-club hits "I Wanna Be With You" and "Night Journey" in 1976. The follow-up LP, 1977's Brand New Thing, offered more of the same. In 1985, Severinsen recorded an album for Passport with a new fusion group called Xebron. The following year, he brought the Tonight Show Orchestra into the studio for their long-awaited first recording sessions, cutting a number of swing standards. The resulting album, The Tonight Show Band, was released on Amherst and sold briskly, also winning a Grammy for Best Jazz Large Ensemble Recording. A second, similar album, The Tonight Show Band, Vol. 2, was released in 1987. Facets, which found Severinsen working with crossover fusion ensembles and string orchestras, was a Top Ten jazz hit in 1988.

Severinsen returned to the studio with the Tonight Show Orchestra in 1991 for the well-reviewed Once More...With Feeling!; they followed it in 1992 with Merry Christmas From Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Orchestra. It proved to be their last hurrah together; Carson's retirement that year ushered in major changes at The Tonight Show, and new host Jay Leno let Severinsen and the band go. Severinsen quickly gathered some of the band's most prominent members, and embarked on a sort of farewell tour of America. He would continue to tour with many of them during the '90s, most notably trumpeters Conte Candoli and Snooky Young, drummer Ed Shaughnessy, saxophonists Ernie Watts and/or Bill Perkins, and pianist Ross Tompkins. Additionally, Severinsen cut an album with the Cincinnati Pops (1992's Unforgettably Doc) and served as guest conductor for symphony orchestras in Minnesota, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Phoenix; he also made numerous guest appearances as an instrumentalist, led brass workshops and clinics, and even moved into designing and manufacturing trumpets. After a lengthy hiatus from recording, he returned with 1999's Swingin' the Blues, which featured a generous selection of Tonight Show Orchestra alumni. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Comments

NEXT TO MAYNARD, DOC WAS THE GREATEST!!!
phillden8
See my posts under Basie.
jerrypb
Some of my fondest memories are when I used to watch The Tonight Show primarily to hear Doc and the band play... I loved Johnny Carson but I loved Doc and the band more. What an impeccable musician with amazing chops. Too bad the big band era is all but dead, wow do I miss that music. Doc, please come to San Diego so I can introduce my wife and friends to your amazing musicianship and wonderful music!
dcpurtell
love him! grew up in Buffalo where I was able to see him as conductor... and now listening to Doc's In the Mood years later makes me think of my grandfather who played in a big band many moons ago..
My private lesson teacher arranged the tonight show for him, played trumpet in it with Doc conducting, and conducted it when Doc soloed! He just told me his stories today! He also had Doc come to the school he taught at and they're still friends to this day!

My teachers name is Gerry Knipfel. Retired but you may have heard of him
I got to see him in person here in Medford, Oregon about 3 years ago he was wearing his Bright Yellow Coat also a bright Green one too. He is spectacular in person. What a showman. Excellent Orchestra too. Really great sounds were had by all who were there.
anotherglenn g r a y
One of my favorite albums in my collection is Doc playing with the Cincinnatti Pops! Every number brings goose bumps. For those who claim he seldom showed his chops, I highly recommend this album!
I was a high school trumpet player during his Tonight Show heyday. I think every trumpet player I knew wanted to be Maynard at the time. I used to really enjoy hearing Doc play on TV, but, as they mention above, he rarely showed his chops.

In 1978 a regional band I was in toured the west and stopped in Vegas to see Doc perform. We were astounded!! I had no idea how good he was before I saw him in person. That show was incredible. To make a perfect eveining transcendent , he had our band st
Doc was a true master of his instrument! I tried to emulate him but didn't have anywhere near his talent.
Huh
Saw Doc and the San Miguel 5 this last week and loved them.
awsome musician
Saw Doc shortly after Carson left the Tonight Show. Doc was touring with The Tonight Show Band and Diane Shure -- what a great combination of talets and musicians!!! Doc is not a one dimensional trumpet player and I respect and love the classical works that he has recorded as well - as someone said before me, Dos is a legitinate virtuoso and turmpeter's trumpeter. So glad I had the fortune to hear the man live!
http://www.y o u t u b e . c o m / w a t c h ? v = n C R L S I K 9 o E g Doc is amazing in person - saw him with this band in San Miguel a few years back. Unforgettabl e . I was too young for the Johnny Carson Show, but he was SMOKIN' hot and incredible to see in person.
hubba132
Performed a couple holiday programs with him with Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale that he did and they are some of my fondest memories. Cared about his fans, and his family, and the music always came first...qual i t y , care...loved working with him.
t_a_carlos20 0 0
ALL OF YOU HERE AT PANDORA SAID IT ALL ABOUT DOC !! I HAD THE PLEASURE TO SEE THE TONIGHT SHOW SO MANY YEARS WITH DOC'S HUMOR BLENDED ON THE SARCASM OF JOHNNY !! AND HIS MUSIC WAS THE TASTE OF OUR EARS !! .I HOPE WE HEAR OR LISTEN MORE DOC'S SEVERINSEN MUSIC !! HAPPY 2012 PANDORA RADIO AND LISTENERS !!.
norma.france s . c h r i s m a n
The best there was!!!!!!!!! !
All of you have forgotten louie, i know he don't play no trumpet, but still and yes this guy is good.
He is the legitimate trumpeters, trumpeter!
The best. Fortunate to have had TWO pictures taken with him--the first one as a kid in Topeka, the 2nd as an adult in Cedarburg, WI. He was polite and very gracious on both occasions. Little wonder why he's always been my favorite trumpet player of all time!
Doc was & is a virtuoso in his own right. A super legeon in his own time. Such clarity and astounding sound from such an instrument. One of the best I have ever herd in his time.
wearehavingf u n
saw him 28 years ago, and "most recently" 23 years ago.
an incredible musician.
had an uncle that played in his band, and he said he was a wonderful person to work with!
Last "live" performance I saw of Doc was right after Johnny died and he came on the tonight show to perform. A one of a kind man!
I saw him in San Miguel de Allende Mx in February. The influence of Mexican music plus joining with a remarkable Mexican guitar and violin duo produces a sound that is so much more powerful than his big band sound.
rmtwrite
So happy to have lived during the remarkable and amazing Carson/Sever i n s e n era. Being married to a trumpet player helped my appreciation of this incredible musician and the entire orchestra. What a joy they all were.
I finally know who this is. Thanks Pandora.
Doc is my hero!!!
No trumpeter has or ever had a cleaner tone. He's the best!

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