Date Posted: 2007-05-01
Tommy Tucker & His Orchestra 1943-1947
By Tex Wyndham
Tommy Tucker was born Gerald Duppler on May 18, 1908 in Souris, ND. He majored in music at the University of North Dakota, playing piano, trumpet and trombone, graduating in 1929.
By that time, Duppler had acquired experience working with various regional bands, including one called 'Tommy Tucker and His Californians.' There is apparently some question as to which person acted as leader of the Californians at that time. In any event, Duppler emerged with the name and was Tommy Tucker for the rest of his life.
Tucker formed an orchestra that began recording in the early 1930s. He adopted an approach geared for dance halls. A typical Tucker set consisted of three slow
dance numbers, usually with vocals, ending with a medium-paced tune. This is not an approach destined to get headlines. Today's fans of the big-band era tend to remember best the 'hot' bands, such as those led by Ellington, Goodman, Basie, Shaw, James etc., which sported killer-diller charts, flamboyant jazz soloists and roaring, riffing, call-response section work. The relatively few 'sweet' bands that enjoy such name recognition had distinctive characteristics, such as Lombardo's instantly-recognizable reed section sound, or Al Bowlly's incomparable vocalizing with Ray Noble.
Although Tucker eschewed such devices, he clearly was doing something right. His orchestra was in great demand at hotels and ballrooms throughout the U.S., worked on top-name radio shows (Fibber McGee And Molly and The George Jessel Show, among others) and made hundreds of recordings for various well-known labels (such as Vocalion, OKeh, Columbia and MGM).
The orchestra stayed in business for over twenty years with little change in personnel. That fact alone is a testimony not only to the band's popularity, as it was able to work steadily at fees high enough to keep its sidemen on board (in what has always been a highly transitory lifestyle), but also to Tucker's personal qualities as a leader, a man who inspired loyalty among his sidemen.
In a 2006 interview*, Tucker's daughter Trudy said 'I and everyone else around us adored him. He was very kind, gracious, thoughtful and honest.'
As the heyday of the big bands drew to a close in the 1950s, Tucker disbanded and returned to academia. He became an assistant professor of music at Monmouth College in New Jersey, remaining for eighteen years, ascending to Dean of the Music Department. After retirement, he had his own disc jockey show, specializing in nostalgic music.
Along the way, Tucker ran a home furnishing store, owned a song publishing company and founded the Tommy Tucker School of Music. After an active and successful career, Tucker moved to Florida, where he died in 1989.
In the above-mentioned interview, Trudy Tucker Thomson also described her father as a 'perfectionist.' That characteristic comes through in the performances on this CD and is what makes them so satisfying to hear over half a century later. If Tucker's band did not develop and individual personality, it compensated by featuring, within the conventions of ballroom dance music, well-wrought imaginative charts that put the tunes in their best settings, rendered with impeccable musicianship. The intonation of the musicians and vocalist is well-rounded. Notes are hit dead center. Execution is crisp and clean. Section coordination, as might be expected from a band that had little personnel turnover, is tight. Soloing is assured, idiomatic and fully in keeping with the mood established by the arranger.
Tucker had only one hit recording, a 1941 version of I Don't Want To Set The World on Fire. This result probably reflects the fact that his repertoire largely consisted of selections that embody the solid professionalism and craftsmanship of the composers of Tin Pan Alley's golden age, but did not usually go very far above that level.
On this CD, you will hear some superior pop tunes like Twilight Time, Guess I'll Get The Papers, Day By Day and You Won't Be Satisfied, but you will more often hear somewhat less inspired numbers like Welcome To My Dreams and Talking To Your Picture. It is on titles of this latter stripe that Tucker's perfectionism, and the merits of his orchestra, are particularly apparent because the arrangers and musicians turn these tunes out in their Sunday best.
Ah Dee Ah Dee Ah may be a ditty with a fluffy lyric, but its chart, contrasting exotic effects with jazz-time passages, holds the listener. The dissonant 'dream' sounds at the beginning and end of Welcome To My Dreams effectively enhance the lyric, as does the''raindrop' music framing The Old Rainmaker.
Moreover, the band could get hot when it wanted to do so. Every one of the eight full-band choruses on Boogie Woogie Woo is different, steadily building (around and among the three meaty solos) into a socking, wailing ride-out. The lyrics to the World War II patriotic numbers Dig It Up and Flight Of The Bomber B-17 may seem dated, but there is nothing dated about their groovy, foot-tapping renditions by the Tucker aggregation.
In short, though the phrase 'easy listening' is sometimes taken to mean plain-vanilla music these days, Tucker's meticulous approach to his product resulted in recordings that, sixty years later in a 21st-century pop music scene dominated by rock-and-roll, are most pleasurable to have playing in your living room. Quality will win out.
*'Feedback And Follow-Up Re: Tommy Tucker', by Christopher Popa, available at http://www.bigbandlibrary.com/feedbackandfollowuptuckertommy.html.
(Tex Wyndham author of the book Texas Shout: How Dixieland Jazz Works, is a recognized authority on early jazz. He has played it on recordings and cruises, and at national festivals, as a ragtime piano soloist and Dixieland band pianist/cornetist. During 1966-1997, Tex wrote published reviews of more recordings of ragtime, Dixieland jazz and related music than any other U.S.-based writer. Nancy Wyndham assisted with the research for these notes. )