Melvin James "Sy" Oliver (December 17, 1910 – May 28, 1988) was an American jazz arranger, trumpeter, composer, singer and bandleader.
Sy Oliver from September 1946
|Birth name||Melvin James Oliver|
December 17, 1910|
Battle Creek, Michigan, United States
May 28, 1988 (aged 77)|
New York City
|Occupation(s)||Bandleader, conductor, arranger|
|Labels||Decca, Columbia, Capitol|
|Associated acts||Bill Kenny, Frank Sinatra, Jimmie Lunceford|
Sy Oliver was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. His mother was a piano teacher and his father was a multi-instrumentalist who made a name for himself demonstrating saxophones at a time that instrument was little used outside of marching bands.
Oliver left home at 17 to play with Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels and later with Alphonse Trent. He sang and played trumpet with these bands, becoming known for his "growling" horn playing.
Oliver arranged and conducted many songs for Ella Fitzgerald from her Decca years. As a composer, one of his most famous songs was "T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)", which he co-wrote with Trummy Young.
In 1933, Oliver joined Jimmie Lunceford's band, contributing many hit arrangements for the band, including "My Blue Heaven" and "Ain't She Sweet" as well as his original composition "For Dancers Only" which in time became the band's theme song. In 1939, he became one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band when he joined Tommy Dorsey as an arranger, though he ceased playing trumpet at that time. (Fletcher Henderson, another African American composer/arranger, had joined the Benny Goodman orchestra as the arranger some years earlier.) He led the transition of the Dorsey band from Dixieland to modern big band. His joining was instrumental in Buddy Rich's decision to join Dorsey. His arrangement of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" was a big hit for Dorsey, as were his own compositions "Yes, Indeed!" (a gospel-jazz tune that was later recorded by Ray Charles), "Opus One" (originally titled as "Opus No. 1", but changed to suit the lyric that was added later), "The Minor Is Muggin'", and "Well, Git It".
After leaving Dorsey, Oliver continued working as a freelance arranger and as music director for Decca Records. One of his more successful efforts as an arranger was the Frank Sinatra album I Remember Tommy, a combined tribute to their former boss.
June 26, 1950, Sy Oliver and his Orchestra recorded the first American version of C'est si bon (Henri Betti, André Hornez, Jerry Seelen) and La Vie en rose (Louiguy, Édith Piaf, Mack David) for Louis Armstrong.
In later years, up until 1980, he again reformed his own big and small bands, with which he also played his trumpet again after having set it aside so many years earlier.
Oliver died in New York City at the age of 77.
- For Jimmie Lunceford:
- For Tommy Dorsey:
- For Ella Fitzgerald:
- Ella: The Legendary Decca Recordings (1938–1955 Decca recordings) (GRP 4–CD box)
- For Louis Armstrong:
- Under his own name:
- Watrous, Peter (28 May 1988). "Sy Oliver, 77, a Jazz Composer, Arranger and Band Leader, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Sy Oliver; Influential Arranger in Big Band Era". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. May 30, 1998.
- Orodenker, M.H. (February 28, 1942). "On the Records". Billboard. p. 25.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sy Oliver.|
- Sy Oliver Papers, the collection of his personal scores and papers, in the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
- The Sy Oliver Story, Part 1, an interview with Les Tompkins, 1974.