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Sy Oliver was born on this date in 1910. He was a Black jazz trumpeter, composer, band leader, and one of the leading musical arrangers of the 1930s and 1940s.
Melvin James” Sy” Oliver was from Battle Creek, Michigan. Both of his parents were music teachers in Ohio, where he grew up. He played the trumpet as a boy and at the age of 17 took a job with Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels. He joined the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra in 1933. There he established a reputation for innovative arranging characterized by imaginative instrumentation and a full-bodied sound. He also developed a distinctive “growl" sound, in his own playing.
In 1939, he joined the orchestra of Tommy Dorsey as a singer and arranger. He led a band while in the army during World War II and returned to Dorsey's orchestra after the war. From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Oliver held a variety of jobs, including a decade as musical director of Decca Records.
In the early 1970s, he formed a nine-piece orchestra that continued to perform until 1984.
Sy Oliver died May 28, 1988 in New York City.
by Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York