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Performer Portrait #9

 EDDIE SAUTER

Eddie Sauter (Eddie Meyers) was born December 2, 1914 in Brooklyn, NY. As a youngster he traveled to Germany, where his love of music blossomed. His father bought him a flugelhorn in Bremen, and he later took up drums as well. While still in high school he took mail order arranging lessons from Archie Bleyer. In the mid-30s he played trumpet for Charlie Barnet and contributed arrangements for this as-yet obscure band.

Sauter later joined Red Norvo, continuing his musical studies at the Chicago Music College, Columbia Teacher’s College and Juilliard School of Music. He used these skills in the service of Red Norvo and also contributed to the libraries of Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Ray McKinley. In the latter instance Sauter was given special billing, unusual in those days.

Sauter’s association with Goodman began in 1938, when his arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero was recorded by the band. Their association became much more intimate in ‘39. Chris Griffin and Jerry Jerome, two band members, were familiar with Sauter’s work for Norvo and recommended him to Goodman. At that time Sauter was studying composition and arranging at the Juilliard School of Music. He wasn’t too keen on tying up with Goodman, since he figured that this would take time away from "serious" studies. But he accepted the assignment because it would provide the income he needed to permit his further schooling at Juilliard.

Sauter and Goodman didn’t click from Day One. The leader assigned him some popular songs of the day, which Sauter considered beneath his dignity. He turned out arrangements that were more sophisticated than those that Goodman had relied on up till then. Gradually the band adapted to his writing style. Standard ballads like More Than You Know and The Man I Love took on a dazzling new character with Sauter’s voicings behind and around Helen Forrest’s vocal.

Sauter began to contribute original compositions, too, that showed off the band’s virtuosity --- as a unit and as a conglomeration of brilliant soloists. Clarinet Á La King and Benny Rides Again became showpieces for
Benny’s clarinet work, while Superman provided the perfect vehicle for Cootie
Williams’ trumpet work.

Despite Sauter’s success with the Goodman band, he was not given free rein by any means. He would submit a score with "Play as is" noted on Benny’s copy. Goodman would proceed to take liberties with Sauter’s writing, changing things drastically to suit Goodman’s vision of the band’s ideal sound.

Goodman presented Sauter with an extraordinary challenge when, after noting Artie Shaw’s success with Frenesi, he toyed with the idea of adding strings. Sauter had great difficulty writing for strings in a swing band. It just didn’t sound right, and eventually Goodman abandoned the idea. Sauter would later conquer this writing challenge, when he wrote and produced an album featuring Stan Getz backed by a string ensemble.

During his stint with Goodman, Sauter was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Eddie was convinced that he contracted it through exposure to Goodman guitarist Charlie Christian, who died of that malady in 1942. When Sauter’s disease advanced to a life-threatening stage, Goodman kept him on full salary till 1944.

In the fall of 1945, Ray McKinley returned to civilian life after a period of leading the Army Air Force Band following Glenn Miller’s disappearance. He linked up with Sauter, whom he remembered from a decade earlier when Sauter was writing and playing for Red Norvo and Ray was drumming in the Jimmy Dorsey band. Ray agreed to give Eddie a free hand with his arrangements. Eddie warmed to the task. No one to look over his shoulder and black-pencil his efforts! It was a dream come true for Sauter, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

Sauter arrangements required great technical talent. McKinley turned over the baton to Eddie during their extended band practices. Their mutual efforts paid off handsomely, as will be demonstrated by listening again to Sauter originals like Sand Storm, Tumblebug and Hangover Square.

Around 1950, while undergoing hospitalization, Sauter started a correspondence with fellow arranger Bill Finegan. They decided to put together a big band that would benefit from new concepts in arranging as well as capitalize on their past successes. The band was organized in 1952, originally as a studio band. Success of their record releases created a demand to see the band in person, and they went on the road for concerts.

Bill Finegan was born April 3, 1917 in Newark, NJ. Though trained on the piano, he earned his fame for arranging talents. He turned out some charts for Tommy Dorsey, one of which, The Lonesome Road, piqued Glenn Miller’s curiosity about Finegan. Finegan will always be remembered and credited for his arrangements of Little Brown Jug, Rhapsody In Blue, Sunrise Serenade, Pavanne, Moonlight Sonata, Song Of The Volga Boatmen and When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

The Sauter-Finegan band consisted of 21 men, with some unusual instrumentation. For their performance of Midnight Sleigh Ride, Finegan supplied the sound of hoofs on new-fallen snow by beating his chest with his hands. Other instrumentation included bassoons, flugelhorns and fifes. (Remember The Doodletown Fifers?)

In the late ‘50s Sauter was named musical director of the Südwestfunk, the radio center in Baden-Baden, but returned stateside to resume his collaboration with Finegan. Later he worked with Stan Getz and the New York Saxophone Quartet. In his final years he wrote for films and television. He died April 21, 1981.

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