Born: January 20, 1922 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
Ray Anthony has been one of Big Band music's most dedicated ambassadors. For sixty years he has helped keep alive the sounds of America's golden age of jazz and pop music. Born in 1922, Anthony began his musical career at age five, playing in his family's group, the Antonini Family Orchestra. During high school he worked with local bands in the Cleveland, Ohio, area and later made his professional debut with Al Donahue in 1940.
After only a short time with Donahue, Anthony was hired by Glenn Miller but left after six months, unable to get along with the famous orchestra leader. He then played briefly with Jimmy Dorsey before forming his own group, which featured unique instrumentation -- one trumpet, one French horn, five saxes, and three rhythm.
In 1942 he entering the Navy, where he led a service group in the Pacific. Upon being discharged in 1946 he formed a new orchestra, signing with Capitol Records. When Ralph Flanagan began the parade of Glenn Miller imitation bands Anthony fell in line and, like other imitators, made good money. During the 1950s he had a string of hits, including Peter Gunn, The Bunny Hop, Harbor Lights, and a jazzed-up version of the Dragnet theme song. He also appeared in several movies during that decade, such as This Could Be the Night and the Fred Astaire vehicle Daddy Long Legs.
Ray Anthony’s Harry James style trumpet and arrangements were mainly aimed at a more commercial oriented crowd rather than jazz fans. However a few of his late 50’s releases show the swinging side of Ray Anthony. Several noted here contain recordings far removed from his usual commercial fare.
Anthony was raised in Cleveland, Ohio and was one of six brothers. He started on the trumpet at the age of 5. In 1938 he joined Al Donahue and then worked for Glenn Miller from November of 1940 to July of 1941. He then spent six months with Jimmy Dorsey before he joined the Navy in 1942, leading his own band in the Pacific until 1946. Anthony started leading a civilian band under his own name in 1946, achieving popularity in 1949 after he joined Capitol Records. One of his biggest “hits” was the theme to “Dragnet” which he recorded in 1953.
Although much of Anthony’s output is considered commercial (or as Down Beat magazine in the 40’s would have called it “corn”) he has cut several records that swing heartily. These recordings sound so dissimilar from his usual output it is hard to believe it could be the same musician. Two releases in particular stand out; the first a great LP from the 1950’s called “Anthony Plays Allen.” This finds Anthony’s trumpet flanked by the likes of Conte Candoli, Plas Johnson, Conrad Gozzo, Skeets Herfurt, and Alvin Stoller among others. To a lesser degree but still enjoyable is the release “Swings The Thing.” Fortunately both at this writing are available on a single CD. A great side from his early Capitol days is “Skycoach” recorded in 1950. This recording flows smoothly and features both Mel Lewis and Ray Brown, two jazz heavyweights.
His biggest hit came in 1954, when, after bugging Jack Webb for months to get him to release the recording rights, he recorded a cover of the theme to Webb's cop show, Dragnet. He also earned a Top 10 hit with a dance tune that sparked a craze even shorter-lived than the Macarena: The Bunny Hop. Anthony's rockin' cover of Peter Gunn was the probably the best-selling single recording of that tune.
Anthony also won a place in the hearts of exotica lovers by marrying buxom B-movie queen Mamie Van Doren. Anthony was a real entrepeneur, running a web of businesses that included a music publishing house, contracted bands (he bought out Billy May's short-lived big band when it folded), an a nightclub in Hollywood. Anthony was also a regular of the Las Vegas circuit, with an act that featured a stand-up comedian and a line of girl singers that included Vicki Carr at one time.
Anthony eventually broke up his big band and settled down to work in Vegas and elsewhere with smaller combos. He continues to run his own label, Aerospace, which reissues his recordings as well as those of Glenn Miller and Billy May.
During the 1960s, as the market for big bands dropped off, Anthony toured the lounge circuit with a sextet and a female vocal duo called the Bookends. His popularity continued and he was eventually able to add to his group, ending up with ten musicians and six female singers. During the 1980s Anthony began touring with a big band again. He also formed Big Bands 80s, an organization dedicated to providing big band music to schools, radio stations and other venues. Ray Anthony remains, to this day, dedicated to his calling.