“Opus One” (1944) Tommy Dorsey/Sy Oliver with Buddy DeFranco/Glen Gray (1959) with Gus Bivona/Gene Krupa (1945) with Anita O’Day and Don Fagerquist

“Opus One”(*)

Composed and arranged by Sy Oliver.

Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra for Victor on November 14, 1944 in Hollywood.

Tommy Dorsey, first trombone, directing: George Seaberg, Vito Mangano, Dale Pierce, Roger Ellick, trumpets; Nelson Riddle, Walter Benson, Tex Satterwhite, trombones; Sid Cooper, first alto saxophone; Boniface “Buddy” DeFranco, alto saxophone and clarinet; Al Klink and Gail Curtis, tenor saxophones; Bruce Branson, baritone saxophone; Milt Golden, piano; Bob Bain, guitar; Sid Block, bass; Joseph Park, tuba; Buddy Rich, drums; Lenny Adkins (concertmaster), Alex Beller, Bernie Tinterow, Peter Dimitriades, Manny Fiddler, Ruth Goodman and Joseph Goodman, violins; Milton Thomas and David Uchitel, violas; Fred Camelia, cello.

(*) There is confusion over this title. Clearly, the sheet music contains the title “Opus One.” But both Tommy Dorsey’s Victor and Gene Krupa’s Columbia recordings of it contain the title “Opus No. One.” In addition, there is confusion as to who wrote the tune’s lyric. Some sources say it was Sy Oliver, some say Sid Garris.

The story- Hollywood high jinks:

The bandleader who weathered the years of World War II most successfully was Tommy Dorsey. Tommy’s management team had established a TD relationship with the mammoth film producing studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941 that resulted in production of the feature film Ship Ahoy, which was made in late 1941 and released in May of 1942. That film was a box office success, and it led to more M-G-M/Tommy Dorsey films during the war. From 1941 through 1946, Dorsey, under contract with M-G-M,  appeared in seven films.(1) TD spent most of his time during World War II in Hollywood. In fact, he “went Hollywood” so completely that he bought a ballroom in Santa Monica (with his brother Jimmy, and Harry James), where he could present his band, instead of trying to deal with the myriad problems most bandleaders were having trying to keep their bands working on the road in a time of gasoline and rubber rationing.(Above right: Tommy Dorsey parties with Hollywood folk – 1943: L-R: Frances Dee, Joel McCrea, TD, Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.)

Tommy Dorsey (third row on the left end) poses with M-G-M boss Louis B. Mayer (center, first row, between Katherine Hepburn and Greer Garson), and other M-G-M actors and stars, basking in the glory that was M-G-M in 1943.

He also married Hollywood starlet Pat Dane, a very attractive young woman with a great figure, to be his social and intimate consort. “They eloped to Las Vegas on April 8, 1943. Dane gave her age as twenty-two, but she was actually twenty-four. Dorsey was thirty-seven. “..As a wedding gift, Tommy bought his bride a new Lincoln Continental convertible. It pleased him to see her driving it; he believed it was a reflection on him.”(2)

The stories about Tommy Dorsey and Pat Dane that have been told with relish by people who were in the TD orbit then, including singer Mel Torme’ and clarinet virtuoso Buddy DeFranco, are in equal measure shocking, hilarious and X-rated. A bacchanalian plateau of sorts was reached at an alcohol-soaked party at Tommy’s apartment in the Sunset Plaza Apartments just off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood at 4:30 a.m. on August 5, 1944.The essence of it was that actor Jon Hall put his arms around Pat Dane, and Tommy went ballistic. A melee ensued that definitely involved several other people, both male and female. When it was all over, “…Hall was bleeding profusely from severe wounds to his face, nose and right ear. …Hall drove himself to a nearby hospital, where he …received thirty-two stitches in his head and sixteen stitches in his neck.”(3) This fracas became a police matter, and Dorsey, Dane and a third party, a somewhat unsavory character named Allen Smiley, were indicted for felonious assault. Eventually, after a highly unusual and publicized trial, all charges were dismissed. (Above right: Tommy Dorsey and Pat Dane in 1944.)

In the middle of all of this, Tommy Dorsey took his orchestra into Victor’s Los Angeles recording studio to make their first records since the musicians’ union strike against the recording industry, which had begun on August 1, 1942, had ended in mid-November.

The music:

The swing anthem, “Jersey Bounce,” was so popular in the early 1940s that almost every band had an arrangement on it in their book. Although Tommy Dorsey had an arrangement on “Jersey Bounce” in his band’s book (written by Sy Oliver), he nevertheless asked Oliver to create something new that sounded like “Jersey Bounce,” yet would be a tune unique to the TD band. Oliver mixed elements elements of “Jersey Bounce” with what I think are elements of Ray Noble’s ubiquitous jazz vehicle “Cherokee,” and came up with exactly what his boss wanted, an original tune called “Opus One,” which became a mammoth hit for the TD band.

The TD recording of “Opus One” was made only a couple of days after Victor Records reached an agreement with the musicians’ union to settle the strike that had lasted (for Victor) for two years and three and a half months. This recording has always sounded a bit strange to me, as though the entire orchestra was recorded slightly off-mike, and with a definitely poor balance of the sounds of the various instruments. Perhaps the Victor technicians working in the studio that day were still trying to get the equipment to work properly after the long layoff. In any event, I have tried to coax a more balanced and vivid sound out of the original TD recording.

Sy Oliver’s composition and arrangement on “Opus One” was hardly new to the TD bandsmen when it was recorded: It had been in the Dorsey book since at least the spring of 1943. Audiences loved it, and Tommy resolved to record it for Victor at his earliest opportunity. The recording performance is technically excellent, as were almost all TD recordings, but to my ears is a bit stiff in places. The brief, percussive introduction comes via drummer Buddy Rich rattling off a burst of rim shots, underlining the rhythm of the open trumpets. It is definitely an attention-getter.

Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra on the stage of a theater, possibly the Capitol Theater in Manhattan, late 1944.

The first chorus is a good example of Sy Oliver’s direct approach: the unison saxophones play the main melody of “Opus One,” while the strings play a countermelody extracted from “Cherokee.” The open brass add emphatic accents. The bridge presents the jaunty secondary melody – with the open brass carrying the melodic line, blended skillfully with the harmonized saxophones. The final eight bars of the first chorus return the music to the format of the first sixteen.

The transitional sequence between the first and second choruses is a marvel of contrasting sonorities and dynamic levels. First we hear blasting open brass, then a bit of much quieter rhythm, then roiling saxophones against riffing brass, with the clarinet, played by Buddy DeFranco, appearing with the reeds toward the end of this segment. There follows a completely new sound, that of DeFranco’s clarinet blended with a straight-muted trumpet. This floats along atop a cushion of soft reeds and warm strings. Oliver adds a couple of blasts of open brass between sections of this ear candy. Another brief brassy interlude brings DeFranco to the solo mike.

DeFranco was always a brilliant, technically gifted player whose early style blended elements of the approaches of those twin peaks of swing clarinet, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Later, he incorporated quite a bit of the vocabulary of bop to his playing. But here, his playing is all about swing. His lovely sound is presented against a background of soft strings and softer open brass. (Above right: Buddy DeFranco solos with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, probably at the Capitol Theater in Manhattan, late 1944. To his right is baritone saxophonist Bruce Branson; to his left, lead alto saxophonist Sid Cooper, and to Cooper’s left tenor saxophonist Al Klink.) The brief piano solo is by Milt Golden, who was one of a series of substitutes Tommy was then using to fill the void created when pianist Dodo Marmarosa left his band in late October to join Artie Shaw’s new band.

The final chorus spots the trumpets riffing, the trombones playing a few choice complementary notes with them and the saxophones underneath playing the melody. DeFranco returns on the bridge for some bright-toned swing, then he is joined by the other reed players creating a swirl of sound into the rocking finale, highlighted by a patented Buddy Rich drum explosion.

A bit more story:

I cannot pass up the opportunity to present a quintessential Tommy Dorsey story that is very much within the context of Buddy DeFranco’s association with Tommy. DeFranco first joined TD’s band in December of 1943. He and Tommy got along fairly well because Buddy was an excellent musician whose reading skills were as sharp as his jazz playing. DeFranco worked with TD through 1944 and into 1945, quitting at the end of February so that he could stay in New York and rest a bit after the blizzard of work he had done with Dorsey over the previous fifteen months. (Above left: Buddy DeFranco at right, with some  TD sidemen and others in a bar, having fun with a life-size cut-out of TD.) Although Buddy had made good money with TD, usually in the $250 to $350 a week range, he was basically unknown, except to musicians and hard-core swing aficionados for the entire time he was a Dorsey sidemen. He gradually became known to the public after “Opus One” became a big hit, and swing fans learned that the exciting clarinet on the TD record had been played by him. But this process was just beginning in early 1945. DeFranco himself later supplied the remaining narrative:

“I had been gone for three months, living in New York. I went through all my money. I checked in at the Picadilly Hotel, where I used to stay all the time. For a week, I signed everything on a tab, and even got some cash advances at the desk to keep me going. When I got the bill, it came to about $400.00. At about the same time, the phone rang and it was Tommy Dorsey calling. (This was no coincidence. TD had a network of associates whom he called on to locate musicians for him when he needed them and/or when they needed him.) When he called, it meant something was going to happen, but when his manager called, it meant maybe. And I will never forget Tommy’s voice speaking these words: ‘O.K. you stale shit heel. Got enough wrinkles in your belly? Are you ready to come back?’ A light went on in my brain and I replied: ‘Well, Tommy, I’m doing pretty well. I’ve made some great connections here, and I have studio work, so I don’t know.’ Then he said: ‘All right, what do you want?’ I said ‘I want $350 a week.’ He said ‘O.K. – You thief!’ Then I added: ‘Everything extra too, right?’ Because you had to stipulate in those days whether or not recording dates and anything else not in the regular schedule was considered ‘extra.’ If I had just said ‘$350,’ that would have covered all the work. He agreed to the extras and then I said: ‘Give me your word.’ And Tommy replied, ‘You’ve got it.’  Then I said; ‘Wire me $500!’ He flipped out and then yelled to someone at his end of the conversation: “I knew It! DeFranco is broke! That son-of-a-bitch is broke!'”(4)

***************

“Opus One”

Composed and arranged by Sy Oliver.

Recorded by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra for Capitol on August 15, 1959 in Hollywood.

Glen Gray directing: Conrad Gozzo, first trumpet; Pete Candoli, Shorty Sherock, Uan Rasey and Mannie Klein, trumpets; Milt Bernhart, Francis “Joe” Howard, Tommy Pederson, tenor trombones; George Roberts, bass trombone; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, first alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, alto saxophone and clarinet; Irving “Babe” Russin and Plas Johnson, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Ray Sherman, piano; George Van Eps, guitar; Meyer “Mike” Rubin, bass; Nick Fatool, drums. Darrel Terwilliger, John de Voogdt, Irving Geller, Harold Dicterow, Assa Drori, Leonard Malarsky, Jack Gootkin, Spiro Stamos, Lenny Atkins and Miriam Kojian, violins; Sam Boghossian, Alan Harshman and Lou Kievman, violas; Ray Kramer, Anne Goodman and Nino Rosso, celli.

The story and music:

This performance by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra is beautifully performed and recorded, and allows the listener to hear clearly all of the felicitous details of Sy Oliver’s great arrangement. The clarinet parts, which are an important feature of Oliver’s opus, are played here by Gus Bivona. He replaced Buddy DeFranco in Tommy Dorsey’s band in early 1945, and remained TD’s clarinetist until Tommy induced DeFranco to return, in June of 1945. The Victor recording of “Opus One” appeared on the market in late 1944, and slowly climbed to hit status. That caused Tommy to tell Gus to play the clarinet solos before audiences exactly as DeFranco had played them on the recording. Consequently, he played DeFranco’s clarinet solo with the TD band exactly as it appeared on the record for more than three months in 1945. Gus didn’t have to practice it very much to nail it on this recording. (Above right: clarinetist Gus Bivona.)

***************

“Opus One”

Composed and arranged by Sy Oliver.

Recorded by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra for Columbia on August 21, 1945 in New York.

Gene Krupa, drums, directing: Joe Triscari, Vince Hughes, Tony Russo and Don Fagerquist, trumpets; Leon Cox, Tommy Pederson and Bill Culley, trombones; Johnny Bothwell and Adrian Tei, alto saxophones; Charlie Ventura and Charlie Kennedy, tenor saxophones; Sid Brown, baritone saxophone; Teddy Napoleon, piano; Ed Yance, guitar; Irv Lang, bass; Anita O’Day, vocal.

The story and the music:

Gene Krupa encountered some major problems in 1943. The story of that is told in detail in the post here at swingandbeyond.com on Gene’s recording of “Star Burst.” A link to that post can be found at endnote (5) below. Those problems nearly derailed his successful career permanently. Fortunately, Gene had friends in the music business, specifically Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, who helped him reenter his career, which paradoxically, was more successful than ever after he had been the victim of a major injustice. But Gene, a man of great talent and huge dynamism as a performer, made lemonade out of lemons. By the time this cover version of “Opus One” was recorded by his band, he was well on his way to the great success he had as a bandleader in the mid-1940s.

As evidence of Tommy Dorsey’s good will toward Gene, we have this wonderful cover recording of “Opus One,” arranged for Gene’s band by Tommy’s gifted arranger Sy Oliver, featuring a vocal by Anita O’Day singing the newly-minted lyric.

Anita Belle Colton (1919-2006), known professionally as Anita O’Day, was unquestionably one of the finest jazz singers to emerge from the swing era. Her approach to singing was strongly rhythmic, and her voice quality was different from that of female band singers that preceded her. She also shattered the traditional image of the “girl singer” with a band by refusing to adhere to the conventions of the day. She presented herself as a “hip” jazz musician, which she most certainly was, often wearing a band jacket and skirt, as opposed to an evening gown. In the late 1930s, she changed her surname from Colton to O’Day, pig Latin for “dough,” which was swing era slang for money.

In 1933 at age 14, she left her unhappy home in Chicago, earning money as a contestant (dancer) in then-popular dance marathons. She did this by traveling to marathons throughout the Midwest for the next two years. During that period, she began filling-in as a singer for the bands that were playing whatever dance marathon she was participating in.

By 1936, she had left the endurance contests, determined to become a professional singer. It was not something that happened quickly. She worked at various night clubs in Chicago as a waitress and part-time singer, whenever that was possible. During that period, she met and married drummer Don Carter. (That marriage ended in 1939.) Over the next four-plus years, her public profile as a singer gradually became greater, especially after 1938, when she began working at a club that catered to musicians located under the “Three Deuces,” (222 North State Street), called the “Off-Beat,” operated by Carl Cons, who was the managing editor of the music trade publication Down Beat.(6) It was there that Gene Krupa first encountered her, probably in 1940. He immediately understood that she was talented and different, but was cautious about hiring her because he thought that she may be a bit too different to be accepted by the audiences that came to see and hear his band. (Above right: Anita O’Day in 1941.)

Ms. O’Day joined Gene Krupa’s band in early 1941. By that time, Krupa’s band was beginning to move up in popularity after three years of only modest success. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge was added to the Krupa band in mid-April of 1941. These two performers definitely shook-up the band, as each was a dynamic performer. By early May, they had recorded their duet on the novelty tune “Let Me Offf Uptown,” which quickly rose to hit status. In early 1942, Anita O’Day came in fourth in the annual Down Beat popularity poll as female band vocalist. The year 1942 was one of increasing success for the Gene Krupa band, and their featured performers Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge. Ms. O’Day left the Krupa band as 1942 ended, on good terms. She was simply exhausted after two years of non-stop touring, and had married again. In late Jaunary of 1943, Gene’s legal troubles began as the result of an apparent set-up involving marijuana.  

Ms. O’Day worked briefly with Woody Herman in 1943, then as a soloist for the balance of that year and into 1944. She joined Stan Kenton’s band in April of 1944, and stayed for a year, making several best-selling records with the Kenton band. She rejoined Gene Krupa’s new band in July of 1945, and remained through January of 1946. (Above left: Anita O’Day with Gene Krupa’s band at Hotel Sherman in Chicago – December 1945.)

Sy Oliver’s arrangement of “Opus One” for the Krupa band is definitely on the swingy side. Oliver used his idea of combining the main melody with a background extracted from “Cherokee” in an entirely new way: with the straight-muted brass playing the melody and the unison saxophones playing the background in the first sixteen bars of the first chorus. From that point on, indeed, throughout this arrangement, we hear Oliver manipulating the sections and instruments of the Krupa band in a way that yields colorful, swinging music. No one would ever confuse this arrangement with the one Oliver wrote for Tommy Dorsey: they are very different, and both are great.

Ms. O’Day’s vocal chorus is quintessential: Her swing is strong, her phrasing agile, her sense of pitch is perfect, and her voice quality is unique. The lyric is vintage mid-1940s, with its references to “Frankie,” “Old Bing,” and “Benny the King.”

After a bit of riffing, we hear the soaring trumpet of Gene’s young jazz prodigy, Don Fagerquist, through the final chorus.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Las Vegas Nights was produced by Paramount in 1941. The following films were produced by M-G-M: Ship Ahoy (1942); Presenting Lily Mars, Girl Crazy and DuBarry Was a Lady, all 1943; Broadway Rhythm (1944); Thrill of Romance (1945); and The Great Morgan (1946).

(2) Tommy Dorsey …Livin’ in a Great Big Way by Peter J. Levinson, (2005), 170.

(3) Ibid. 181-182.

(4) A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz …A Biography of Buddy DeFranco (2002), by Fabrice Zammarchi and Sylvie Mas, 61.

(5) Here is a link to the post on Gene Krupa’s legal difficulties in 1943: https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/09/07/star-burst-1947-gene-krupa-the-story-of-his-drug-bust-and-frame-up/

(6) Much of the information about Anita O’Day’s early career was derived from the Wikipedia post on her. In addition, some details were extracted from her autobiography, High Times Hard Times, with George Eels (1981). That book explains in detail why the lives of the young women who worked with big bands during the swing era were often anything but glamorous.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve detected that same off-mike quality in TD’s Victor recording of “Opus One.” The adjustment here is an improvement in terms of presence and balance, although I do hear, too, an increase in reverb. Of course, even with the original sound-capturing issues, there’s no denying the band’s magnificence in performance of this anthemic number — but I have no objection to tweaking in an engineer’s capacity. (On the other hand, gotta say, pitch correcting Kathleen Lane’s dodgy “for,” [which, I admit, I’ve always winced at] on the master take of the Berigan “I Cried For You” seems to me like cheating; such a practice, so popular today, strikes me as the enemy of music — a spontaneous, human art.)

    Comparing Sy’s two arrangements of “Opus One” — both excellent, though very different from each other — I’m reminded of Ray Conniff’s two superb charts of “September Song” — the first for Artie Shaw, the second for Harry James. It seems miraculous to me that Sy and Ray each could come up with two entirely fresh, as well as marvelous, treatments of the same song. Though I have to give top honors to the Dorsey version of Sy’s song, the Krupa isn’t far behind; it’s not often that I hear a cover that I feel comes close to an original rendition of an in-house concoction. Another that comes to mind is the Goodman band’s version, from Mel Powell’s hot arrangement, of Jerry Gray’s famous “A String of Pearls” for the Miller band. Of course, in the case of the Krupa “Opus One,” the band did have the benefit of having their cover scored by the composer himself! Later, incidentally, Sy, borrowing conspicuously from the Dorsey version, came up with still another chart for the song for the Mills Brothers’ ’54 recording.

    I have never been a fan of strings in a swing band — the only outfit that I feel reliably made great use of this instrumental texture is the James orch. Some, I realise, would disagree, finding Harry’s string section, like his own ballad playing, to be pure schmaltz. As to TD’s strings, I feel that the ’40-’42 edition, possibly his best ever (though I have about equal affection for the Bud Freeman-Dave Tough ’36-’37 period, especially during Bunny’s brief stay as guest soloist), essentially lost something in general in adding strings and a harp. The band was going along beautifully with just brass and reeds (plus rhythm, of course), as far as I’m concerned. Still, I feel that Sy, used the strings in a far more intriguing manner than Axel Stordahl, the ballad specialist, did. Sy’s “Mandy, Make Up Your Mind,” from ’42, is a terrific example of how my favourite arranger was able to utilise the section effectively in a swing setting. In “Opus One,” the strings’ “Cherokee”-based line that plays against the reeds’ rendering of the song’s original riff is a very pleasing — and sophisticated-sounding — feature.

    It’s interesting to compare TD’s first studio recording of “Opus One,” intended for but ultimately cut from MGM’s BROADWAY MELODY in which the band would appear, with the famous Victor commercial recording of nearly a year-and-a-half later. The earlier take is good, but the familiar ’44 is much better — and I feel that the presence of Buddy DeFranco is the chief reason. I believe Heinie Beau was still with the band when the MGM Studios recording was made; though I consider Heinie to be a fine clarinetist, I think his work on that track just lacks the originality and verve of Buddy’s spectacular playing on the later one. Clearly, Tommy realised that in Buddy he had a very special musician!

    Though the end of the infamous ’42-’44 recording ban heralded the coming of many more classic Dorsey sides, I feel that the band never regained quite the overall and consistent quality of the ’40-’42 edition. The Krupa band that waxed its own very stylish treatment of “Opus One” in ’45 was, conversely, just entering its finest period, I believe. I love the ’41’-’42 Roy-Anita band but, I have to say, I feel that the crew as a whole was even better when Anita returned, and instrumentally it maintained its momentum even after her departure. I love how Sy reassigns the “Opus One” riff to the trumpet section and the “Cherokee” line to the trombones on the Krupa take! Gene plays it bright and snappy at first, almost like a tap dancer, keeping his power in reserve for the socko final chorus. Anita, the hippest of all vocalists, displays her impeccable sense of rhythm and phrasing instincts in her chorus. In his solo, Don Fagerquist substantiates his boss’ knack for spotting young talent.

    It cracks me up that Pat Dane shaved a couple of years off her age on the marriage license. She was a twenty-four-year-old starlet marrying s prematurely gray thirty-seven-year-old — and still she had to pretend to be younger. For whose benefit??? I’m assuming Tommy caught her in her small role in MGM’s JOHNNY EAGER; I’m sure he realised that her “talent” in her line would not eclipse his talent in his.

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