Feb 28, 2012 - Just What the Doc ordered

Severinsen and his Big Band at the Depot
this Tuesday.

    It’s hard to believe that there are college students who weren’t even
born when trumpeter Doc Severinsen blew his last note as the
bandleader on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
    It may be even harder to believe that Severinsen had begun his
Tonight Show gig thirty years earlier than that – following a career
that had seen him play in the orchestras of such big-band-era legends
as Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman.
    But perhaps the most unbelievable thing of all about Severinsen is
that, deep into his eighties, he’s still touring and recording,
winning new fans and winning back old ones with music that ranges
easily from big-band to jazz-fusion.
    Severinsen, on his first tour in half a decade, is scheduled to bring
his group to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First
Street, for a 7:30 p.m. show on Tuesday, March 6. Advance tickets are
$20, with a limited amount of premiere seating available for $100 per
ticket. General admission will be $40 at the door. To order tickets in
advance, call the Jazz Hall’s Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609.
    Born July 7, 1927 in the town of Arlington, Ore., Carl Hilding
Severinsen acquired his nickname because of his father, who was the
town dentist. Although he didn’t want to follow his dad into the same
career, music wasn’t his first choice of an occupation.
    “I decided what I wanted to be was a jockey,” he told San Antonio
Express-News writer Jim Beal Jr. in a 2011 interview. “When I started
playing music, my father decided I’d better get some lessons. Later
on, when I was playing with the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra on a TV show
in New York, I could see the music business could be kinda iffy. So I
thought I’d go up to a university and take an aptitude test.
    “The violinist, Sal Spinelli, said, `You’re crazy. I’d like to have
10 percent of what you’re gonna make.’ I did a self-analysis and
decided I was a structured schizophrenic. When I was with Tommy
Dorsey, (trumpet player/bandleader/composer) Ziggy Elman gave me some
great advice. He said to learn to be as versatile as possible and you
can make a good living playing music.”
    Over the years, Severinsen has appeared in Tulsa many times. One of
his first appearances came in the 1960s, when he played with the Tulsa
Philharmonic and, at the end of the show, joined Tonight Show cohorts
Skitch Henderson (on piano) and Bobby Rosengarden (drums) for a long
and exquisite take on the Oklahoma state song.
    Severinsen last played in town more than a decade ago, in the fall of
2001, when he appeared with the Tulsa Philharmonic Pops at the
Performing Arts Center’s Chapman Music Hall. He also found time to
speak at Tulsa Town Hall. The Pops show was a makeup engagement from a
year earlier, when a bout of Bell’s Palsy forced him to postpone a
number of dates.
    “It’s funny,” he told the Tulsa World’s James D. Watts Jr. in a
pre-show interview from 2001, “but the minute it happened, I thought
it was Bell’s Palsy, and I knew that it’s rarely permanent. But I said
to myself, `Well, if this is the end of playing, then OK, I‘ve been
very lucky, I‘ve had a wonderful career, so what’s next?’ Because
that’s what you have to do, you have to just get on with life.”
    Fortunately for his fans, Severinsen and his trumpet were soon back
on the road.
    In a profile of Severinsen published a couple of years later, Cox
News Service writer Carol Simmons wrote, “Doc Severinsen had a full
musical life before he joined The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and
he’s had a full musical life since the Carson era ended in 1992,”
adding that “the endless possibilities of repertoire keep Severinsen
excited” about playing music on tour.
    “I like pops because I get to play classical,” he told her. “Bit if I
want to play a beautiful ballad, I can. Or we can do some jazz. But
the same basics hold true. Basically, nobody wants to be mystified. If
I can demystify the process – and I’m having a good time – then I’ve
done my job.
    “The most important thing is the comfort and enjoyment of the
audience,” he added. “Secondly, I want the musicians to be as happy
with the music as the audience. If we achieve that it’s been a pretty
darned good day.”
    For more information on Tuesday’s Doc Severinsen concert at the Jazz
Depot, call 918-281-8609 or vist the website
    The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and
educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and
improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation,
education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.

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