The Jazz.com Blog
June 11, 2008 · 1 comment
In response to Jeff Sultanof's tribute to the late Bill Finegan, Ray Hoffman shares these warm recollections (passed on to jazz.com by arnold jay smith). T.G.
Jamie Finegan, who was there (when I was only there on rare occasions), would know this story much better than I, but one of the most interesting things that I can tell you about Bill is the way he maintained a very active telephone contact with a number of people over his last decade...mostly from his living room sofa in Monroe, Connecticut.
First and foremost on this list of his correspondents was Bob Brookmeyer. As Bill's wife Rosemary started going downhill about a decade ago, Brookmeyer (who had been a friend since the '50s, and in fact wrote two uncredited arrangements on the last Sauter-Finegan album) started calling him daily. And as far as I know those daily calls (from most anywhere in the world that Brookmeyer might have been) continued to the very end. Several times when Bill's health and/or spirits were in serious jeopardy, Brookmeyer seemed to be able to give Bill a recharge; to get him going after prolonged periods of inactivity. I remember one incident in particular . . . as recounted to me: Just prior to the birth of Bill's lovely grandaughter Julia, Brookmeyer bucked him up with a lot of "Do you want to live or not?!!!" talk. Without Brookmeyer (along with the loving support of his son Jamie and his daughter Helen), I believe Finegan would have left us years earlier.
The other regular correspondents (that I know of) were Jim Hall, Ruby Braff, James Chirillo, and Clare Fischer . . . who put things in motion for what would be Bill's final arrangement, a version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" for the chorus Chanticleer. Other regular visitors were Eddie Sauter's son Greg (a talented composer-arranger who spent his professional career in real estate), Warren Vaché (in the last year or so; Finegan wrote three charts for Vaché's recent CD with a Scottish string ensemble), and Bill's music-and-fishing compatriot Wally Kane, who has been the woodwind voice of Sesame Street since the very beginning. At 19, in 1952, he was the baby of the new Sauter-Finegan band. Now, a few days shy of 75, he's one of only a handful of surviving members, and (at least during the time I was there at the funeral), he was the only one who could attend the funeral. The only other surviving members I can think of (at least in terms of the organized road band) would be Sonny Russo (in Oregon), Don Ashworth (in LA), Joe Venuto (in Reno), Sperie Karas (in Germany), and Harvey Phillips (in Indiana, I think).
To me Bill was a fearless man, a great storyteller, and a loving husband, father and grandfather. He also was a magnificent pianist, and I'll never forget one night a few years ago when Bill dragged himself off the sofa and went into a back room in which a great grand piano had been somehow situated. He sat down and (with probably somewhat arthritic hands) played the most lyrical, and most harmonically-intelligent version of Autumn in New York that I have ever heard.
And . . . I can think of no greater oversight, within the realm of recordings, than the way the Sauter-Finegan orchestra is so grudgingly and sparsely represented on CD. That's especially so, when you consider the particular magnificence of the music. To say it merits a Mosaic box is an understatement.
The Wall Street Journal Radio Network
WCBS Newsradio 880, New York
PS -- Just remembered: I spent an afternoon with Sy Oliver about a year before he died, and he said Finegan's chart on "April in Paris" was "the greatest arrangement I've ever heard."