John Scott Trotter vs. Jimmy Dorsey

Candace Scott posted 07/17/05 12:50 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
When reflecting on Bing's recording career, I fall into the habit of "what might have beens?" A favorite one in this genre would be to imagine a Crosby career without the "direction" (heavy quotations) of Jack Kapp.

But another significant event occurred in 1937 when the talented Jimmy Dorsey left the Kraft Music Hall and was replaced by John Scott Trotter. As you all know, Trotter thereafter arranged for Bing for almost 17 years.

I've been a Jimmy Dorsey fan for years and think some of his music compared favorably to Goodman, Ellington and Basie. The Dorsey band's version of "Stompin' at the Savoy" easily equals the standard Benny Goodman version. In fact I feel Jimmy Dorsey is very underrated as a Big Band leader.

I believe firmly that Bing's musical career would have been enhanced had he stayed with Jimmy Dorsey, both on radio and in records. Trotter was not a jazz musician, didn't excel in this genre and I really miss Bing in the 40's not doing as much jazz recording. I feel with Dorsey by his side, he would have done more jazzy numbers like the wild "Pinetops Boogie Woogie" and "Chatanoogie Shoeshine Boy." I will even defend the supposedly odious "Peckin," which the Jonzo liner notes claims is one of Bing's stinkiest records. I think it's interesting, if not a great vocal performance.

Does anyone else think Bing lost a great deal when Dorsey packed his packs and left?
Ronald Sarbo posted 07/17/05 03:36 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
The Big Swing Bands mostly made "Instrumental" music with "vocal refrains".

Bing made many records of songs that the Big Bands also recorded but you bought Bing's record for the singing and their record for the music.

This is why FS had to leave TD.
Candace Scott posted 07/17/05 06:57 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I know all of that. It doesn't have anything to do with the posted question, however. :)

I would argue (persuasively) that Sinatra leaving Dorsey had nothing to do with the flimsy "vocal refrains" he was getting. He had simply outgrown Dorsey and was big enough to stand alone and go solo, just as he had previously outgrown Harry James. Just the logical next step for someone of Sinatra's talents.
David Lobosco posted 07/17/05 07:02 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Dear Ronald, addressing your comments about the big bands, back in the heyday of the big band era from 1936-1944, the bands and their leaders were a bigger draw than the singers. When a singer would get big (ie-Sinatra,Peggy Lee,Jo Stafford) the only way that they could be more than just "vocal refrain" was to go out on their own.

It is interesting that after the big band era ended, many bandleaders recorded with the top singers and the band in turn took second billing like Dick Haymes and the Artie Shaw Orchestra on "Count Every Star" or Bing Crosby and the Les Brown Orchestra on "She Is The Sunshine Of Virginia". Interesting how the tide turned for vocalists after 1946.
Ronald Sarbo posted 07/17/05 07:10 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Sinatra wanted to sing a WHOLE song like Bing. He took Axel with him in order to accomplish this.

Dick Haymes and Perry Como followed.

BALLADS were the order of the day in the 1940s. There were still "novelties" but Bing had to compete and concentrate on BALLADS.

Bob Eberly's BIG MISTAKE was not going solo.
Ronald Sarbo posted 07/17/05 07:23 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Candace: How many different ways or "what might have been" questions do you need to tell us how much you dislike John Scott Trotter's work for Bing? It is a recurring theme where you are concerned.
Arne posted 07/17/05 07:29 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Candace, I, too, really enjoy Bing's work with Jimmy Dorsey. Some of my favorite Crosby records. And, as I have recently stated elsewhere, "Never In A Million Years" is possibly my all-time favorite Crosby record, based at least in part on the killer arrangement supplied by Mr. J. Dorsey.

"Peckin'" is disliked by a number of Crosby fans, but my experience has been that these are usually the fans who have no more than a passing interest in jazz - if any interest at all. The record is misunderstood by some; it's not supposed to be a superlative Crosby performance of a fine song; rather, it's a down and dirty little swing workout, with Bing at his "hippest", kicking things off in a laid-back, funky way.
David Lobosco posted 07/17/05 07:37 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Ronald, I agreed with your comment on Bob Eberly. He should of went solo should of Helen Forrest. She was one of the best big band vocalist that never quite made it.
John J. Murphy, Jr. posted 07/17/05 09:48 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Candace, this can actually be a fun discussion akin to the sports fans who regularly make up dream teams utilizing players from all eras. I do not have much information on Jimmy Dorsey's persona other than that he was the "quiet Dorsey." Would Jimmy have withstood Bing's greatness despite his own outstanding talents? It's a tough call for us. We must also keep in mind that there was a genuine friendship between Bing and the Dorseys based on their early days in show biz. When we review Bing's recordings from 1927 onward there seems to be the same names popping up all the time in the musicians circle: Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Venuti and Lang, the Whiteman circle of players, obviously Victor Young over at Brunswick records.

Johns Scott Trotter was the right man at the right time as Bing became truly mature in his profession around 1937-38. Gone were the flowing, go for the gusto vocals that proceeded these years (Jack Kapp's influence). Trotter's orchestra wrapped itself around Bing in a formal presentation, which on some occasions could get burdensome. But it was professional and well orchestrated. So the change from Bing Crosby the jazz singer to Bing Crosby the leading popular vocalist of his time (for all time on a personal note) transcended the jazz bands thus needing a background band to compliment his vocals.

In terms of pure fantasy I would have liked to hear how Bing would have gone through his career backed by the studio group Hoagy Carmichael assembled in 1930 that featured Bix, the Dorseys, Venuti, Eddie Lange, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Bubba Miley to name a few. Now that's jazz.
Candace Scott posted 07/18/05 09:14 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I don't think it's fantasy to imagine Bing staying with Jimmy Dorsey. They worked together well for two years before Jimmy left him. It's not akin to wishing for something that could never have happened (Bing growing his hair long and touring with The Doors, for instance). Jack Kapp and John Scott Trotter had enormous influence on the evolution of Bing's recording history. Many would agree that Kapp had a deleterious effect on Bing's career in many cases. Bing himself would have eloquently made that argument.

Thus wishing Bing would have remained with Dorsey is very much like wishing Elvis had stayed with Sun records longer, or recorded in that Sam Phillips-Sun style. It's impossible to argue against Trotter in terms of success, but it's quite simple to argue that historically he was not a great arranger. Contrast Trotter to Riddle, Axel Stordahl, Gord Jenkins and there's simply no comparison. It's completely understandable to want the quintessential singer to be coupled with an outstanding arranger. Sinatra was savvy in selecting the people he worked with at Capitol and Reprise (pre-1967, and I am excluding Don Costa from this list).

We all lament that Bing's stature as a vocalist waned throughout the last 25 years, and he was almost forgotten for long periods after his passing. Some of this is undoubtedly due to Sinatra's records from 1954-1965 sounding brilliant due to genius arrangements. Bing rebounded nicely in '56-'57 with records with Buddy Cole and Bregman, both of whom sounded leagues fresher than Trotter.

Yes, I know Bing liked Trotter, was always friends with him and respected him, but that's irrelevent in an historical context. I'm looking at Bing's legacy, puzzling why it's so low and placing much of the blame on the twin shoulders of Kapp and Trotter. Giddins showed that Crosby was a preeminent jazz vocalist and by working with a slow-trot ballad-worshipper like Trotter, he wasn't playing to his strengths. He enjoyed incredible success with the record-buying public with Trotter, but that's not the same as producing exquisite records like Frank put out with Riddle.
Ronald Sarbo posted 07/18/05 10:28 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
"Pre-1967, and I am excluding Don Costa from this list"

Costa arranged "Sinatra And Strings" in 1961. It is one of Sinatra's greatest recording achievements.

It is not fair to compare Trotter to arrangers who came later out of the Big Bands.

I believe Axel Stordahl spoke very highly of Trotter's work with Bing.
Lee posted 07/18/05 10:52 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like John Scott Trotter, I think his arrangments went perfect with Bing's singing style. Any Trotter arrangement was complementary to Bing's style and he knew just where to come in without trying to showcase himself and his orch. Trotter was more concerned with making Bing sound good and seemed less concerned with putting his own "star" touch to an arrangement. Bing sang his best with Trotter and Trotter was at his best backing Bing. I've heard some Trotter alone band numbers and they're never as good as they are when Bing's singing in front. Trotter and Bing go together like Geen Eggs and Ham or even fake "Lee's" and slime which they are.
Candace Scott posted 07/18/05 04:12 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I agree completely that "Sinatra and Strings" is a gorgeous-sounding record, no dispute there. I meant that after 1967 and Jobim, with some notable exceptions, Sinatra's work and arrangements deteriorated. Costa's work after 1967 with Frank was unremarkable in my view.

John Scott Trotter did produce some fairly jazzy records with Bing which stand up well 60-65 years on, like Remember Me? and On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.

But Bing's great jazz recordings from '35-'45 were all done with other bands, like the aforementioned Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Joe Venuti, Woody Herman, the great Vic Schoen and the band I wish Bing would have sung with forever:

Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five!!!

I like Bing's work with Victor Young too and those are almost all ballads. Finally, Trotter managed to arrange two of Bing's greatest records, I'll Be Home for Christmas and Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral.
Arne posted 07/18/05 04:31 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
My favorite Trotter track with Bing features an arrangement that seems to me to be uncharacteristically swinging for Trotter. Perhaps his finest uptempo arrangement for Bing:
1942's "Got The Moon In My Pocket" - One of my favorite Crosby tracks.
Candace Scott posted 07/18/05 08:09 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Arne, thanks for bringing up that track, I agree--another good one from Trotter. Two other good uptempo songs from Trotter would be "Smarty" and "Bob White," though a few people here have trashed "Bob White" as silly.
Dave Foe posted 07/18/05 09:51 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
This is a response to a couple different threads --

Somebody must have liked John Scott Trotter, and that somebody was obviously Bing. I agree that John Scott's arrangements put Bing first, and worked well with all different types of songs. They put Bing first, and they were also arrangements that were commercial and broadly popular. People liked them and they sold a ton of records.

We forget nowadays that what Jack Kapp did -- record Bing singing songs from many different genres -- was a big part of the Crosby appeal and legend. Bing could sing everything well, and did. It's like the much-later song title, "There's Nothing That I Haven't Sung About." Jack Kapp helped broaden his appeal, from a romantic crooner to an American legend. Time was when that was considered a good thing! Had Bing stuck with jazz he wouldn't have become the legend he became.

Remember, Bing was hugely popular in the 1930s and 1940s. The people that were listening to him back then were born in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They had different tastes than we do now, and while we may not appreciate some of the old-fashioned songs that Bing recorded, I'm sure they did back then. Are songs like "I Love You Truly" and "I Wonder What's Become of Sally" and Victor Herbert and George M. Cohan stuff going to ring a bell today? No, but they were good records then.

Sinatra's swingin' albums from the 1950s are now the gold standard against which everything is measured. Well, it was hardly a crime for Bing not to meet that standard -- back in the 1930s and 1940s. As the biggest start in the world he was doing pretty well, I think!

And now, in 2005, you can't expect to repackage Bing to compete with Sinatra or the kinds of pop that were recorded in the 1950s. What's missing from so many of the Bing reissues is a sense of the Crosby legend -- the clothes, the horses, the casual style, the lingo, everything that made Bing the great personality he was. To repackage Bing for today, somebody should take a look at the booklet that went along with his big 1954 Musical Autobiography. That's the Bing Crosby that's legendary -- John Scott Trotter and all.
Steve Carras posted 07/18/05 11:54 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Goood Point, Dave. You took the words outta my mouth
Kevin Doherty posted 07/19/05 09:07 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Remember that JD left because he was loosing his footing as a Big Band star since he was tied to LA and could not travel except for the Summer. It was a great band and reached great hights after leaving KMH, even his Deccas outsold Glenn Miller on Bluebird. The one thing lacking was a string section, which Trotter had.
Jon O. posted 07/19/05 09:57 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Wow. I'm away from my computer for a few days, and so many new messages are posted that I'm not even able to read them all on the "Most Recent Messages" page!

All I can say about the "what-if" issue (besides the fact that Riddle ghost-wrote some arrangements for Trotter early in Riddle's career) is: "what if" Bing had restricted himself to a limited, jazz-only palette? I'm thankful for the variety and diversity of his output. Schoen, Young, Dorsey, Lombardo, Riddle, May, Whiteman, etc. ....and the stalwart, durable, dependable JST--all great in various ways, and all part of the unmatched tapestry of Bing's 50-year musical output. So what's not to like?
Candace Scott posted 07/20/05 01:47 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
My original post and request really had nothing to do with "what if's," even if I (foolishly) began the post with that sentiment. :) I'm sorry for doing so, because the thread didn't really address the question. The post didn't ask whether you liked John Scott Trotter or whether Bing did, it really was a specific question: did Bing's musical legacy suffer when Jimmy Dorsey left and Trotter came on board?
Candace Scott posted 07/20/05 01:49 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I notice these discussions usually veer off into, "Well, how can you argue with Bing's popularity? He was the biggest star in the 30's and 40's." I grant you that. There's no disputing John Scott Trotter served Bing well for that period. I'm looking at Crosby's legacy as a recording artist. He didn't sing live as we all know, so he's going to be judged by the quality of his records, arrangers and the material selected.

It's inevitable that Bing will be compared to Sinatra, just as The Beatles will forever be conpared to The Rolling Stones. After 1953, Sinatra chose his arrangers with punctilious care, he chose his material beautifully and we all know where his legacy stands. He played to his strengths and I feel that with Trotter, Bing did not play to his strength, which was as a jazz vocalist. Yes, Bing sang ballads beautifully, but by not having a swingier band around (like Dorsey), Bing recorded many fewer jazz records than he should have. This is a contributing factor to music critics and many people sort of dismissing him today, IMO.
Steven Lewis posted 07/20/05 02:13 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
My interest in Bing's music did not stem from the view of music critics; it originated from listening to him sing. The first musical stage that attracted me to Bing was the 1940-54 era. I later discovered the early Bing, and value that period as Bing's youthful, pioneering stage. Bing's later years are quite a mixed bag for me, but he did show some adaptability and brilliance even in his later years. For the most part in his later years Bing did what Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger are doing today -- savoring their past accomplishments and letting the kids invent styles of music. Throughout the bulk of his career Bing could work with whatever arrangers and orchestras he wanted. He worked so extensively with JST from 1937-54 because Trotter provided Bing what he wanted.
howard crosby posted 07/21/05 08:32 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Candace...while true that Bing didn't do live concerts from 1934 to say that he didn't perform live is quite a stretch. For eleven years, from 1934 to 1946, he did two "live" radio shows every Thursday night, both an east coast and a west coast countless charity benefit shows, USO shows for the troops overseas during the war, some live television in its early days, and a live show at the clambake almosat every year. So there is a pretty good legacy of live music during the great years.
Candace Scott posted 07/21/05 12:46 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Howard, what I meant is say in general, Bing didn't perform live before paying audiences. He didn't tour, he didn't make live performance part of his repetoire after the early 30's. I don't regard radio shows or TV shows as live performing, I meant touring as a singer. Sinatra would be a prime example of someone who was a noted live performer, Bing simply was not.
BarryB posted 07/21/05 04:30 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I'm with you on that one Howard. And going way past 1946, you can include the hugely warm reception Bing got at the London Palladium, Brighton, and in Norway, with the jazz master Joey Bushkin tagging along.
Many of the PBS documentaries show how effectively Bing reacted with live audiences during those WWII shows, and doing two shows a night on radio of the same program took great stamina.
This shows the dangers of comparison, and we are not talking soap here, but of two of the top vocalists [although I wish I could include Perry Como there.]
Also, Sinatra in his later concerts was a disaster - cursing, missing lyrics he had sung hundreds of times even though they were in huge letters in from of him. Reviewers were not very kind, suggesting in print that he quit giving any more concerts. Sure, he had his big shows in Vegas, but Bing had big ones at the Paramount, even where he had to swing over the first two rows in a seat welded to a crane, and with a spotlight on him.
'Variety' praised his professionalism: Unlike most singers, "he saw an audience before he saw the inside of a radio studio" {G.Giddins, p.271.)
I guess we just have to live with these endless discussions of Sinatra vs. Crosby. I'm sure everything has been said by now, but it will go on, and on, and on...
Ronald Sarbo posted 07/21/05 10:59 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I NEVER heard Sinatra curse during a concert.

I have to agree with Candace. Sinatra always sang live in front of paying customers. It was, as he said many times, his favorite way of performing.

I believe Bing once advised Sinatra of the dangers of being "over-exposed".

Perry Como also felt that since he was on TV every week "live performance" was unnecessary. He did not return to the stage until 1969.
Steven Lewis posted 07/22/05 12:28 PM Central Time (US)     No E-mail no email address given
Bing performed before live audiences in the early years, but apparently he wasn't all that comfortable doing so. Rudy Vallee observed a late 1920s Crosby solo performance and told John Salisbury that Bing left the stage amid wild applause and did not acknowledge or seem to be aware of the audience reaction. Bing seemed in a daze. During the early years in radio Bing apparently did not have a live studio audience until he moved to Kraft and NBC. Bing at first resisted the live audience. Carroll Carroll, Bing's head writer, reported that they had to systematically desensitize Bing to an audience by sneaking a live audience into the studio disguised as friends and family. I don't believe the last GE season (1953-54) was recorded before a live audience either. Remember, that Bing pioneered the use of the laugh track and canned applause on the radio, and canned applause and laughter is obvious throughout the last season of the GE show. If Bing had a live audience, it was apparently unmiked and the crowd noises inserted later.
John J. Murphy, Jr. posted 07/22/05 08:58 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Steven, show business history has many stories of performers terrified by the live audience, usually the truly great performers suffering the most jitters prior to performing. Bing apparently was no different that Caruso, Annette Hanshaw, or even Carly Simon in terms of being uncomfortable before the crowd. It's a wonderfully quantifiable scale: the greater the "jitters"; the greater the talent. Do you have any special tales?
BarryB posted 07/22/05 09:10 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
To Ronald Sarbo, I too have never heard Frank cursing at one of his concerts, but then I've never been to one. I'm a Sinatra fan, and remember looking forward to "Ole Blue Eyes is back," and "Live from Madison Square." He was a master of the concert format in his prime. I have a large collection of his songs, and especially like his early Columbia songs. The sound quality of "The Voice", "Stella by Starlight," and other LPs was superb. I suppose the incident I mentioned could have been something as innocent as spotlights shining in his eyes and he may have blurted out something about where are the words. In a hall full of Sinatra fans it would have barely raised an eyebrow, but the critic pounced upon it.
I regret having dredged that up, but I assure you I was not making it up.
If I post future comments, I'll try to stay on the topic of Bing Crosby. He sang Temptation at the start of the great mini-series on Sinatra's career in which Tina Sinatra was involved in production. The songs they selected were of Sinatra at his very best.
Glad you are enjoying the Lincoln Center films. From Gary Giddins sparkling review, referred to in What's News, it sounds like a great collection of Crosby films. I hope the event is a great success.
Ronald Sarbo posted 07/22/05 10:55 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Thanks Barry. It is a great collection of "Crosby Classics" being unspooled at Lincoln Center and in every introduction I have heard Martin give he has not failed to mention "The Bing Crosby Internet Museum" and all the wonderful information that can be found there just at the click of your computer keyboard.

Steven is going to get some bill from Martin for all the publicity work!
Brian Johnson posted 07/22/05 11:38 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
If Steven still has the audio of Bing on Dinah Shore's TV show from the 1970's, she tells a great story of working with Bing and the SFO Symphony Orchestra. She looked over at Bing and his leg is bouncing up and down 100 mph!
Jon O. posted 07/22/05 11:59 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
James Cagney on a Bing performance during WWII:
At our opening show in Soldier Field, Chicago, there was a crowd of 130,000 .... Bing walked out to a reception for which the adjective "triumphant" is inadequate. He stood there in that very humble, charming way of his .... After the audience explosion died down, Bing said, "Whadda yez wanna hear?" and they exploded again until the stadium walls nearly buckled. After they subsided, he said, "Ya wanna leave it to me?" and they blew up again. Finally, he said, "Hit me, Al," and our orchestra conductor, Al Newman, started his boys off on "Blues in the Night." They had played only the first two bars when the audience went into rapturous applause once more. Bing finished the song, and never in my life have I heard anything like it. I got the traditional goose pimples just standing there, listening. He did another, same thing .... When Bing came offstage, the perspiration on him was an absolute revelation to me. Here he had been to all appearances perfectly loose and relaxed, but not at all. He was giving everything he had in every note he sang, and the apparent effortlessness was a part of his very hard work. (Cagney by Cagney, Doubleday, 1976).
Candace Scott posted 07/28/05 02:48 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I saw Sinatra sing live only 4 times in my life, but my mother saw him over 50 times, from the 50's all the way up to 1992. She says she never heard him curse on stage, except once she heard him refer to Rona Barrett (Hollywood gossip columinst) as a "damn nuisance." I also never heard Frank curse onstage. No doubt Frank was profane in private life, but he was very professional when performing. I agree he lost it in the mid-90's, even with cue cards, but he was in physical decline and can be excused for no longer being able to deliver the goods live.
Kevin Keats posted 08/06/05 11:30 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
JD vs. JST...What if? The problem with the "what if" scenario in almost every case, is it's not about Bing and his culture of the day but about us, our hindsight and our culture. No doubt there were many events that changed the recording and entertainment industry that gave rise to the vocalist becoming the star while the big bands were slowly sinking in popularity. It is important to remember that Bing was making a long string of "Firsts" in the entertainment industry, so that much of what we see as being sensible opportunities in hindsight for Bing, just had not materialized, no amount of forethought withstanding. In other words so much of what we can take for granted today is because Bing and others were the pioneers making the way.
Kevin Keats posted 08/11/05 07:45 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
JD v. JST...By the way...

JST exclusively…?

From the years ‘45 through ‘55 (This height of Bing’s popularity and powers), we see that he recorded with a very many musical settings and talents. Examples during this time period, He recorded with,

Les Paul,
Jimmy Dorsey,
Tommy Dorsey,
Matty Matlock and his All Stars
Eddie Condon,
Eddie Hayward
Lionel Hampton
Ethel Smith (and her popular organ)
Buddy Cole
Dave Barbour

More popular musical orientations:
Axel Stordahl
Vic Scheon
Les Brown
Bob Haggart
Xavier Cugat
Russ Morgan
Victor Young

It’s true that Bing became less jazz purveyor of legitimate jazz format and was favoring a more “schmaltzy” commercially viable musical format…but so was the direction best serving the commercial music industry. During this period of over 400 songs being released by Bing on Decca, only 140 are exclusively JST, the boys mentioned above are just some of many types of orchestrators used by Bing in that ten year period.

||| Bing Crosby Internet Museum Home Page ||| Bing FAQS