Billy May Orchestra at the Stardust

June 11, 2002 2:55 AM
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The band founded by noted arranger and trumpet star Billy May will play for dancing at the Stardust Resort and Casino on Saturday. The Billy May Orchestra, directed by Andy Prior, will perform in the Stardust Ballroom at 7 p.m. Admission is $15. For more information, call (702) 732-6325.

The three-hour dance concert is part of the big band series the Stardust has been presenting since 1996.

May has musical roots that extend to the Swing Era. In 1939 he joined the trumpet section of the Charlie Barnet Orchestra and promptly wrote the arrangements for the band’s signature hit, Cherokee, featuring an unforgettable "wah wah" chorus from the trumpet section. After a fire destroyed all of the band’s music, he wrote the entire Barnet book, including classics such as Redskin Rhumba and Pompton Turnpike.

In the early 1940s he joined the Glenn Miller band as trumpeter and arranger. He later composed charts for the Les Brown and Alvino Rey Orchestras. By the end of the decade he was working full time for Capitol Records, serving as musical director for many of the label’s leading artists.

In 1951 he formed his own band, stamping it with a distinctive trademark, the "swooning saxophones," a mournful glissando that lifted him to the forefront of the bandleader ranks. With the demise of the touring bands, May returned to the studio, carving out a niche as an arranger for prominent vocalists. His music supported Nat Cole, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and others.

May is part of a trio of arrangers credited with revitalizing Sinatra’s career in the mid-fifties. The others are Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins. In 1957 May and Sinatra collaborated on Come Fly With Me, a Capitol album that enhanced the singer’s reputation as a purveyor of swinging up-tempo tunes. They reprised their successful venture with Come Dance With Me and Come Swing With Me.

May’s own studio orchestra was one of Capitol’s top sellers. His album Billy May’s Big Fat Brass earned a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance at the inaugural Grammy Awards in 1958. Now 85, he no longer travels with the band.

For the Stardust engagement, Prior will serve as bandleader, vocalist and trombone soloist. He has enjoyed success in his native England with touring swing band shows and tribute performances honoring Frank Sinatra.