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Big band sounds take the stage at next Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts event

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- The next featured performance in the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series will be the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra conducted by Buddy Morrow, which will appear on the Memorial Hall stage at Bethel College on Sunday, March 5, at 3 p.m. Big band history recognizes the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra as one of the best all-around dance bands. Tommy Dorsey, called "the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing," was a master at creating warm, sentimental and musical moods, and the band was known for showcasing singers who could project these moods brilliantly.

Jack Leonard sang with the band for about four years. Recordings included "Dedicated to You," "Little White Lies," "You Taught Me to Love Again" and, probably most famous of all, "Marie." "Song of India," the other side of "Marie," was also a huge Dorsey hit. Frank Sinatra’s career blossomed with Dorsey. The Pied Pipers and Jo Stafford also recorded with Dorsey

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was at its original best in the 1930s. In the summer of 1941, it outranked every other band to finish first in one of the most indicative of all popularity polls, Martin Block’s "Make-Believe Ballroom" contest.

By late 1946, however, the band business was in trouble. In December 1946, eight top bandleaders announced they were calling it quits, including Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey. Essentially, this was the official end of the big band era.

Tommy Dorsey did not leave the business, however, and less than two years later was fronting a new group. "It’s about time somebody got things going again," Dorsey was quoted as saying. "You can’t expect to have any real interest in dance bands if the bands don’t go around the country and play for the kids." The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, now led by Buddy Morrow, continues to travel throughout the country playing "for the kids" (of all ages).

Buddy Morrow has been recognized as one of the all-time great trombone players. His future as a musician was virtually predestined, since several generations of his family had played in leading orchestras all over Europe. When Morrow was a teenager, Artie Shaw heard him play and advised him to move to New York. He auditioned at the Juilliard School of Music and received a full scholarship. He later joined the Eddy Duchin Orchestra and stayed until Artie Shaw called him for his newly formed orchestra.

After he left Shaw’s orchestra, Morrow went to play with Tommy Dorsey and a friendship formed that lasted over the years. Morrow played with Paul Whiteman and the Chesterfield Radio Show, the Bob Crosby Orchestra and the Jimmy Dorsey Band. There he got his first taste of orchestra leadership when filling in for an ill Jimmy Dorsey.

After forming his own orchestra, Morrow began experimenting with style and instrumentation. One night in Detroit, Morrow came across an exciting rhythm and blues number and insisted that the band record it. The song was "Night Train." It became a national sensation, selling over a million copies. The Buddy Morrow Orchestra had established itself as one of the biggest musical attractions on the road, setting attendance records in leading ballrooms and theaters from coast to coast.

Morrow has freelanced in the recording, radio and television industries. He was a staff musician at CBS, conducted the Jimmy Rogers Television Show and was on staff at NBC for years as a featured player on the "Tonight Show."

As conductor of "The One and Only Tommy Dorsey Orchestra," Morrow insists that the band retain the authentic sound and style of the late Tommy Dorsey and still have the elasticity to meet every musical situation. The band’s repertoire includes not only the classics of the original Dorsey Orchestra, but also the spectrum of popular music from Dixieland, rhythm and blues and intricate ballads to progressive jazz and contemporary tunes.

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra’s appearance at HBPA is supported in part by the Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Tickets are available at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center on the Bethel College campus, open weekdays from 8 to 5 or by calling (316) 284-5205, as well as by calling Hesston College toll-free at (866) 437-7866. Tickets are $15, $13 and $12, with discounts for students and senior citizens.

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