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Casa Loma Orchestra

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When originally formed by saxophonist Glen Gray, the Casa Loma Orchestra was a cooperative orchestra. They made their recording debut in 1929, and during the next six years would be one of the top swing-oriented big bands in jazz (even though the term "swing" would not come into general usage until 1935). Although their ensembles were later criticized as sounding mechanical (thanks in part to the complexity of Gene Gifford's arrangements), the band did swing and had several fine soloists, including clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider, the high-note trumpeter Sonny Dunham (whose display on "Memories of You" is still impressive), and trombonist/singer Pee Wee Hunt; Kenny Sargent offered smooth ballad vocals. After Benny Goodman's success in 1935 resulted in many new big bands being formed, the Casa Loma Orchestra was never again a pacesetter, but it continued into the 1940s with such players as Red Nichols, Bobby Hackett, and Herb Ellis. Glen Gray had top billing from the late '30s on, and after he stopped touring (around 1950), he started a commercially successful, if very predictable, series of recordings for Capitol. Those records found the Casa Loma Orchestra (by then mostly studio players) constantly revisiting (and often recreating) the hits of the swing era. But the band's early original recordings of tunes such as "San Sue Strut," "Case Loma Stomp," "No Name Jive," and "Smoke Rings" are well worth acquiring. ~ Scott Yanow

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