Bill Finegan, an architect of the big band sounds of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller who later traded in commercial success to co-create the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, which produced music that still stands as some of the most experimental of the swing era, has died.
He was 91.
Finegan died Wednesday at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut from complications of pneumonia.
In 1938 Dorsey purchased Finegan's score for “Lonesome Road” and played it for Miller, who offered the young arranger a job. Between 1938 and 1942 Finegan wrote more than 300 arrangements for Miller including some of the band's biggest hits: the classic “Little Brown Jug,” “Sunrise Serenade” and “Song of the Volga.” Finegan also wrote arrangements for the films “Sun Valley Serenade” in 1941 and “Orchestra Wives” in 1942, and had begun a lifelong profession as a teacher.
One of his students was Nelson Riddle, celebrated arranger for Frank Sinatra.
“Bill's arrangements for Glenn (Miller) demonstrated that great originality and inventiveness are possible even within the restrictive confines of a highly style band, which the Miller Orchestra was,” Riddle said in the book “September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle.”
Finegan worked intermittently for Dorsey and wrote arrangements for the film “Fabulous Dorseys” in 1947. He also wrote for bandleaders Horace Heidt and Les Elgart.
But Finegan bristled at the restrictions placed on the writing by the industry and band leaders. In 1952 Finegan teamed up with another leading arranger, Eddie Sauter, to create a band that would explore and expand the concept of the jazz orchestra.
Time magazine called the group “the most original band heard in the United States in years.” Their albums include “New Directions in Music,” recorded in 1953, “The Sons of Sauter-Finegan” (1955) and “Adventure in Time” (1956).
In the years following the breakup of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Finegan wrote music for commercials and taught including at the University of Bridgeport.