Sammy Kaye

Photo of Sammy Kaye
  • Birth Name

    Samuel Zarnocay, Jr.
  • Born

    March 13, 1910
    Lakewood, Ohio
  • Died

    Jun 2, 1987 (age 77)
    Ridgewood, New Jersey

The words Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye” make up prob­a­bly the sin­gle most mem­o­rable tag line of the big band era, though in ac­tu­al­ity it was more just swaying.” Kaye’s arrange­ments never ap­proached the swing end of the spec­trum. His mu­sic fell quite tidily into the style of sim­ple and com­mer­cial dance rhythms of­ten called Mickey Mouse,” and he was very suc­cess­ful at it.

The son of Czech im­mi­grants, Kaye be­gan play­ing clar­inet in col­lege bands while at Ohio University. In the early 1930s, he led his own or­ches­tra at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland. Later he per­formed at many of the best ho­tels in New York and starred in his own ra­dio pro­gram. Vocalists at var­i­ous times in­cluded Don Cornell, Jimmy Brown, Sally Stuart, Judy Johnson, George Brandon, Maury Cross, Marty McKenna, Tommy Ryan, Charlie Wilson, and Arthur Wright.

Kaye re­lied on sev­eral gim­micks to make his per­for­mances more en­ter­tain­ing. His most fa­mous gim­mick was called So You Want to Lead a Band.” He would bring a mem­ber of the au­di­ence up on stage to wave a ba­ton and act as band­leader.

Kaye’s band never fea­tured any truly mem­o­rable mu­si­cians. In fact, his side­men were of­ten rather mun­dane. Kaye, how­ever, was strict and de­manded dis­ci­pline, and the sound that came out of his men’s in­stru­ments was usu­ally flaw­less. Kaye’s dic­ta­to­r­ial at­ti­tude as a band­leader was well known.

Kaye’s ra­dio pro­gram moved to tele­vi­sion dur­ing the 1950s, and he con­tin­ued record­ing up un­til the 1960s. He even­tu­ally re­tired to Southern California, though his or­ches­tra car­ried on un­der the di­rec­tion of trum­peter Roger Thorpe. Kaye died from can­cer in 1987.


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  • The More I See You
    Sammy Kaye (Sally Stuart), Victor (1944)

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