Happy Birthday Doc Severinsen

July 7, 1927

A tribute to the famous trumpeter-bandleader

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Trumpeter and bandleader Carl “Doc” Severinsen was born July 7, 1927 in Arlington, Oregon.

Nicknamed Doc after his father who was the town’s dentist, Severinsen (who originally wanted to play trombone but his arms were considered too short) began on the cornet as a youth.

Severinsen developed so quickly that when he was just seven he was already playing in a high school band, and at 14 he auditioned for Tommy Dorsey’s band but was considered too young.

He worked locally while in high school, had a stint with Ted Fio Rita’s orchestra, served in the Army, and during 1947-49 was a member of the Charlie Barnet big band, playing lead trumpet and having occasional solos.

After a stint with Tommy Dorsey (1950-51), Severinsen was a busy studio musician during the 1950s due to his brilliant technical skills, appearing on many sessions including with Benny Goodman, mostly playing lead trumpet.

Severinsen, who led a few albums of his own in the early 1960s, joined the Tonight Show band in 1962 when it was directed by Skitch Henderson; he became its leader in 1967.

During 1967-92, Doc Severinsen was seen nightly with Johnny Carson, becoming as famous for his outlandish wardrobe as for his trumpet playing.

Underrecorded during many of those years, fortunately Severinsen finally made a few recordings with the Tonight Show Band in the early 1990s.

Still occasionally leading a big band for concerts, Doc Severinsen is arguably the finest 90-year old trumpeter ever, hitting high notes with ease and putting on colorful shows.

Here is a rare clip of Doc Severinsen in 2015 (at the age of 87) playing “A Night In Tunisia.”

-Scott Yanow


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