Claude Thornhill

While some of his recordings are not well-known and his orchestra was only popular in the early 40s, Claude Thornhill was a major contributor to jazz. His arrangements and orchestra’s sound influenced the cool jazz of late ’40s. Thornhill studied at a music conservatory, played piano in Midwest-based bands, and worked for Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman in 1934. He also worked for Ray Noble’s American band in 1935-1936, for whom he also arranged. His arrangement of “Loch Lomond”, which he recorded on Billie Holiday, was a huge hit for Maxine Sullivan. Thornhill recorded his first album as a leader in 1937. However, it wasn’t until 1940 that he started his own orchestra. The band featured long tones and de-emphasized vibrato horns. Sometimes, the leader’s piano would accompany them. Two French horns were used and a tuba was added to the instrumentation. Sometimes all six reeds would play clarinets together. Some referred to the band as a sweeter than swing group, as they played many ballads. However, recordings of Thornhill’s orchestra received a lot more attention from the jazz community with Gil Evans joining the ranks as an arranger in 1941. Thornhill formed a new orchestra after a period of service in the miliary (1942-1945). He retained Gil Evans’ services (and sometimes used Gerry Mulligan charts too), and featured soloists like clarinetist Danny Polo and altoist Lee Konitz. Evans’ jazz-like arrangements were a classic and the Miles Davis Nonet was built on the cool-toned principles that Thornhill had. But the pianist’s best days were gone. While he continued to lead bands part-time until his death in 1994, Claude Thornhill was largely forgotten and neglected during his final 15 year. Allmusic

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