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Eddie Sauter & Bill Finegan:
the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra


  • Eddie Sauter
    • Born 2 December 1914, Brooklyn, New York
    • Died 21 April 1981, New York City, New York

  • Bill Finegan
    • Born 3 April 1917, Newark, New Jersey
    • Died 4 June 2008, Bridgeport, Connecticut

Considered two of the best arrangers of the big band era, Sauter and Finegan joined forces in 1952 to form a group whose unusual instrumentation, arrangements, and material set it apart from just about everything else at the time--yet also ultimately led to its commercial downfall. Yet in the recordings of the Sauter-Finegan orchestra, you can hear the roots of a style that would burst forth a few years later in the stereo spectaculars of Esquivel, Enoch Light, and others.

Sauter and Finegan followed parallel but separate paths for the first two decades of their professional lives. Sauter started on drums and then switched to trumpet and began playing with dance bands in his late teens. He joined vibraphonist Red Norvo's band in 1935 and soon became the lead arranger for Norvo and his wife, singer Mildred Bailey. In 1939, Benny Goodman hired him away and Sauter's arrangements of current hits as well as original compositions like "Benny Rides Again," and "Clarinet ala King" provided Goodman with some of his biggest hits. In the 1940s, Sauter worked for Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and Ray McKinley, and reunited with Goodman to arrange for one of the very first 12" LPs released by Columbia, 1951.

Finegan also started out playing in various big bands, but his big break came when he was hired as a staff arranger by Glenn Miller in 1941, when the Miller band was hitting its commercial zenith. Although Miller was notorious for being a humorless and strictly business-minded bandleader, he was so impressed by Finegan's abilities that he soon gave him the freedom to write and arrange whatever material he wanted. After Miller's death in 1944, the Miller band was kept together, but it fell back onto recycling old material, and Finegan moved on to work as a freelancer through the late 1940s. In 1950, tired of the decline in success and innovation in the big bands, he moved to France and enrolled in music study at the Paris Conservatory. By that time, however, he and Sauter had struck up a friendship and were corresponding and sharing musical ideas. When Sauter wrote him a letter on the back of a rejection slip from a hack bandleader, Finegan replied by suggesting that if things were getting that bad, they'd better form their own band.

They quickly produced a volley of original compositions and arrangements, and through Sauter's contacts with RCA, they got a recording contract for a few singles. They pulled together a number of top sidemen, including Ralph Burns (who would later become a successful arranger himself) and Kai Winding and cut a series of sides that were received enthusiastically. Many of their numbers were adaptations of existing material, but they looked to unusual places for their sources: American folk songs like "Yankee Doodle" and classical compositions by Profokiev, Rossini, and others. They also used unusual instrumentations, including recorders, piccolos and oboes, English horns, and--later a favorite of stereo spectacular arrangers--tuneable drums.

These singles placed well into the top 30s, with "Doodletown Fifers" reaching #12. Audiences and RCA were soon pressing for the group to tour. At this point, Sauter and Finegan made their crucial mistake. Although big bands were in something of a slump, some were getting consistent business playing for dances; one or two others--perhaps only Stan Kenton's band--were touring as a concert band, whose primary audience was more interested in listening than dancing. Pressured by their promoter to take the path of least risk, they assembled a road band in 1953 and began playing for dancers. It was a complete flop. By the end of 1955, Sauter and Finegan were deeply in debt, and they abandoned the effort.

There was still something of a listening audience for their music, though, and they recorded several albums for RCA with studio musicians. These were not particularly successful, though, and Sauter decided to put the experience behind him, taking a job as an arranger for German radio. He returned to the States in 1960, but pursued work on Broadway instead of in recordings. He did arrange and compose one album, "Focus," for jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, for which Getz won a Grammy--which he handed over to Sauter in appreciation--in 1961. Getz and Sauter reunited in 1965 to record the score for the Warren Beatty hustler movie, Micky One. Finegan fell back onto free-lancing and ended up working again with the Miller band, this time under the leadership of Ray McKinley. Sauter and Finegan recorded two more albums together, for United Artists and Liberty, but these were stand-alone efforts.


Recordings

  • Inside Sauter-Finegan, RCA Victor LJM 1003 c1954
  • The Sound of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, RCA Victor LPM 1009
  • Concert Jazz, RCA Victor LPM 1051
  • Adventure in Time, RCA Victor LPM-1240
  • Under Analysis, RCA Victor LPM 1341
  • One Night Stand With Sauter-Finegan, Joyce 1132
  • Straight Down the Middle, RCA Victor LPM/LSP 1497
  • Memories of Goodman and Miller, RCA Victor LPM 1634 c1958
  • New Directions in Music, RCA Victor LPM 3115
  • Lullaby of the Leaves, United Artists UAL 3281
  • The Return of the Doodletown Fifers, United Artists WWS-8515
  • The Greatest Recordings of the Big Band Era Record #45, Franklin Mint Collection


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