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Sy Oliver

Sy Oliver

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Melvin "Sy" Oliver was a jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

In investment banking, an arranger is a provider of funds in the syndication of a debt. They are entitled to syndicate the loan or bond issue, and may be referred to as the "lead underwriter". This is because this entity bears the risk of being able to sell the underlying securities/debt or the...

, trumpeter, composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

, singer and bandleader
A bandleader is the leader of a band of musicians. The term is most commonly, though not exclusively, used with a group that plays popular music as a small combo or a big band, such as one which plays jazz, blues, rhythm and blues or rock and roll music....

. His mother was a piano teacher and his father was a multi-instrumentalist who made a name for himself demonstrating saxophone
The saxophone is a conical-bore transposing musical instrument that is a member of the woodwind family. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1846...

s at a time that instrument was little used outside of marching bands.

Oliver left home at 17 to play with Zack Whyte
Zack Whyte
Zack Whyte was an American jazz bandleader, best known for leading the territory band the Chocolate Beau Brummels.Whyte studied at Wilberforce University, where he played banjo with Horace Henderson and arranged pieces for him. He led his own Cincinnati-based bands from the early 1920s, and put...

 and his Chocolate Beau Brummels and later with Alphonse Trent
Alphonse Trent
Alphonse "Alphonso" Trent was an American jazz pianist and territory band leader.Trent played piano since childhood and worked in local bands in Arkansas through his youth. He led his first band in the mid-1920s, possibly as early as 1923...

. He sang and played trumpet with these bands, becoming known for his "growling" horn playing.

Sy arranged and conducted many songs for Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Jane Fitzgerald , also known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was an American jazz and song vocalist...

 from her Decca
Decca Records
Decca Records began as a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934; however, owing to World War II, the link with the British company was broken for several decades....


As a composer, one of his most famous songs was T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)
T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)
"It Ain't What You Do " is a calypso song written by jazz musicians Melvin "Sy" Oliver and James "Trummy" Young. It was first recorded in 1939 by Jimmie Lunceford, Harry James, and Ella Fitzgerald. The "shim-sham" is often danced to the Lunceford recording of this song.-Cover versions:The jazz tune...

 which he co-wrote with Trummy Young
Trummy Young
James "Trummy" Young was a trombonist in the swing era. Although he was never really a star or a bandleader himself, he did have one hit with his version of "Margie," which he played and sang with Jimmie Lunceford's Time-Life Orchestra.-Biography:Growing up in Savannah, GA and Richmond, VA, Young...


He joined Jimmie Lunceford
Jimmie Lunceford
James Melvin "Jimmie" Lunceford was an American jazz alto saxophonist and bandleader in the swing era.-Biography:...

's band in 1933 and contributed many hit arrangements to the band, including "My Blue Heaven" and "Ain't She Sweet". In 1939, he became one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band when he joined Tommy Dorsey
Tommy Dorsey
Thomas Francis "Tommy" Dorsey, Jr. was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing", due to his smooth-toned trombone playing. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey...

 as an arranger, though he ceased playing trumpet at that time. (Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson
James Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. was an American pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, important in the development of big band jazz and swing music. His was one of the most prolific black orchestras and his influence was vast...

 joined the Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benjamin David “Benny” Goodman was an American jazz and swing musician, clarinetist and bandleader; widely known as the "King of Swing".In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in America...

 orchestra as the arranger in the same year.) He led the transition of the Dorsey band from Dixieland
Dixieland music, sometimes referred to as Hot jazz, Early Jazz or New Orleans jazz, is a style of jazz music which developed in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century, and was spread to Chicago and New York City by New Orleans bands in the 1910s.Well-known jazz standard songs from the...

 to modern big band
Big band
A big band is a type of musical ensemble associated with jazz and the Swing Era typically consisting of rhythm, brass, and woodwind instruments totaling approximately twelve to twenty-five musicians...

. His joining was instrumental in Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
Bernard "Buddy" Rich was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. Rich was billed as "the world's greatest drummer" and was known for his virtuosic technique, power, groove, and speed.-Early life:...

'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
Gospel music
Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music....

-jazz tune that was later recorded by Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles Robinson , known by his shortened stage name Ray Charles, was an American musician. He was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records...

), "Opus One
Opus No. 1 (1943 song)
"Opus No. 1" is a popular song, composed in 1943 by Sy Oliver, with lyrics by Sid Garris. The tune is often titled Opus One, or Opus #1. It has become a standard song in the swing, jazz and big band repertoire....

," "The Minor is Muggin'," "T.D.'s Boogie Woogie," and "Well, Git It."

After leaving Dorsey, Oliver continued working as a free-lance arranger---one of his more successful such efforts was the Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra was an American singer and actor.Beginning his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra became an unprecedentedly successful solo artist in the early to mid-1940s, after being signed to Columbia Records in 1943. Being the idol of the...

 album I Remember Tommy
I Remember Tommy
I Remember Tommy... is an album by Frank Sinatra, released in 1961. It was recorded as a tribute to bandleader Tommy Dorsey, and consists of re-recorded versions of songs that Sinatra had first performed or recorded with Dorsey earlier in his career...

, a combined tribute to each man's former boss---and as music director for Decca Records
Decca Records
Decca Records began as a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934; however, owing to World War II, the link with the British company was broken for several decades....


In later years, up until 1980, he led his own jazz band, for which he took up the trumpet again.

Selected discography

  • For Jimmie Lunceford:
    • Stomp it Off (1934-1935 Decca recordings) (GRP CD)
    • Swingsation (1935-1939 Decca recordings) (1998 GRP CD)
    • Lunceford Special (1939 Columbia recordings) (ca 1975 Columbia LP)
    • Rhythm is Our Business (1933–1940, both periods and record companies, successively) (ASV CD)
  • For Tommy Dorsey:
    • Yes, Indeed! (1939-1945 RCA recordings) (Bluebird CD)
    • The Popular Frank Sinatra, Vol. 1, with the Pied Pipers (1940-1941 RCA recordings) (Bluebird CD)
  • For Ella Fitzgerald:
    • Ella: The Legendary Decca Recordings (1938-1955 Decca recordings) (GRP 4-CD box)

  • Under his own name:
    • Sway it with flowers(1958 Decca)
    • Sentimental Sy (1958 Dot)
    • Backstage (1959 Dot)
    • I can get it for you wholesale (1962 Columbia)
    • Easy walker (1962 Sesac)
    • Take me back ! (1972 Flac)
    • Yes Indeed ! (1973 Black and Blue)
    • Above all (1976)

External links