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Don Lusher

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The premier British jazz trombonist of the postwar era, Don Lusher first vaulted to international notoriety as a member of the Ted Heath Big Band. Following Heath's death, he assumed leadership of the orchestra and remained the face of traditional swing throughout the remainder of the century. Born Gordon Douglas Lusher in Peterborough, Northampshire, on November 6, 1923, he began playing trombone at age six and soon took his place alongside his father and grandfather in the Peterborough Salvation Army Band. During World War II, Lusher played in a military combo dubbed the Polar Stars, and after the war ended he joined Joe Daniels & His Shots, followed by an 18-month Hammersmith Palais tenure in support of bandleader Lou Praeger, during which time he married Praeger's featured vocalist, Eileen Orchard. A brief stint supporting the Maurice Winnick Orchestra preceded Lusher's jump to the Squadronaires, where he shared trombone duties with the great George Chisholm. In 1951, he joined Jack Parnell's newly formed big band for a residency at the Prince of Wales Theatre but declined Parnell's offer to join the outfit on tour, instead joining bandleader Geraldo's Gentlemen the following year. Lusher's tenure behind Geraldo afforded him the first significant radio exposure of his career, and his remarkable dexterity inevitably earned the attention of Ted Heath, leader of the U.K.'s most popular and dazzling dance band. In 1953 Heath appointed Lusher his lead trombonist and also nurtured his emerging talents as a composer and arranger, resulting in swing classics like "Lush Slide," "On with the Don," and "Swinging Down the Alley." Lusher spent nine years with Heath, a tenure highlighted by several U.S. tours, including one in support of Nat King Cole. The orchestra was also the first-call backing unit of American stars visiting London, and whenever Frank Sinatra toured Europe, Lusher was his trombonist of choice. Few if any rival trombonists were so nimble or soulful. A master of both lush ballads and high-energy dance tunes, Lusher won a series of Melody Maker and New Musical Express polls for his virtuosity, and was in every respect the equal of Tommy Dorsey, his own personal benchmark. When he struck out on his own in 1962, Heath agreed to help him assemble his own big band, but the emergence of Beatlemania effectively scotched their plans. Instead Lusher joined Jack Parnell's ATV band and freelanced as an in-demand session player, often collaborating alongside fellow Heath alumni. After Heath's 1969 death, his band splintered. In early 1976, Thames Television produced a tribute showcase and Heath's widow, Moira, handpicked Lusher to lead the orchestra. He remained at the helm for a series of subsequent Heath tributes and by year's end the reunited big band was again in full swing, touring the U.K. under Lusher's name and supporting musical directors from Nelson Riddle to Henry Mancini to Robert Farnon. Lusher also hosted his own BBC television program, Don Lusher's World of Music, and was a regular BBC Radio 2 presenter as well; in 1985, he published The Don Lusher Book, a combination autobiography and study guide. The Ted Heath Tribute Orchestra played its final performance in December 2000. Lusher died in Surrey on July 5, 2006. ~ Jason Ankeny

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