Trombonist Si Zentner was born just a little bit
late. He is best remembered for leading a quality big band, beginning in the
late 1950s long after the big band era had ended, when many of the nation's
ballrooms were closing down.|
began on violin at age 4 and later switched to trombone. In the early part of
his professional career he worked with Les Brown from 1940-’42, Harry James in
’43, and Jimmy Dorsey in ’44, most notably. Zentner then free-lanced in LA until
1949 when he joined the staff of MGM studios where he remained until 1957.
Zentner was very successful as a studio musician and did quite well for himself
financially. However his dream was to lead his own big band. Bucking the odds
and with a lot of determination, he proceeded to do just that.
From 1957 to 1959 the Zentner
big band recorded for the Bel Canto label. Many of the Bel Canto outings are now
available on CD from Fresh Sound
in Spain. Although the band's output was generally geared toward a dance crowd
(his recordings rarely ran longer than three minutes) Zentner employed many
fine Jazz soloists during this period. Among them, Bob Enevoldson, Frankie Capp,
Jackie Mills, and Don Fagerquist. On his first release Zentner used the
arranging skills of Billy May.
However it was the second and third releases for Zentner that held more for jazz fans. A December of 1958 session with many of the aforementioned musicians produced the swinging Hollwood Freeway. A January of 1959 session held swinging treatments of Jolly Roger and Walkin' Home.
Si began recording for Liberty in 1959, and
after assembling a large touring swing outfit, toured steadily. A great PR man
and promoter, Zentner's bands won an amazing 13 straight
polls for “Best Big Band.”
Perhaps the most important among the regular members of the bands Zentner formed
was pianist Bob Florence, whose 1961 arrangement of a ”twist” version of Hoagy
Carmichael's "Up a Lazy River,"
crossed over into the top 50 pop charts, winning a Grammy for Best Instrumental,
and gave Zentner his biggest hit.
In 1965 Zentner moved to Las Vegas and opened
the Tropicana Hotel's lounge called the Blue Room, accompanying Mel Tormé. Three
years later, he was named musical director for one of Las Vegas' longest-running
floorshows, “Les Folies Bergere.”
Bookings came less frequently in his later
years because Zentner refused to perform with less than a 15-piece band or
downscale his arrangements.
Si Zentner died in Las Vegas from leukemia at
82 in 2000.