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The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra was one of the more unusual bands associated with the Swing Era, not least because it did not even come into existence until after the Swing Era was over. The outfit's two leaders, Edward Ernest (Eddie) Sauter (b. Dec 2, 1914, in New York [Brooklyn], NY; d. Apr 21, 1981, in West Nyack, NY) and William J. (Bill) Finegan (b. Apr 3, 1917, in Newark, NJ), were each prominent big band arrangers. Sauter, who played mellophone, trumpet, and drums, was educated at Columbia University and the Juilliard School of Music. During the 1930s and '40s, he played, arranged, and wrote tunes for bands led by Archie Bleyer, Charlie Barnet, Red Norvo, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and Ray McKinley. At the same time, Finegan was an arranger for Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Horace Heidt, and Les Elgart. With the decline of the Swing Era, he went to study at the Paris Conservatory in the late 1940s and early '50s, corresponding with his friend Sauter, who was staying in a sanatorium recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. The two decided to unite to create arrangements that would make full use of their creativity, without regard to commercial considerations. That meant a willingness to try unusual things, including such instruments as piccolo, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, harp, English horn, recorder, tuba, glockenspiel, tympani, and kazoo. (Finegan even beat on his chest to imitate the sound of horses' hooves in "Midnight Sleighride"). As a result, while the band was hailed by some for its imaginativeness, it reminded others of the style of musical humorist Spike Jones. Some jazz fans also complained that the arrangements left little room for improvisation. The original idea was to form a studio-only unit, and the two arrangers signed the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra to RCA Victor, which released the debut single "Doodletown Fifers" (an adaptation of the Civil War song "Kingdom Coming and the Year of Jubilo") and saw it rise into the charts in August of 1952. "Nina Never Knew," with Joe Mooney on vocals, did the same thing in December, and "The Moon Is Blue," a movie theme song with Sally Sweetland on vocals, charted in August of 1953. The same year, the band released its first 10" LP, boldly titled New Directions in Music (the album was reissued in an expanded form as a 12" LP in 1956.)
The commercial success of the records brought promoters calling, and Sauter and Finegan decided to launch a permanent touring band; the 21-piece Sauter-Finegan Orchestra first hit the road in June 1953. Unfortunately, those promoters insisted the band play dance venues rather than the concert halls to which they were better suited, and even the dance band business was nearly moribund by the mid- '50s. The group stayed on the road until December 1955, by which time the leaders were deeply in debt. Meanwhile, they had continued to record for RCA Victor, however, producing Inside Sauter-Finegan and The Sound of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra in 1954, along with a collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner, Concerto for Jazz Band and Orchestra. Concert Jazz and Sons of Sauter-Finegan appeared in 1955. After coming off the road, the band made some more records, Adventure in Time (1956), Under Analysis (1957), and Straight Down the Middle (1957). But they threw in the towel in March 1957 and disbanded when Sauter accepted a job as musical director for the South-West Radio Big Band in Baden-Baden, West Germany. Finegan went back to freelance arranging, but when Sauter returned to the U.S. in 1959, the two began to work together again, rerecording some of their arrangements for a Sauter-Finegan Orchestra LP, The Return of the Doodletown Fifers, released on United Artists Records, and writing commercial jingles for radio and television. But they did not revive the band as a full-time project. Instead, Finegan continued to write commercials and arrangements, and he also turned to teaching. In the 1970s, he again wrote charts for the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Sauter wrote arrangements for Andre Kostelanetz and orchestrated a series of Broadway musicals including The Apple Tree (1966), 1776 (1969), and Two by Two (1970). He also wrote and orchestrated an entire album for Stan Getz, the 1962 set Focus, which earned him a Grammy nomination, and composed the score for the 1965 film Mickey One. He died of a heart attack at 66 in 1981. Finegan put together a new edition of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra for a concert at Town Hall in New York City in the mid- '80s.