Bobby Byrne

Photo of Bobby Byrne
  • Born

    October 10, 1918
    Pleasant Corners, Ohio
  • Died

    November 25, 2006 (age 88)
    Irvine, California

Orchestra leader Bobby Byrne is best re­mem­bered for his ro­man­tic but force­ful trom­bone style. He was and is con­sid­ered by many crit­ics to be the de­fin­i­tive trom­bon­ist of his era. Brilliant” and amazing” were words of­ten used to de­scribe his play­ing. Byrne’s one fault, though, was that he tried too hard. He was se­ri­ous and ded­i­cated, and he was a per­fec­tion­ist. His band was ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing some of the best mu­sic of the swing era but was of­ten held back by the ten­sion Byrne cre­ated in his drive for ex­ac­ti­tude.

A child prodigy on his in­stru­ment, Byrne was hired by the Dorsey Brothers in 1934 at only 16 years of age. When Tommy Dorsey walked out on the band and formed his own or­ches­tra, Byrne re­mained with Jimmy and took over as lead trom­bone. He soon be­gan to re­ceive great crit­i­cal ac­claim for his mu­si­cian­ship, and in 1939, with Jimmy’s back­ing, he formed his own or­ches­tra.

Byrne’s group strug­gled at first. His big break fi­nally came in 1941 when the or­ches­tra landed a spot at the Glen Island Casino. Meadowbrook owner Frank Dailey, al­ways ready to one up the Casino, heard about the book­ing and im­me­di­ately of­fered Byrne a spot at his ball­room prior to the Casino en­gage­ment. Suddenly Byrne was hot prop­erty. Regular ra­dio broad­casts opened the door to more book­ings and a record con­tract with Decca.

Problems plagued the group, how­ever. Its tal­ented fe­male vo­cal­ist, Dorothy Claire, left in 1941 to re­place Marion Hutton in Glenn Millers band, which re­sulted in a very pub­lic con­tract dis­pute, and Byrne him­self was forced to take time off due to se­vere ap­pen­dici­tis dur­ing an en­gage­ment at the Strand Theater in New York. In dan­ger of los­ing his book­ing, other area band­lead­ers came to the res­cue and took turns fronting his or­ches­tra in their free time. Things even­tu­ally be­gan to turn around, how­ever, when Claire re­turned in April 1942. The very ca­pa­ble Stuart Wade was also brought in on vo­cals, and Don Redman joined the or­ches­tra to pro­vide arrange­ments.

Despite all the tal­ent that graced his band, Byrne was never sat­is­fied with his mu­si­cians or him­self. He was a tense and ded­i­cated or­ches­tra leader. He worked his men seven days a week and would not tol­er­ate wrong notes. Instead of hav­ing the de­sired ef­fect of pro­duc­ing a per­fect band, his meth­ods and per­son­al­ity kept his or­ches­tra from achiev­ing true suc­cess.

This ten­dency to over­achieve also pre­vented him from fully in­te­grat­ing Redman’s com­pli­cated and re­laxed charts. He soon fired him and brought in Sid Brantley, who wrote sim­pler yet still strong arrange­ments that bet­ter fit Byrne’s method of band­lead­ing. Powered by Brantley’s charts, the group fi­nally seemed to be hit­ting its stride when in late 1942 Byrne dis­banded it to ac­cept a com­mis­sion in the Army Air Force. He had long ex­pressed an in­ter­est in fly­ing and served as both a band­leader and a pi­lot dur­ing the war.

Upon his dis­charge in 1945, Byrne be­gan free­lanc­ing around the New York City area, of­ten work­ing with cor­netist Bobby Hackett. He also formed a new or­ches­tra in 1946, which fea­tured sax­o­phon­ist Larry Elgart. Vocalists in­cluded Dick Merrick. The group lasted only a few years how­ever. Byrne him­self re­mained ac­tive as both a mu­si­cian and band­leader up through the 1970s. He worked of­ten on tele­vi­sion, lead­ing a dix­ieland combo on Steve Allen’s pro­gram from 1952 to 1954, ap­pear­ing on Your Hit Parade, and per­form­ing on the shows of Milton Berle, Perry Como, and Patti Page. He also served as A&R di­rec­tor for Command Records and of­ten per­formed as a stu­dio mu­si­cian for that la­bel.

In the early 1970s, Byrne com­pletely left the mu­sic in­dus­try for the busi­ness world, though he oc­ca­sion­ally con­tin­ued to per­form. He re­tired per­ma­nently in the late 1980s. Aside from his trom­bone work, Bobby Byrne was a gifted mu­si­cian on sev­eral in­stru­ments. He passed away in 2006.


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  • Easy Does It
    Bobby Byrne (Dorothy Claire), Decca (1940)
  • Stop Pretending
    Bobby Byrne (Dorothy Claire), Decca (1940)
  • Slow Freight
    Bobby Byrne (Dorothy Claire), Decca (1940)

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