Tenor saxophone player Georgie Auld holds a place in jazz history as one of the most influential musicians of his era. His tenor style was often imitated but never replicated. Auld tried several times during the 1940s to form his own orchestra but never managed to find success, each time failing to capture the public’s attention. He eventually gave up, and by the late 1940s he had focused his efforts on smaller combos.
A Canadian by birth, Auld first came to the attention of the music world at only 16 years of age as a member of Bunny Berigan’s early band. In late 1938, Artie Shaw hired Auld as second chair sax player, behind Tony Pastor, and he quickly earned a reputation with fellow musicians for his “jittery, gutty” sax sound.
Auld’s career as a bandleader began in November 1939 after Shaw suddenly quit the music business and left the country. Band members voted to remain together, forming a cooperative and electing Auld as leader, with Pastor leaving to form his own orchestra. Benny Goodman wanted Shaw singer Helen Forrest and worked out a trade with Auld, sending him vocalist Kay Foster in her place.
The band recorded on Varsity and got off to a good start with their first engagement After that, things quickly fell apart. Auld had little name recognition with the public, and the orchestra had problems securing bookings. Men began to leave, and in February 1940 the cooperative was dissolved. Auld initially refused to give up. He tried to form a new outfit but soon threw in the towel and joined Jan Savitt’s orchestra in early April.
Auld and Savitt didn’t get along, and things blew up in early July after Savitt told Auld he was “blowing too damned loud in the section.” This started an argument which led to Auld leaving the band. Auld flirted with joining Shaw’s new orchestra but declined, intent on starting his own. That never happened, and he kept busy, recording with Billie Holiday and ending up in Goodman’s band, where he also became part of Goodman’s sextet. Auld and Goodman also didn’t get along, and eventually they parted ways in June 1941. Shaw at that time was starting a new group, and Auld sat out for six weeks without work, waiting for it to start rehearsals.
Shaw disbanded again in early 1942, and Auld tried again to form his own orchestra, which debuted in March. Made up of mostly young musicians and featuring an “exotic blonde” named Savina as its vocalist, Auld’s band played jump-style music inspired by Count Basie. Savina remained as vocalist at least through June. By August, however, the band was in disarray. Auld fired several musicians and others quit. Rumors went through the business that Auld had disbanded, and even his manager wasn’t sure what was happening. Auld put together a new outfit, which went into rehearsals, but it didn’t last long. As an American resident, Auld was eligible for military service, and he received his draft notice in early October.
Auld’s military career didn’t last long either. Inducted into the army and stationed at Fort Dix and then Fort Kilmer in New Jersey, in January 1943 he was arrested by federal agents on drug charges, caught up in an undercover operation when he profited from the sale of marijuana to a fellow soldier musician and former Goodman bandmate. The events of the arrest were sensationalized in newspapers across the country and caused much concern in the music industry. Lurid stories of a “reefer parlor” in a hotel room where soldier musicians came to smoke marijuana and perhaps do other immoral acts were far from the truth. The actual events involved former Goodman guitarist Michael Bryan, on leave in New York, asking friends to buy marijuana for him. One of the people involved happened to be an undercover drug agent. Bryan and Auld plead guilty, and Auld was given an honorable discharge. In July, he was back in New York, working with a small band at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street.
In early September 1943, Auld debuted a new orchestra, with Betty Bennett said to be trying out as vocalist. The band lined up steady bookings, including an appearance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Ann Salloway was female vocalist in February 1944, with Kay Little replacing her in April. Patti Powers took Little’s place in early June. Kirk Wood joined as male vocalist in February. Al Grant was male vocalist at some point before August 1944.
The band plugged its way through 1944 and finally started to gain recognition in 1945, recording that year on the Guild label in February and May and on Musicraft in October. Gordon Drake became male vocalist in early 1945. Powers remained as singer until early September, when Lynne Stevens took over. The band kept a grueling schedule of one-nighters, and it soon began to take its toll. In December, it went through a reorganization. Stevens left in January 1946, and Auld took a break in February, exhausted and suffering from a lung ailment which sent him to Arizona for recovery.
Auld regrouped in New York in late April. The new band never managed to find success, despite backing Sarah Vaughn on several recordings that summer. In August, fighting with his booking agency, he asked to be released and then had trouble securing a new agent. He finally called it quits and ditched the band, forming a septet. He lead small combos in New York through the end of the year before taking off for the West Coast in early 1947, where he sat idle for a while, operating a record store while waiting for his Local 47 union card. He then formed a short-lived combo before joining the Jimmy Evans Cavalcade of Jazz all-star tour.
Auld continued fronting small bands for the rest of his career, the most notable being his early 1949 nine-piece outfit which featured Virginia Maxey on vocals. It was the closest he would ever get to leading a big band again. In spring 1949, he opened his own club, called Tin Pan Alley, on Broadway and 49th in New York, where he occasionally played. In December 1949, he opened on Broadway in Rat Race, playing the character of a musician and performing in the show’s band. The production ran to March 1950. He eventually returned to touring with small combos.
Georgie Auld passed away in 1990 at the age of 70.
Powers and Auld later married. Auld had married a showgirl named Mary Tullis in March 1942 and the two divorced in late 1944. ↩︎
In late 1944, after the recording ban had ended, Auld went into the studio as part of an orchestra assembled by ex-Duke Ellington clarinet player Barney Bigard. Auld was given featured billing on some sides. ↩︎
Local 47 was the Los Angeles area musicians union local. ↩︎