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)

2 comments:

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."