born on 17/12/1910 in Battle Creek, MI, United States
died on 28/5/1988 in New York City, NY, United States
Melvin James "Sy" Oliver (December 17, 1910 – May 28, 1988) was an American jazz arranger, trumpeter, composer, singer and bandleader.
Sy Oliver was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. His mother was a piano teacher and his father was a multi-instrumentalist who made a name for himself demonstrating saxophones at a time that instrument was little used outside of marching bands.
Oliver left home at 17 to play with Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels and later with Alphonse Trent. He sang and played trumpet with these bands, becoming known for his "growling" horn playing.
Oliver arranged and conducted many songs for Ella Fitzgerald from her Decca years. As a composer, one of his most famous songs was "T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)", which he co-wrote with Trummy Young.
In 1933, Oliver joined Jimmie Lunceford's band, contributing many hit arrangements for the band, including "My Blue Heaven" and "Ain't She Sweet" as well as his original composition "For Dancers Only" which in time became the band's theme song. In 1939, he became one of the first African Americans with a prominent role in a white band when he joined Tommy Dorsey as an arranger, though he ceased playing trumpet at that time. (Fletcher Henderson, another African American composer/arranger, had joined the Benny Goodman orchestra as the arranger some years earlier.) He led the transition of the Dorsey band from Dixieland to modern big band. His joining was instrumental in Buddy Rich'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-jazz tune that was later recorded by Ray Charles), "Opus One" (originally titled as "Opus No. 1", but changed to suit the lyric that was added later), "The Minor Is Muggin'", and "Well, Git It".
After leaving Dorsey, Oliver continued working as a freelance arranger and as music director for Decca Records. One of his more successful efforts as an arranger was the Frank Sinatra album I Remember Tommy, a combined tribute to their former boss.
June 26, 1950, Sy Oliver and his Orchestra recorded the first American version of C'est si bon (Henri Betti, André Hornez, Jerry Seelen) and La Vie en rose (Louiguy, Édith Piaf, Mack David) for Louis Armstrong.
In 1974 he began a nightly gig with a small band at the Rainbow Room in New York. He continued that gig until 1984, with occasion time off to make festival or other dates, including at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. He retired in 1984.
Oliver died in New York City at the age of 77.
- For Jimmie Lunceford:
- For Tommy Dorsey:
- What Is This Thing Called Love? (1942–Victor 27782)
- Yes, Indeed! (1939–1945 RCA) (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)
- For Louis Armstrong:
- Satchmo Serenades (1952 Decca) featuring "La Vie en rose", "C'est si bon" & others
- Caterina Valente and Sy Oliver And His Orchestra – Plenty Valence! (1957 Polydor)
- 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)
- Swing music
- Watrous, Peter (28 May 1988). "Sy Oliver, 77, a Jazz Composer, Arranger and Band Leader, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Sy Oliver; Influential Arranger in Big Band Era". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. May 30, 1998.