Friday, June 13, 2008

Bill Finegan, R.I.P.

****** Bob Brookmeyer sent me the message of the death on June 4 of our beloved friend Bill Finegan. What can I say after I say I'm so sorry we have lost him. He had entered my life in 1958 when I was a young singer, knowing very little about the man except that I was a bona-fide fan of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and owned all the lp's. It was easy to become hooked on the unique sound of the orchestra, with its delightful colorations, concert/jazz inflections, and the surprisingly successful use of unorthodox effects such as sleigh bells, hoof beats, booming tubas, vibrant kettle drums, fifes and even a glockenspiel!

****** So when I was told that Columbia Records had arranged for Bill Finegan to write the arrangements for my debut recording, I could hardly believe my good fortune. When the time came for our first meeting to discuss songs and become acquainted, I was prepared to be thoroughly intimidated by so brilliant a person and one I admired so much. Bill typically put me at ease from the start, and I fell madly in love with this charming, down-to-earth, funny genius.

****** Our collaboration, "Out Of The Blue", was recorded in 1961. When I arrived at Columbia's 30th Street studio in New York, I was thunderstruck to find so many famous musicians gathered, not just for me, but to share the experience of playing Bill's arrangements. I'll never forget that he arrived late, placed a full eight-ounce glass of straight bourbon on the podium, and set about calling the first take. God, I was nervous but from the moment I heard the glorious introductory chords of "My Ship", I felt safe and calm. Bill not only wrote the music, he also supervised the editing of two master tapes: one in monaural and one in stereo, the latter technology being one of the decades exciting new innovations.

****** Although we drifted apart over the years, I felt the loss of the connection most acutely about a year ago, resulting in a long love letter which I intended would convey my undying affection and respect for him. We began intermittent telephone chats, and I vowed to visit him. The last time we talked I was attempting to find out if he felt strong enough to see me. He emphatically said "No", but at the end of our chat, he said "I love you kiddo", I said "I love you too" and hung up the phone in tears.

Sauter-Finegan Orchestra Discography:

New Directions in Music (Bluebird, 1952)
The Sound of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra (RCA Victor, 1952)
Inside Sauter-Finegan (Victor, 1953)
Concert Jazz (RCA, 1954)
Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra (RCA, 1954) (with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
The Sons of Sauter-Finegan (RCA, 1954)
Adventure in Time (RCA, 1956)
Under Analysis (RCA, 1956)
Straight Down the Middle (RCA, 1957)
Return of the Doodletown Fifers (United Artists, 1960)


Helen D. said...

Dear Carol,

I truly enjoyed reading what you wrote. He thought the world of you too. Thanks for sharing your memories. I still listen to the album you collaborted on. I love it all and especially, 'My Ship'.

Bill's daughter, Helen

W. Scott Smoot said...

Re: Finegan's Work, I only know the name from Dad, who has always praised that band as a long-lost treasure. He finally found a Sauter-Finegan radio show recording in a nostalgia CD club.

I stumbled upon your blog doing some internet research on Carmen McRae. When I gave up LPs, I also gave up dozens of hours of Carmen recordings on vinyl. Last night, thanks to a thunder storm, I had time to sit and just listen to her on a posthumous "Greatest Hits" CD that brought it all back. I saw your memory of her at a Carmen McRae fan web site.

I lost a Carol Sloane LP, too, "Carol Sloane Sings," purchased when I was an undergraduate at Duke and you were still billed as "a secretary from Raleigh." I always think of you on warm rainy nights -- "the rain coming in through the screens."