Left Field 1953 Band Leaders on NBC Radio – 14 April Phantom Dancer

Sauter-Finegan, Stan Kenton and Billy May were three 1953 bands making way-out sounds on NBC radio and are this week’s Greg Poppleton Phantom Dancer feature artists. You’ll also hear from vocal group The Hi-Los, an influence on young pianist, Herbie Hancock. Read the three band leader stories below…

The Phantom Dancer is your non-stop 2 hour mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio. On-air with Greg Poppleton since 1985.

The Phantom Dancer produced and presented by 1920s-30s singer and actor Greg Poppleton can be heard online from 12:05pm AEST Tuesday 14 April at https://2ser.com/phantom-dancer/

The last hour is all vinyl.

sauter-finnegan orchestra
Sauter-Finegan Orchestra


The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra was an American swing jazz band popular in 1953.
The orchestra was led by Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan, who were both experienced big band arrangers. Sauter played mellophone, trumpet, and drums. He had attended Columbia University and Juilliard. Finegan had studied at the Paris Conservatory. They began recording together in 1952, using inventive arrangements that made use of a variety of unusual instruments, including many orchestral instruments as well as oddities like the kazoo and the beaten human chest.

A June 7, 1952, article in the trade publication Billboard described the new group as “a creative band, which will combine dance music as well as mood interpretations.”

The group initially had a three-year contract with RCA Victor, with plans “for about 16 sides a year.” Their first chart appearance was with “Doodletown Fifers”, their version of a Civil War tune called “Kingdom Coming and the Year of Jubilo”. “Nina Never Knew” (featuring vocalist Joe Mooney) and “The Moon is Blue” (with Sally Sweetland) soon followed on the charts. With the success of the singles, they put together a 21-member touring ensemble and began playing venues in 1953.  Because the group played in dance halls rather than concert venues, they encountered little success on the road, and quit touring in 1955 after having accrued much debt.

June Christie singing with the Stan Kenton Orchestra
June Christie singing with the Stan Kenton Orchestra


In 1950 Kenton fput together the large 39-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra that included 16 strings, a woodwind section, and two French horns. The music was an extension of the works composed and recorded since 1947 by Bob Graettinger, Manny Albam, Franklyn Marks and others. Name jazz musicians such as Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Milt Bernhart, John Graas, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Laurindo Almeida, Shelly Manne, and June Christy were part of these musical ensembles. The groups managed two tours during 1950–51, from a commercial standpoint it would be Stan Kenton’s first major failure.

In order to be more commercially viable, Kenton reformed the band in 1951 to a much more standard instrumentation: five saxes, five trombones, five trumpets, piano, guitar, bass, drums. The charts of such arrangers as Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Richards, and particularly Bill Holman and Bill Russo began to dominate the repertoire. The music was written to better reflect the style of cutting edge, be-bop oriented big bands like those of Dizzy Gillespie and Woody Herman. Young, talented players and outstanding jazz soloists such as Maynard Ferguson, Lee Konitz, Conte Candoli, Sal Salvador and Frank Rosolino made strong contributions to the level of the 1952–53 band. The music composed and arranged during this time, which you hear from live 1953 radio, was far more tailor-made to contemporary jazz tastes and was one of the high points in Kenton’s career as band leader.

Billy May, sousaphone
Billy May, sousaphone


After playing tuba for a few local bands, May heard Charlie Barnet’s band on the radio in his hometown of Pittsburgh. In the summer of 1938, he approached the bandleader and asked if he could write arrangements for the band. From 1938–40, he wrote arrangements and played trumpet for Barnet’s big band.

His arrangement of the Ray Noble composition “Cherokee” became a major hit of the swing music era. During the Barnet days, May revealed a significant flair for satire on a composition, “The Wrong Idea”, composed with Barnet, ridiculing the bland “Mickey Mouse” style of safe big-band music, with specific aim at bandleader Sammy Kaye, known for his “swing and sway” trademark. May’s caustic lyrics to the song called it “swing and sweat with Charlie Barnet”. Bandleader Glenn Miller hired May away from Barnet in 1940. “May points out that he was not responsible for any of the [Glenn Miller] band’s signature hits, but he did write the beautiful left-field introduction to [Bill] Finegan’s [arrangement of] ‘Serenade In Blue'”.

May’s charts often featured brisk tempos and intricate brass parts. One distinctive feature of his style is his frequent use of trumpet mute devices; another, a saxophone glissando, is widely known as his “slurping saxes”. He wrote in slower tempos, sometimes using string arrangements.


Your Phantom Dancer Video of the Week is from a Larry Clinton 1939 Vitaphone short with vocals by Bea Wain and Ford Leary. Also note the clear shots of the 1930s drum kit where the cymbals are on bent poles attached to the bass drum.


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney, Live Stream, Digital Radio
Community Radio Network Show CRN #432

107.3 2SER Tuesday 14 April 2020
After the 2SER 12 noon news, 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT)
and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm
National Program:
1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Sunday 10 – 11pm
5GTR Mt Gambier Mon 2:30 – 3:30am
4NAG Keppel FM 3 – 4am
2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am
2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4pm
2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4pm
3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm
7MID Oatlands Tuesday 8 – 9pm
2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm
7LTN Launceston 5 – 6am
3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am

Set 1
1930s True Crime, Fox and Gypsy
Calling All Cars Theme
Studio Orchestra
‘Calling All Cars’
17 Nov 1938
Unidentified Song
Jaroslav Jezek Orchestra
Comm Rec
Comm Rec
Oct 1939
Set 2
1930s European Pop on 1930s US Radio
The Lambeth Walk
Benny Goodman Orchestra (voc) Martha Tilton
‘Camel Caravan’
6 Sep 1938
Harbour Lights
Rudy Vallee (voc) Robert Ambruster Orchestra
‘Chase and Sanborn Hour’
3 Oct 1937
My Prayer
Paul Whiteman Orchestra (voc) Joan Edwards
‘Chesterfield Show’
25 Oct 1939
Set 3
Spotlight Bands 1943-45 Blue Network
Open + Blue Skies
Jimmy Joy Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Harlingen Tx
Blue Network
6 Jan 1945
Chatanoogo Choo Choo Boogie
Sammy Kaye Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Washington DC
Blue Network
31 Jan 1942
Take It Down + What Is This Thing Called Love + Close
Leo Reisman Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
National Press Club
Washington DC
Blue Network
23 Jan 1943
Set 4
Way-Out Sounds on 1953 Radio
Open + Tweedle-Dee Tweedle-Dum
Sauter – Finnegan Orchestra
‘All Star Parade of Bands’
Blue Note
WMAQ NBC Chicago
12 sep 1953
Blue Eyes
Stan Kenton Orchestra (voc) Conte Condoli
‘Concert in Miniature’
Student Union
Teachers’ College
WBOW NBC Terre Haute Indiana
16 June 1953
Do You Ever Think Of Me?
Billy May Orchestra (voc) The Encores
‘All Star Parade of Bands’
Palladium Ballroon
21 Dec 1953
Set 5
Mellow Swing on 1940s Radio
Brahm’s Lullaby
Les Elgart Orchestra
Radio Transcription
New York City
Trouble, Trouble
Benny Carter Orchestra (voc) Betty Roche
AFRS Hollywood
It’s Mellow
Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra
Terrace Room
Hotel New Yorker
May 1944
Way Low
Duke Ellington Orchestra
‘A Date With The Duke’
400 Restaurant
28 Apr 1945
Set 6
Trad Jazz on 1930s-40s Radio
Won’t You Come Over To My House, Baby?
Lazy Ade’s Big 4 (voc) Ade Monsborough
Waiting For The Evening Whistle
Eddie Condon Group
‘Eddie Condon’s Town Hall Jazz Concert’
Town Hall
30 Sep 1944
You’re Driving Me Crazy
Bob Crosby’s Bobcats
‘Camel Caravan’
18 Jul 1939
Dixieland Band
Benny Goodman Orchestra (voc) Helen Forrest
Palomar Ballroom
22 Aug 1935
Set 7
1940s Radio Big Band Swing
Open + Jeep Rhythm
Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Jefferson Barracks, Missouri
Mutual Network
23 Nov 1945
The New Look
Charlie Spivak Orchestra
Palladium Ballroom
4 Apr 1948
Mister Pastor Goes To Town
Tony Pastor Orchestra
New York City
One O’Clock Jump
International Sweethearts of Rhythm + Armed Forces Radio Service Orchestra
AFRS Hollywood
Mar 1945
Set 8
Mod Sounds on WHDH Boston 1953 – 54
Hi Beck
Lee Konitz
Copley Square Hotel
WHDH Boston
5 Jan 1954
Them There Eyes
Billie Holliday
Copley Square Hotel
WHDH Boston
Oct 1953
Groovin’ High
Charlie Parker
Copley Square Hotel
WHDH Boston
22 Sep 1953

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