Swing Music Forum | Big Bands | 1930s & 40s Small Groups | Jazz Vocalists | Mainstream Jazz | Modern Swing | Swing Era Photos | Jazz Joint Radio | Playlists
Also on Swing Music Net
•  1956 Fender Stratocaster
•  Scott 299A Tube Pre-amp
•  Bogen DB 130 Pre-amp
•  George Gott Tube EQ
•  SAE Record De-clicker
•  RCA 74 Jr Velocity Mic
Swing Music Net Biography
Billy May
Billy May one of the greatest arrangers in Big band Jazz history
Billy May
Noted for his arranging and composing skills; May played trumpet for Glenn Miller and Charlie Barnet
Arranged for some of the best leading jazz-influenced singers, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day and Peggy Lee
Billy May
May, William
trumpet, composer, arranger, leader
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 11-10-1916
Died; 1-22-2004
Jazz Radio Audio
The live feed of our Tuesday jazz music radio show streaming online at 4:00 PM Pacific with a focus on the history of jazz music and jazz music that swings from the 1930s to today.

Our Jazz Radio Show Info Page
The sordid history of our jazz music radio show, est. 1985. Lends credence to the theory that FCC radio deregulation survival may be linked to narcissistically twisted disorders.

History Of Jazz Part 1
Early hot jazz bands, the hotel dance bands and the history of jazz music leading up to the Big Band era.

History Of Jazz Part II
The role of economics, early recording technology, and radio relative to jazz history and the Big Band era.

The Recording Ban Of 1942
Scans of a 1942 Down Beat magazine article detailing a dramatic event in jazz history during the Big Band era; the James Petrillo / AFM recording ban.

Webb Cuts Basie At The Savoy
Another of the many jazz magazine articles on the site detailing big events in jazz history. This piece recounts the Count Basie vs. Chick Webb big band music Battle Of Swing held at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in January of 1938.

Trumpeter, bandleader, composer, arranger and director Billy May died of a heart attack Thursday January 22, 2004 at his home in San Juan Capistrano. He was 87.

Billy May was born November 10, 1916. He began playing the tuba after a doctor suggested it might help his asthma but eventually switched to trumpet. His professional debut was with Gene Olsen’s Polish-American Orchestra in 1933. He worked in the bands of Al Howard, Lee River, and Barron Elliot before landing a job as a trumpeter with the Charlie Barnet band in 1938. May was soon contributing swinging arrangements described by the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz as “wailing, scooping saxophones voiced in thirds.” The best known of his arrangements for Barnet was for the hit recording of Cherokee, the Ray Noble song that 6 months earlier had been recorded in two parts by the Count Basie band. The tune became a standard of the swing era and inspired the Barnet band’s signature tune Redskin Rhumba. Other notable May arrangements for the Barnet band included Lumby and the flag-waver Leapin At The Lincoln. May also helped write a tune for the Charlie Barnet big band that could well be one of the most humorous sides ever recorded by a big band. On The Wrong Idea (in which May actually sang) the wild Barnet band apes the schmaltz, corn and syrup of the sweet bands of the day, lecturing buyers of the record that “this is the wrong idea.” May helped rewrite the Barnet band book from scratch after the original music burned in the Palomar Ballroom fire in October 1939.

In 1940, May joined the Glenn Miller band, where his arrangements included Take the 'A' Train and Serenade in Blue. With Miller, he was perhaps best known for his trumpet playing, notably on I Dreamt I Dwelt In Harlem in 1941 and American Patrol in 1942.

May was also responsible for helping the new Hal McIntyre big band achieve success in the early 1940s. McIntyre, a former reedman in the Glenn Miller band received financial backing from Miller and some fine arrangements from Billy May. Daisy Mae was similar in structure to his arrangement of the same song for the Miller aggregation and a song called Friday remains another May triumph.

Glenn Miller disbanded in 1942, entered the service, and soon formed the American Band Of The Allied Expeditionary Forces. In addition to doing shortwave radio broadcasts to the troops in Europe during WWII the large orchestra cut many fine sides and May arrangements in the Abbey Road studios in London including Billy's fine score of Jeep Jockey Jump. Throughout the 1940s May worked in studios doing staff work for NBC and later Capitol Records. There were frequent commercial sessions including the Bozo Children’s Album series. He also wrote arrangements for Les Brown, Alvino Rey, and Woody Herman’s orchestra. His affiliation was initially short with Herman appearing on trumpet for one Fitch Bandwagon program in 1943. In the early 50s however May contributed a few Latin numbers to the Herman band book.

Billy May began arranging and conducting for a number of pop and jazz vocalists beginning with Nat King Cole in 1951. Both Walkin’ and Walkin’ My Baby Back Home were recorded on a September of 1951 date, the earliest of the King Cole-Billy May sessions. Also in the early 1950s May began leading his own studio band, scoring several popular successes with his own arrangements and compositions such as Lean Baby recorded in August of 51.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, May proceeded to work as an arranger-conductor for some of the greatest pop and jazz vocalists of all time. Nancy Wilson’s What A Little Moonlight Can Do (1960), Johnny Mercer and Bobby Darin’s Two Of A Kind (1960), Sammy Davis Jr.’s Sam’s Song (1960), Anita O’ Day’s Just One Of Those Things (1959), Ella’s It’s Only A Paper Moon (1960), Keely Smith’s On The Sunny Side Of The Street (1958) and Peggy Lee’s Boy From Ipanema (1964) are just a few of the fine swinging Billy May arrangements of music from the songs of Tin Pan Alley writers such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others that became known as The Great American Songbook. He also recorded Latin dance music under the name Rico Mambo.

In 1957 May gathered together several musicians from the original Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. Coupled with a number of great players like Joe Mondragon, Jimmy Rowles, Ted Nash, and Pete Candoli former Lunceford alumni such as Willie Smith, Trummy Young, and Joe Thomas did a masterful job of playing some of the original tunes of the Lunceford Orchestra with arrangement refinements by May. The record called Jimmie Lunceford In Hi-Fi was a success and soon led to other “Big Band Era in Hi-Fi” type recreations by a number of musicians and record labels. The busy Billy May also continued to record his big band Jazz compositions and arrangements instrumentally, with his own band. The Grammy Award winning release Billy May’s Big Fat Brass, recorded in May of 1958, contains several interesting sides like Ping Pong and Solving The Riddle.

Jazz Pianist George Shearing made further use of Billy May’s musical ideas beginning with his 1958 release Burnished Brass. So successful was the record that the formula of coupling the Shearing Quintet with Billy May’s orchestras and arrangements was used on subsequent Shearing records for Capitol, some complete with lush string arrangements, like White Satin, Satin Affair, and The Shearing Touch.

Certainly the most commercially popular of all May affiliations was his work with Frank Sinatra. May had first met Sinatra in a bar in 1939 while the former was working with Charlie Barnet, the latter with his first important boss Harry James. The 1957 release Come Fly With Me, nominated for several Grammy Awards in the 1958 ceremony, was just a steppingstone to the Grammy award winning Come Dance With Me recorded in 58.  Some of the other many fine Sinatra–Billy May albums are Come Swing With Me (1961), Swing Along With Me (1961), and Softly, As I Leave You (1963). When Sinatra and Ellington were to record together for the first time in 1967 Billy May was called upon to contribute. The album was recorded at a low point for Ellington and his men as they had just lost their much loved band mate and the Duke’s friend and collaborator Billy Strayhorn. Still May did his best to work up some arrangements for the session, which still stands as the only collaboration of the two behemoths. In comparing the arranging styles of Billy May and Nelson Riddle Sinatra said, “Recording with Billy May is like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face. Riddle will come to a session with all the arrangements carefully and neatly worked out beforehand. With Billy you sometimes don’t get copies of the next number until you’ve finished the one before. Billy and Nelson both work better under pressure. I myself work better under pressure. If there’s too much available I don’t like it – not enough stimulus…Billy May is always driving .....”

May began a series of albums for Time-Life beginning in 1969. The Swing Era was released in fourteen volumes, which incorporated some of the great players of the Big Band era doing Billy May charts. In later times he wrote arrangements for Diane Schuur on her Timeless release of 1986 and the In Tribute album of 1992 on which May used the wah-wah of Redskin Rhumba as an underlying theme for a magnificent score of the Cole Porter tune Love For Sale. In 1994 he contributed two arrangements for the Brian Setzer orchestra and in 1996 surfaced again by offering some bright big band arrangements for comic Stan Freeberg’s United States Of America Vol. 2 album, 25 years after his contributions to Vol. 1. 

Billy May also did extensive scoring for commercials, films, and television. His television work included composing, with Milton Raskin, the theme song for Naked City, the popular ABC police drama that aired from 1958 to 1963 as well as music for the Red Skelton and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson TV shows. He wrote the theme songs for the TV series The Mod Squad and Emergency. His film scores include Johnny Cool, Tony Rome, and Sergeants Three.

May was survived by his wife, Doris; daughters Cynthia May, Laureen Mitchell, Joannie Ransom and Sandra Gregory; and a brother, John.

LA Times
(Note: some corrections made to Times obituary)
Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia Of Jazz
Tom Lord Jazz Discography
AMG All Music Guide
Glenn Miller CD Notes - Lost Recordings
Frank Sinatra CD Notes - Come Dance With Me
NPR Morning Edition

Additional jazz biographies and Swing era photos are coming soon along with more big band music and jazz that swings via the Jazz Joint Jump Jazz Radio page. We stream live Tuesdays 4-6PM Pacific. 

Click for a larger view
Charlie Barnet and his scorched saxes after the Palomar fire. Click to enlarge.
Anita O’Day Biography
Not your typical big band “canary” Anita’s voice was heard soaring over the brassy bands of Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton during the Swing era. She later released a number of fine swinging albums for Norman Granz on his Clef, Norgran and Verve record labels. She died 11-23-06 at 87.

Ray Charles Biography
Known as "The Genius" Ray Charles recorded a wide variety of music but got his start playing big band music and jazz. He passed away 6-10-04.

Barney Kessel Biography
The jazz guitar great died May 6th, 2004 and left behind a vast body of recorded jazz work.

Benny Carter Biography
Benny Carter was one of the greatest arrangers and jazz musicians the genre has ever known. This extensive biography spans the entire lengthy carreer of the jazz legend.

Billy May Biography
The trumpeter, bandleader, composer and arranger died Jan. 22, 2004. May wrote many Swing era classics for Glenn Miller and Charlie Barnet and later for Sinatra and Nat Cole.

Count Basie Biography
Our biography of Count Basie traces the career of "the kid from Red Bank" through Kansas City and into the later stages of his life as a bandleader.

Web www.swingmusic.net
www.allmusic.com www.downbeat.com

Big Band-leaders And Down Beat Articles | Jazz Music Web Forum | Swing Era Small Groups | Swing Era Photos | Mainstream Jazz Musicians | Jazz Vocalists
Jazz Radio Audio | Jazz History And Big Band Music Evolution | Jazz History Economics And Technology | Big Band Battle At The Savoy | Petrillo / AFM Recording Ban

About Our Jazz Radio Program | Contact Via E-mail | Direct Postal Mail: 1175 Shaw Ave. Suite 104 PMB #198 Clovis, CA 93612
© 2004 - 2011 Swingmusic.net

Big Bands | 1930s & 40s Combos | Jazz Vocalists | Mainstream Jazz | Modern Swing And Jazz | Swing Era Photos | Jazz Joint Jump Radio | Jazz Radio Playlists
© 2004 - 2011 CD Swing / Swingmusic.net All rights reserved