Bill Finegan, 1917-2008

Bob Brookmeyer sent this message today:

Bill Finegan passed peacefully on today with his son James and his daughter Helen by his side. He was a hero, a dear friend and one of the most gifted arrangers we have ever had. Somewhere an orchestra sounds better.

Finegan was an arranger who gave Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey some of their most
Sauter & Finegan.jpgsubstantial music. In 1952 he and Eddie Sauter formed the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, which was famous for its musicianship, wit and a couple of hits that included its theme song, a panoramic arrangement of “Doodletown Fifers.” At one time or another, the band included musicians of the quality of Nick Travis, Urbie Green, Eddie Bert, Mundell Lowe, George Duvivier, Eddie Costa and Don Lamond. This CD has a cross-section of the band’s work.

Finegan once said, ”From the time the late Eddie Sauter and I started this band, everything went wrong but the music.” To read more, go here.  

Bill Finegan was ninety-one.

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  1. says

    Here is a pioneer whose work largely has been overlooked by jazz fans, I suppose because he was not averse to seeking popularity. I think it could be said Bill Finegan was more responsible for Miller’s lush romantic sound than Jerry Gray. By the time he was writing for Dorsey though in the late ’40s his work was distinct and original. In 1952, the Sauter-Finegan band was so startling with innovation that many of us struggled with how to hear it. Alas, they tried too many novelty approaches. I never heard Gil Evans cite Finegan as an influence but I can’t imagine he wasn’t. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis took all the Finegan they could get.
    Bill Finegan’s work is quiet and unassuming, except at an arrangement’s climax at which point heavenly choirs appear. But it is meticulous music, and quite possibly some of the most gorgeous of the last century, most of which he lived. Finding out what he arranged, with Miller and Sauter-Finegan, is arduous and involves for me guesswork. Glenn Miller sometimes sent charts done by Gray, Finegan or Billy May to each other to “clean up” or add to. Other times Miller himself tinkered with them. It’s said Finegan used to write completely outrageous stuff into his Miller contributions just to tick Glenn off. With Sauter-Finegan the 2 arrangers tended to write separately, but still they sometimes melded things together. I’m not aware of anyone yet trying to sort those arrangements out.
    Finegan was full of whimsy, but could swing like mad when usually a brief part of an arrangement called for it. His musicians were faithful to him all the way back to Miller and going through Dorsey. I did not know of the staggering personnel of the studio bands, which couldn’t possibly have been afforded when the band took to the road—and played my hometown in Western New York when I was 13, and I didn’t go. I found out only very recently that Bill Harris is the trombone soloist on many of my favorites—and that Ralph Burns remained the piano man all the way. If you’ve got a genius like Ralph Burns wanting to learn from you, you must know somethin’!
    Doug has hyperlinked a CD in his entry. The last 3 tunes on that Best Of collection are RCA experimental stereo recordings. The set is worth buying just for them, so you can hear how intricate it all was. During Bill’s final few years I used to buy CDs if they had even one Finegan arrangement. This was true of last year’s Christmas album by Chanticleer. He nailed Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas in a sublime setting for the choir and an ensemble of winds. If that was his last chart, it is a fitting farewell. This holiday tear-jerker will curl you right up into a comfy little ball of deliciousness.

  2. says

    Bill Finegan RIP
    One Of my favorite arrangers of all time!
    “Wagon Wheels” arranged by Bill was a classic
    Dorsey chart from 1944! Wow!
    Talking about an innovator!
    Lots of Love To All The Cats, Bill!

  3. Sammy Nestico says

    Bill Finegan was my favorite arranger and role model of all time! He influenced me more than any other arranger in the 20th Century. A truly “One of a kind” original!
    Sammy Nestico

  4. Jill Warner says

    I was a student of Bill and his wife in the 1980’s at BU. I was enrolled in the music dept and took private lessons with his wife. They were so gracious to me. In hindsight, I had little musical talent but they supported a dream. I will never forget their spirit and, although, I have not been in contact with that part of my past, there are some cherished memories. I hope (more than just hope) that someone gets in contact with an incredible trombone player, Rick Trager, because Bill and he were like blood notes. God Bless this family,
    With sincere regards,
    Jill Warner (formerly Picataggio)

  5. says

    I became aware of Bill Finegan only recently, when I found an LP reissue of some Glenn Miller tracks and heard some things that seemed harmonically VERY far out for 1941 … especially Serenade in Blue. Noticing that it was penned by Finegan, I went online to find out more, found a CD reissue of some Sauter Finegan cuts, and ordered it. What a FIND! One track in particular –”Horseplay”– is so inventive and unusual (like scoring one important passage for tuba and celesta!) that I can’t stop listening to it. It’s just AMAZING.
    I now find out that Finegan was also a wonderful friend and real mensch. Discovering Finegan is like finding the Missing Link (between swing and progressive). I can’t wait to hear more.
    Requiescat In Pace, Bill Finegan. You truly were one of a kind.