Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Forgotten Heroes of the Big Band Era: The Tiny Hill Orchestra

During the Big Band Era there were many fine bands that played a particular part of the country. These bands were known as Territory bands.One of the most successful and musical of these bands was that of Harry "Tiny" Hill (1906-71) , a drummer, vocalist and engaging personality who weighed over 350 lbs.

Tiny , a native of Sullivan, Illinois got his start with several local midwest bands and started his own unit in 1936. The band's style combined a 2-beat "Businessman's Bounce" with hillbilly and dixieland styles added.A special gimmick of the band was the "Double Shuffle", a washboard like effect used in stoptime on many passages.Tiny sang many vocals in a down home "country style". Most of his vocals were old standards and traditional folk or children's tunes played in dixieland style. The band was sometimes known as the Hilltoppers.

Many of the arrangements of the Hill band were done by saxophonist Rodell "Nook" Schreier,later known as David Carroll and a successful bandleader and producer at Mercury Records. Standout soloists included pianist Don Fairchild, saxists Norman Maxwell and Bob Kramer.,trombonist Russ Phillips (with Louis Armstrong in !951-2), drummer Monty Mountjoy (later with the Firehouse 5 plus 2) and the excellent cornetist Bob Anderson whose Bix-like playing were the highlights of the mid 40s Hill recordings.Vocalist Allan DeWitt was with the band in the late 30s. (he had a brief stay with Tommy Dorsey before Frank Sinatra's arrival).The great cornetist Sterling Bose also played briefly with the band around 1946.

The band began recording for Vocalion in 1939. Two of it's biggest records were Angry and Skirts, both old favorites from the 20s.Both titles  feature Tiny's singing, clean ensemble work , some dixieland and nice tenor work. I use Tiny's arrangement of Skirts in my own Big Band and it's one of most popular dance charts. Many of the band's Vocalion and Okeh sides are hard to find but thankfully the band recorded many transcriptions in the mid-40s. Hindsight Records put out two excellent lps of the material. The Vocalion side I Get the Blues When it Rains is a good example of the Hill band with Tiny's singing, double shuffle and good jazz spots. The Mercury side On the Uppermost Tree was a early 50s hit for Tiny and has good band work, double shuffle and some nice growl trumpet.

These transcriptions show a fine, danceable band with plenty of good dixieland passages included.Arranger Carroll obviously enjoyed the Bob Crosby band for several sides have the Crosby" Big Band Dixieland" feel.The Bob Cats records of Loopin' the Loop and Who's Sorry Now are transcribed for the Big Band with many of the Bob Cats licks included as ensemble writing. Even on the old standard Just Because, the out chorus echoes South. Rampart St. Parade. Anderson's cornet is featured heavily on these transcriptions. He was a native of Kenosha,Wisconsin and a bit of a mystery man. He did make some excellent sides for the Jump label in the late 40s.Other standout sides are Margie, Put on your Old Grey Bonnet, Darktown Strutter's Ball and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean (another Crosby-ish instrumental).

The band's stomping grounds were the midwest Ballrooms. They had many appearances at Chicago's famous Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms, broadcasted frequently from their gigs and had a long stay at Chicago's Melody Mill Ballroom in the early 40s.The band played on Your Hit Parade during the summer of 1943.Tiny was married twice. His second wife was Jenny Lou Carson ,a popular country&western singer. Tiny recorded many of her hit tunes. They were married from 1946-9.
Tiny continued leading bands into the 50s and 60s.He settled in Colorado and still spent much time on the road.He had many business interests including a dairy farm and radio station. He stayed active into 1971 when he suffered a fatal heart attack and passed on on Dec.13 of that year.
The Tiny Hill Band is pretty much forgotten today but is worth searching out for some fine dance music that always had good dixieland jazz included.

The Hindsight material has been issued on CD and George Buck's Circle label has a fine Hill CD of more transcriptions. Youtube has several of the commercial Vocalions ,Okehs and Mercury sides.

Happy Listening!