Oliver, Sy, 1910-1988

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Melvin James ("Sy") Oliver was born December 17, 1910 in Battle Creek, Michigan. His family moved to Zanesville, Ohio while Oliver was still a child. Oliver absorbed music early in life (both parents were music teachers) and learned trumpet while still a child. By the age of 17 he became a member of the territory band led by Zack Whyte. During this time he taught himself arranging as a way of proving the viability of his harmonic theories. Around 1932 he was associated with Alphonso Trent's territory band. After accepting several of Oliver's arrangements, Jimmie Lunceford invited Oliver to join his band in 1933. He stayed with Lunceford until 1939, working as sideman on trumpet, arranger, vocalist on novelties, and performing with the Lunceford Trio. He is responsible for creating not only that band's unique sound during its heyday in the 1930s, but is also credited with forming the swing sound.

In 1939 he left the Lunceford orchestra and joined the Tommy Dorsey Band, where he composed and arranged many of that band's famous numbers. He also sang some vocals played trumpet (this was his last significant stint playing trumpet). He was listed as an orchestrator on at least three films made in Hollywood, Dubarry Was a Lady (1943), Girl Crazy (1943), and Broadway Rhythm (1944), all made with the Tommy Dorsey band. From 1943 through 1945 he was bandmaster while serving in the US Army (see his Honorable Discharge, folder 1643).

He led his own orchestra between 1946-47. Thereafter he continued arrranging for many groups, and soloists, including the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra. In the 1950s and 60s he was involved in numerous recordings, not only stereo re-recordings of his Lunceford and Dorsey arrangements, but also new arrangements.

In the 1960's and 1970's he toured with his own band in Paris (once again playing trumpet after many years, as well as flugelhorn and vibraphone), and appeared at several clubs in New York. He first began to perform at the Rainbow Room with his own ensemble during this time. It was an association that was to last until 1984 (see folders 1649-1651).

Sy Oliver died on May 28, 1988.

From the guide to the Sy Oliver papers, ca. 1933-1990, (The New York Public Library. Music Division.)

Sy Oliver was an arranger, composer, singer, trumpet player, and band leader.

He was born Melvin James Oliver on December 17, 1910 in Battle Creek, Michigan, but moved to Zanesville, Ohio in his youth. Both parents were music teachers and Oliver learned trumpet at a young age. He took up arranging as a way to prove his harmonic theories. By 1932 he was associated with Alphonso Trent's territory band. From 1933 through 1939 he was associated with Jimmie Lunceford and his orchestra, working as sideman on trumpet, arranger, vocalist on novelties, and performing with the Lunceford Trio. He is responsible for creating not only that band's unique sound during its heyday in the 1930s, but is also credited with forming the swing sound.

In 1939 he began an association with the Tommy Dorsey Band, where he composed and arranged many of that band's famous numbers. In 1943 he left the Dorsey band for two years of U.S. Army service, where he served as bandmaster, receiving an honorable discharge in 1945. He led his own orchestra between 1946-47. Thereafter he continued arrranging for many groups, and soloists, including the Mills Brothers and Frank Sinatra. He published a small book in 1949, "Sy Oliver's self-instructor arranging course." In the 1950s and 60s he was involved in numerous recordings, not only stereo re-recordings of his Lunceford and Dorsey arrangements, but also new arrangements.

In the 1960's and 1970's he toured with his own band in Paris (once again playing trumpet after many years, as well as flugelhorn and vibraphone), and appeared at several clubs in New York. He first began to perform at the Rainbow Room with his own ensemble during this time. It was an association that was to last until 1984. Sy Oliver died on May 28, 1988.

Sy Oliver met his wife, vocalist Lillian Clark (born Autilia Ventimiglia, December 19, 1925) while they were both appearing with the Tommy Dorsey Band in the early 1940s. Many of his arrangements included vocal groups for which Lillian was a member. Lillian Clark Oliver died on August 20, 1996.

From the description of Sy Oliver papers, [ca. 1933-1990]. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 144652531

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Oliver, Sy. Sy Oliver papers, [ca. 1933-1990]. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Sy Oliver papers, ca. 1933-1990 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Richard Maltby Sr. papers, 1936-2006, 1956-1975 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Phoebe Jacobs Jazz collection, 1951-2002 Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn Milnes, Harriett. Duke Ellington oral history, 1939-1987 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Jacobs, Phoebe,. Phoebe Jacobs Jazz collection, 1951-2002. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Johnny Green additional papers, 1923-1989. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Southern Folklife Collection Artist Name File, 1940-2005 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Cyma Rubin papers, 1969-1992, 1970-1975 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Duke Ellington recordings collection Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard College Library
creatorOf Oliver, Sy. Sy Oliver papers, [ca. 1933-1990] [microform]. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Oliver, Sy. Sy Oliver papers, [ca. 1933-1990] [microform]. New York Public Library System, NYPL
contributorOf Alfred Wallenstein / WOR Radio Library Music Manuscripts, 1936-1953 University of North Texas. Music Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Music Collection corporateBody
associatedWith Berlin, Irving, 1888-1989 person
associatedWith Berlin, Irving, 1888-1989. person
associatedWith Clark, Lillian, d. 1996 person
associatedWith Clark, Lillian, d. 1996. person
associatedWith Dodge, Joseph Jeffers person
associatedWith Dodge, Joseph Jeffers person
associatedWith Dorsey, Tommy, 1905-1956 person
associatedWith Dorsey, Tommy, 1905-1956. person
associatedWith Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974 person
associatedWith Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974. person
associatedWith Green, Johnny, 1908-1989 person
associatedWith Jacobs, Phoebe, person
associatedWith Jacobs, Phoebe, collector. person
associatedWith Lunceford, Jimmie person
associatedWith Lunceford, Jimmy. person
associatedWith Maltby, Richard, 1914-1991 person
associatedWith New York Jazz Repertory Company corporateBody
associatedWith New York Jazz Repertory Company. corporateBody
associatedWith New York Jazz Repertory Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Porter, Cole, 1891-1964 person
associatedWith Porter, Cole, 1891-1964. person
associatedWith Rome, Harold, 1908-1993 person
associatedWith Rome, Harold, 1908-1993. person
associatedWith Rubin, Cyma person
associatedWith Styne, Jule, 1905-1994 person
associatedWith Styne, Jule, 1905-1994. person
associatedWith Tommy Dorsey Band corporateBody
associatedWith Tommy Dorsey Band. corporateBody
associatedWith Tommy Dorsey Band. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Battle Creek MI US
New York City NY US
New York City NY US
Subject
Popular music
Popular music--1941-1950
Big band music--Parts
Popular music--1961-1970
Popular music--1951-1960
Dance orchestra music--Scores and parts
Jazz
Popular music--1971-1980
Dance orchestra music--Scores
Popular instrumental music
Big band music--Scores and parts
Swing (music)
Popular music--1931-1940
Occupation
Trumpet players
Bandleaders
Arrangers (Musicians)
Composers
Function

Person

Birth 1910-12-17

Death 1988-05-28

Active 1933

Active 1990

Male

Americans

English

Information

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