Today, trumpet players the world over are celebrating Uan Rasey’s 90th birthday. Listeners and moviegoers might be celebrating, too, if they knew that Rasey’s horn is the one they have heard gracing the sound tracks of some of the best-known films from the glory days of Hollywood. Among the pictures he enhanced: An American in Paris, Singing in the Rain, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Gigi, High Anxiety and perhaps most memorably, Chinatown. From 1949 through the first half of the 1970s Rasey was first trumpet of the nonpareil MGM studio orchestra. His teaching has inspired many of the leading studio and jazz trumpeters of the past sixty years, among them Fats Navarro, Pete Candoli, Arturo Sandoval and Jack Sheldon.
(Photo of Uan Rasey by Gordon Sapsed)
Beginning at age seven in his hometown of Glasgow, Montana, Rasey taught himself to play using the instruction book that came with his mail order Montgomery Ward trumpet. After his family moved to Los Angeles, he played with the big bands of Sonny Dunham and Bob Crosby. The polio he contracted as a youngster prevented an extensive career on the road, but when Harry James, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman played Los Angeles in the 1940s, Rasey was often in the brass section. Once, Duke Ellington’s trumpet section was unavoidably detained in Texas and Rasey did a brief stint with the band. He was a regular on major radio programs, including The Kraft Music Hall starring Bing Crosby, with John Scott Trotter’s band and arrangements by Billy May. As May became famous, he included Rasey in his projects as, later, did Henry Mancini.
Known not for improvising but for the perfection of his technique and the purity of his sound, Rasey tells his students, “Roar softly,” and “Have reverence for every note.” If you can’t quite bring his sound to mind, here he is playing Jerry Goldsmith’s love theme from Chinatown.
The Rifftides staff stole this Uan Rasey picture and quotation from Tony Gieske’s Remembrance of Swings Past.
Right. Just as in films Rasey supported, Jack Nicholson, Gene Kelly and Rex Harrison did the best they could and went home.