|David M. McKee|
26th Jun 2011
| ||A one-off single on London for Claude, from the US Trend label.|
Claude Thornhill was born on August 10, 1909 in Terre Haute, Indiana. After formal music training he moved to New York in the early 1930s. Here he met many of the emerging jazz stars like Benny Goodman and Red Nichols, and soon was playing in the bands of Hal Kemp, Paul Whiteman and later Ray Noble.
However it was his reputation as an arranger that first brought him fame. In 1937 he arranged the Scottish folk song ‘Loch Lomond’, recorded it with Maxine Sullivan and it became an instant hit.
He was also active in the New York radio studios and was heard on the Saturday Night Swing Club. In 1940 he formed his first touring orchestra, which he took West and played in ballrooms in and around Los Angeles. Then on returning to the East Coast he was managed by the man who had helped both Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw - Si Schribman.
Thornhill was booked all around the New England area and into New York including the important Glen Island Casino Ballroom. Just as the band was getting noticed for its unusual orchestrations by Thornhill, Bill Borden and Gil Evans the war finally took America in and it broke up.
By mid 1942 Thornhill had enlisted in the U.S. Navy and soon found himself part of Artie Shaw’s Navy Band. As the Navy Band was shipping out from Pearl Harbour in January 1943 Thornhill was reassigned to Admiral Halsey’s staff at Pearl Harbour.
On demobilisation in 1946 he set about reforming a band and many of his old personnel rejoined, including Gil Evans. It was Evans, closely supported by Thornhill, who created the classic Thornhill sound using French horns and arrangements with a subtle but swinging rhythm section including a tuba. The critics were ecstatic and when Lee Konitz joined in 1947 the band was at its peak.
Unfortunately this coincided with the slow demise of touring big bands and in 1948 he disbanded again. His subsequent orchestras of the late forties and early fifties were first class but that innovatory spark had somehow disappeared.
There was a flurry of excitement in 1953 with a session for Trend Records but thereafter Thornhill only toured spasmodically.
He died the day before he was due to open a short season at the Steel Pier, Atlantic City in July 1965.