Les Brown Day

March 14, 1912 – January 4, 2001

A tribute to the swing era bandleader

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Bandleader Lester Raymond “Les” Brown was born on March 14, 1912 in Reinerton, Pennsylvania.

Brown, who played clarinet and tenor in the early days, was part of the Conway Military Band School during 1926-29 and graduated from the New York Military Academy in 1932.

While attending Duke University (1932-36), he led a group called Les Brown and his Blue Devils which toured in 1936.

After a period of freelancing, Brown put together the Band Of Renown in 1938 and led the orchestra almost nonstop for over 60 years, being the last active surviving bandleader of the swing era, outlasting everyone else.

In the early days it was a solid orchestra that swung well, had hits with “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” and “Sentimental Journey,” and introduced Doris Day (who took the vocal on the latter) and tenor-saxophonist Ted Nash (uncle of his namesake).

When the swing era ended and most of the other big bands were breaking up, Les Brown had a lucky break when his band started accompanying Bob Hope on his USO tours; the orchestra would be part of Hope’s shows for many years including television specials and they also worked on the Steve Allen Show (1959-61) and the Dean Martin Show (1965-72), accompanying every top singer of the time.

While not the most significant jazz big band, Les Brown and his Band of Renown always had excellent musicians including in the 1950s when they featured tenor-saxophonist Dave Pell and trumpeter Don Fagerquist.

Here is the Les Brown Orchestra with singer Lucy Ann Polk and trombonist Ray Sims (Zoot’s brother) in 1946 performing “I’ve Got The World On A String.”

-Scott Yanow


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