Harry James was one of the most important performers of the World War II era--and not just because he played a major role in the career of Frank Sinatra. NNDB has his profile:
Both a skilled trumpet-player and a popular bandleader, Harry James began playing in dance bands when he was only 15. In 1936 he was invited to join Benny Goodman's orchestra, and became so popular with audiences that when he decided to start his own band in 1938 Goodman helped to finance the venture.There clearly is more to the story than that. Tom Nolan's review in January Magazine of Peter Levinson's biography of James, which was published in 1999, starts filling in some of the blanks:
Shortly after The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra began performing publicly in 1939, then-unknown singer Frank Sinatra was brought on board. The singer remained active with the band for only a year, however: finances during this period were tight, and when a more lucrative offer was given to Sinatra by Tommy Dorsey, James let him out of his contract so he could pursue it. Despite this defection, the orchestra achieved considerable popularity throughout the early 40s, in part aided by appearances in feature films such as Best Foot Forward and I'll Get By.
In 1943 James married Betty Grable, the top pin-up model in the country. Not a bad personal development, but his musical fortunes were not moving along such positive lines, and in 1946 he dissolved the orchestra. This retirement proved to be short-lived, however, and he continued performing on and off (particularly in Las Vegas) until nine days before his death in 1983. (Continue Reading...)
For many jazz fans, trumpet player Harry James was at best superfluous and at worst a sellout: a musician of formidable technique who abandoned the fiery style that made him a star of the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the late 1930s, only to adopt a much more schmaltzy, flashy, commercial manner that led to a remarkable number of hit records throughout the 40s.Above is Don't Be That Way and below is You Made Me Love You.
To dance music lovers, James was the leader for three decades of a consistently satisfying big band whose earliest incarnation gave Frank Sinatra his start and whose 1950s version found its most lucrative gigs at the casino hotels in Vegas and at Tahoe.
But most of America knew Harry James simply as the husband of movie star Betty Grable, the blonde pinup who caused World War II G.I.s to croon, "I want a gal, just like the gal, who married Harry James..."
None of these versions of James would necessarily warrant publishing a major biography at century's end; but Peter J. Levinson, a longtime music publicist and first-time author, has produced one in Trumpet Blues. And in putting together all the Harry Jameses -- jazz player, big-band leader, celebrity husband (as well as promiscuous womanizer, unrecovered alcoholic and ruinous gambler) -- he's not only made James a much more interesting figure than might have been imagined, but written one of the most engrossing and compelling jazz biographies in many years. (Continue Reading...)