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Gene Gifford

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Although virtually unknown to the general public during the swing era, Gene Gifford was a highly influential arranger whose work for the Casa Loma Orchestra predated the rise of Benny Goodman. Gifford grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and he both arranged and played banjo with his high school band. Gifford performed with such territory bands as Bob Foster, Lloyd Williams, and Watson's Bell Hops. He toured Texas with his own band and then worked with Blue Steele (switching to guitar) and Henry Cato's Vanities Orchestra (1928). Gifford gained some attention for his arrangements for Jean Goldkette, and in 1929 he became a member of the Orange Blossoms, which soon became the Casa Loma Orchestra. He was the big band's chief arranger (playing guitar and banjo until he gave up active playing in late 1933). Skilled at writing exciting ensemble charts and yet able to write dreamy ballads too, Gifford's arrangements gave the Casa Loma Orchestra its own personality and led to it being one of the most popular big bands of the pre-swing era. Among Gifford's compositions were the Casa Loma's memorable theme "Smoke Rings," "Casa Loma Stomp," "White Jazz," "Black Jazz," and "Blue Jazz," among many others. After leaving the band in 1939, Gifford branched out, arranging for many of the top bands and for radio. He returned to the Casa Loma band (then known as Glen Gray's Orchestra) in 1948 and 1949, and then spent most of the '50s and '60s outside of music, working as a radio engineer but still writing music (and teaching) on a part-time basis. Gene Gifford just led one recording date of his own, resulting in four selections in 1935 for Victor. ~ Scott Yanow