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In 1952 two well-known big-band arrangers, Bill Finegan and Eddie Sauter, linked up to form the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. As composer-arrangers they'd individually worked for everyone from Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller to avant-boppers like Boyd Raeburn. But little that they'd done before then prepared their audience for what they'd do with their own Orchestra. It was basically a studio band, with fluctuating personnel, but they did sometimes play live dates - I saw them in 1954 or 55 at Washington D.C.'s National Guard Armory, where Finegan led the band from a small podium on which he had a primitive mixing board to mix the individually-miked musicians. The band's music straddled a number of fences. Nominally dance-band jazz, it ranged from popular songs ("Love Is A Simple Thing") to standards ("April In Paris," "Autumn Leaves"), to polytonal jazz, covers of classical or marching band pieces, modern woodwind quartets, and original suites of music. "Progressive" is a word I'd apply to this music, if not for the fact that Stan Kenton had a lock on "Progressive Jazz," and this music is far better than all but his best (which is to say, Kenton's performances of Robert Graettinger's music, now available on the CITY OF GLASS CD).

Sauter-Finegan were known as a "hi-fi" orchestra in the era when high fidelity was still a very new concept, but LP records were starting to merit that description. S-F used instruments of unusual timbre (such as a close-miked tenor recorder), and at the upper and lower ranges of audibility (piccolos to bassoons), as well as a broad range of percussion instruments (one album was largely devoted to percussion). Their arrangements (impossible to tell without a scorecard who did which) were rich in unusual harmonies. And their musicians! The roster included most of NYC's top jazz session musicians, including some, like trumpeteer Doc Severinsen, who went on to fame of his own as a bandleader.

Although S-F put out more than half a dozen albums on RCA Victor from 1952 to 1958, there is only a single CD of their music, DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC [Bluebird 6468-2-RB], and it's a spotty collection, weighted in favor of their pop singles. But the 19 tracks range from 1952 to 1958, and include several tracks from their first, 10-inch LP, NEW DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC. (I played that LP to death after I got it and was happy to get the 12" reissue a few years later, although the four added tracks - two at the end of each side - broke the suite-like mood of the album.) Included on this CD are "Doodletown Fifers," "Azure-te," "April In Paris," and Prokofiev's "Midnight Sleighride" from that first album. "April In Paris," with its wordless vocal, achieves a transcendence that utterly transported me as a teenager, and still gives me goose-bumps; it goes far beyond the category of popular songs.


One of the things Sauter-Finegan did was to take advantage of emerging technology. They recorded for RCA Victor, and that company was, in the early fifties, pushing 45s as an alternative to the (33 1/3) LP. Whole albums were issued on 45s, and the 45 EP was introduced - a 7" record that would hold six to eight minutes of music a side (10" LPs held only 12-15 minutes a side; 12" LPs ranged from 15 to 25 minutes per side). So Sauter and Finegan wrote an "Extended Play Suite," consisting of four pieces, each of which occupied one side of a 45 EP, and each of which averaged about six minutes in length. Two of them, "Horseplay" and "Dream Play" are included on this CD. "Child's Play" and "Holiday" are not. That's a pity, since not only do they make up a complete suite (with recurring themes), but "Dream Play" does not stand alone - or in tandem with "Horseplay," which overshadows it - as well as would "Child's Play," the piece that originally backed "Horseplay."

I question other choices - supposedly all Finegan's - such as the inclusion of John Philip Sousa's "The Thundisbreak," but not the A-side of the single on which that piece appeared, "Science Fiction." (As a fan of science fiction as well as of Sauter-Finegan, I had an especial fondness for "Science Fiction," but it was a stunning, bravura piece in its own right.) But I'm glad to see "Two Bats in a Cave" (a polytonal trumpet duet), and "Wild Wings in the Woods," the woodwind quartet, included on this CD. But, overall, DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC is a tease, barely skimming the surface of S-F's recorded output, leaving far too much in the vaults.

After the breakup of S-F in the late fifties, Finegan sank out of sight, while Sauter went to Germany to work with a symphony orchestra there, and then scored strings for a Stan Getz album, FOCUS, which gathered much praise at the time. The notes for this CD mention a 1986 reunion concert, but there have been no new recordings. More's the pity. Sauter-Finegan were completely unique.

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