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Sy Oliver

Sy Oliver
Sy Oliver from September 1946
Background information
Birth name Melvin James Oliver
Born (1910-12-17)December 17, 1910
Battle Creek, Michigan, United States
Died May 28, 1988(1988-05-28) (aged 77)
Genres Bandleader, conductor
Years active 1930s - 1980s
Labels Decca, Columbia, Capitol
Associated acts Bill Kenny, Frank Sinatra, Jimmie Lunceford

Melvin James "Sy" Oliver (December 17, 1910 – May 28, 1988) was an American jazz arranger, trumpeter, composer, singer and bandleader.


  • Life 1
  • Selected discography 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Sy Oliver was born in Battle Creek, Michigan.[1] His mother was a piano teacher and his father was a multi-instrumentalist who made a name for himself demonstrating saxophones at a time that instrument was little used outside of marching bands.

Oliver left home at 17 to play with Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels and later with Alphonse Trent.[1] He sang and played trumpet with these bands, becoming known for his "growling" horn playing.

Oliver arranged and conducted many songs for Ella Fitzgerald from her Decca years. As a composer, one of his most famous songs was "T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)", which he co-wrote with Trummy Young.

In 1933, Oliver joined Jimmie Lunceford's band, contributing many hit arrangements for the band, including "My Blue Heaven" and "Ain't She Sweet" as well as his original composition "For Dancers Only" which in time became the band's theme song. In 1939, he became one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band when he joined Tommy Dorsey as an arranger, though he ceased playing trumpet at that time. (Fletcher Henderson joined the Benny Goodman orchestra as the arranger in the same year.) He led the transition of the Dorsey band from Dixieland to modern big band. His joining was instrumental in Buddy Rich's decision to join Dorsey. His arrangement of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" was a big hit for Dorsey, as were his own compositions "Yes, Indeed!" (a gospel-jazz tune that was later recorded by Ray Charles), "Opus One" (originally titled as "Opus No. 1", but changed to suit the lyric that was added later), "The Minor Is Muggin'", and "Well, Git It".

After leaving Dorsey, Oliver continued working as a freelance arranger and as music director for Decca Records.[2] One of his more successful efforts as an arranger was the Frank Sinatra album I Remember Tommy, a combined tribute to their former boss.

On 26 June 1950, Sy Oliver Orchestra the first American version of C'est si bon with the interpretation of Louis Armstrong. On its release, the disc gets a worldwide success.

In later years, up until 1980, he again reformed his own big and small bands, with which he also played his trumpet again after having set it aside so many years earlier.

Oliver died in New York City at the age of 77.[1]

Selected discography

  • For Jimmie Lunceford:
    • Stomp it Off (1934-1935 Decca recordings) (GRP CD)
    • Swingsation (1935-1939 Decca recordings) (1998 GRP CD)
    • Lunceford Special (1939 Columbia recordings) (ca 1975 Columbia LP)
    • Rhythm is Our Business (1933–1940, both periods and record companies, successively) (ASV CD)
  • For Tommy Dorsey:
    • What Is This Thing Called Love? (1942-Victor 27782)[3]
    • Yes, Indeed! (1939-1945 RCA recordings) (Bluebird CD)
    • The Popular Frank Sinatra, Vol. 1, with the Pied Pipers (1940-1941 RCA recordings) (Bluebird CD)
  • For Ella Fitzgerald:
    • Ella: The Legendary Decca Recordings (1938-1955 Decca recordings) (GRP 4-CD box)
  • For Louis Armstrong:
    • Satchmo Serenades (featuring La Vie En Rose, C'est Si Bon & others - Decca)
  • Under his own name:
    • Sway it with flowers'(1958 Decca)
    • Sentimental Sy' (1958 Dot)
    • Backstage (1959 Dot)
    • I can get it for you wholesale (1962 Columbia)
    • Easy walker (1962 Sesac)
    • Take me back ! (1972 Flac)
    • Yes Indeed ! (1973 Black and Blue)
    • Above all (1976)

See also


  1. ^ a b c Peter Watrous (May 28, 1988). Obituary "Sy Oliver, 77, a Jazz Composer, Arranger and Band Leader, Dies" . New York Times. 
  2. ^ "Sy Oliver; Influential Arranger in Big Band Era". Los Angeles Times (Associated Press). May 30, 1998. 
  3. ^ Orodenker, M.H. (February 28, 1942). "On the Records". Billboard. p. 25. 

External links

  • Sy Oliver Papers, the collection of his personal scores and papers, in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
  • The Sy Oliver Story, Part 1, an interview with Les Tompkins, 1974.
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