“Is This Gonna Be My Lucky Summer?” (1937) Tommy Dorsey with Edythe Wright, Johnny Mince and Bud Freeman.

“Is This Gonna Be My Lucky Summer?”

Composed by Rube Bloom (music) and Benny Davis (lyric); head arrangement by Tommy Dorsey and the Clambake Seven.

Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Clambake Seven on June 12, 1937 for Victor in New York.

Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: George “Pee Wee” Erwin, trumpet; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Lawrence “Bud” Freeman, tenor saxophone; Howard Smith, piano; Carmine Mastandrea (Carmen Mastren), guitar; Gene Traxler, bass; Dave Tough, drums; Edythe Wright, vocal.

The story:

By the summer of 1937, Tommy Dorsey was on his way to fame and fortune as a bandleader. It can be said that no one during the swing era wanted success more than Tommy Dorsey did. Tommy, of course, was first and foremost a superb virtuoso trombonist. Indeed, he was one of the greatest trombonists ever, and he moved the art of playing that instrument, especially when playing melodies and ballads, forward. But being a great instrumentalist alone was never a guarantee of success as a bandleader. Tommy was also a driven person: he had to and loved to perform, lead his band, engage in all sorts of public relations exercises and gimmicks, and cut as wide a swath through the entertainment business as possible. Before his premature death in late 1956, he was a success on records, on network radio where he always exuded a jovial and witty personality; in live performances before audiences on dance dates, in clubs and cabarets, and in theaters; before the movie-making cameras of Hollywood in feature films; and finally on network television. He also operated a successful music publishing business. TD was an entertainment phenomenon in addition to being a great instrumentalist and bandleader.

As the leader of the musicians who made up his bands, Tommy demanded excellence. His view, which he often expressed to the musicians, singers, arrangers who were in his employ was: You are here because you have talent as a musician. I am paying you a good salary because the band I operate is a very good one that gets the best work in the business. My standards as a musician are high. I will not compromise them for anyone. I expect 100% effort from you at all times. I will not listen to excuses. If you can’t give me what I expect of you, I will fire you. Of the hundreds of musicians who played in Tommy Dorsey’s bands in the period from 1935 until 1956, the overwhelming consensus among them is that working for him made them better musicians and better performers. From him they learned discipline, professionalism, how to play their instruments at top levels consistently, and how to rise to the occasion when something special was called for.

But, along with all of this, there was an additional benefit of working with TD. When his band was performing in a way that met his requirements, he released the pressure on the job, and encouraged his musicians to enjoy what they were doing. Tommy did have a great sense of humor, and liked to laugh. Although this resulted in a good bit of merriment, there was never a departure from musical excellence. Off the job, Tommy frequently gathered his employees around him to party. These parties often took place at his palatial home in Bernardsville, New Jersey, and a bit later at his penthouse suite of offices in the Brill Building at 49th and Broadway in Manhattan. Everyone who was fortunate enough to be a part of the TD scene during the swing era and attended those parties recalled Tommy being a marvelously gracious host, who definitely wanted everyone who came to his parties to have a good time. (Above right: Partiers at Tommy Dorsey’s New Jersey house – summer 1941 – Ziggy Elman and Frank Sinatra.)

One of the most popular performers with Tommy Dorsey’s band in the late 1930s was his female vocalist, Edythe Wright. Although she was not a trained musician, she was a beautiful young woman with a booming personality that, with her sultry voice, definitely enabled her to put songs across to audiences. TD noticed this while he watched her work with Frank Dailey’s band in the summer of 1935. He hired her and worked with her to improve her musicianship. She was a quick study. Almost all of the musicians she worked with in Tommy Dorsey’s band respected her as a performer because they saw how well she communicated with audiences both in-person and on radio. Beyond that, she was every bit as much of a professional as everyone else in Tommy’s band. She was a full member of the band and accepted as such. (Above left: Edythe Wright and Tommy Dorsey at a rehearsal for Tommy’s network radio show in the late 1930s.)

In addition, she was a willing participant in many of the public relations schemes cooked-up by Tommy and his handlers at Music Corporation of America (MCA), Tommy’s booking agent, and she was very successful as a p.r. person. This redounded to the benefit of Tommy Dorsey as a bandleader. (At right: Comedian Milton Berle, invited onstage by TD, and Edythe engage in a bit of hijinx. Audiences loved this sort of thing.)

Last but certainly not least, Tommy Dorsey and Edythe Wright had an on-again off-again romantic relationship while she was the vocalist in his band, and indeed after that for some time. That added many complications that seemed nevertheless not to negatively affect how they made music together. (More about Edythe Wright can be found at the link posted at endnote 1.) 

The music:

Much of the music of Tommy Dorsey and His Clambake Seven, a small group of musicians drawn from Tommy’s big band, was created informally. By that, I mean it was not necessarily written down by an arranger before it was performed. My informed speculation about how this process often worked is that after it was decided that a certain tune was to be performed by the Seven, Tommy would direct those musicians, and whatever vocalist was going to sing if there was going to be a vocal, in a rehearsal, where keys were chosen, routines set etc. Since these musicians worked together seven days a week for at least 50 weeks a year, and were very talented, it didn’t take them very long to shape-up a performance.

“Is This Gonna Be My Lucky Summer” is a perfect example of all of this. This recording, by Tommy Dorsey and His Clambake Seven, was probably the first the song received very shortly after it was composed. I suspect that Rube Bloom himself placed his new song with TD, as they had been friends and professional associates in the music business for years.

TD takes the brief introduction for “Is This Gonna be My Lucky Summer” playing a jaunty phrase on his open trombone. The first chorus begins with the ensemble, led by Pee Wee Erwin on open trumpet, playing a paraphrase of the main melody in Dixieland fashion, with the polyphony being provided by clarinetist Johnny Mince, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman and Tommy with his trombone. The rhythm section which supports this is led by drummer Dave Tough, with strong assistance from guitarist Carmen Mastren, bassist Gene Traxler. It appears that this 32 bar song is in ABAA form.

Edythe Wright has fun onstage with clarinetist Johnny Mince and tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, while L-R: Gene Traxler, Tommy Dorsey and Andy Ferretti enjoy their antics. (The musician partially visible behind Mince’s right arm is Skeets Herfurt.) Ms. Wright was a dynamic presence onstage who was very popular with audiences. Bud may be doing his John Barrymore impersonation.

After a short transition, the second chorus which presents the vocal begins. Edythe Wright sings with both enthusiasm and swing. Pianist Howard Smith does a fine job of accompanying Ms. Wright, as does Dave Tough, who basically plays with brushes on his snare drum, adding a couple of his patented bass drum boots along the way. (At right: Edythe Wright – late 1930s.)

Then the improvisation begins: first TD on trombone, then Johnny Mince on clarinet, then Bud Freeman on tenor saxophone. Each man plays fine, swinging jazz. The rocking support they get from their rhythm section is zesty, with Mr. Tough impelling each of them onto a higher plane of swing.

The final half-chorus of polyphony builds in intensity, and is topped off by a quick tag-ending.

This is a light-hearted performance that seems so relaxed and swinging because of the talent and unity of the performers involved, and the inspired leadership of Mr. TD.

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Here is a link to a post here at swingandbeyond.com that goes into some depth about Edythe Wright: https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/12/22/youre-a-sweetheart-1937-tommy-dorseys-clambake-seven-with-edythe-wright-1971-billy-may-with-dick-nash-and-eileen-wilson/

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2 Comments

  1. Garry, welcome to the world of swingandbeyond.com

    Please check the archives and/or do a search for the music you are curious about. There is a lot of music and information here.

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