In American popular music, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey achieved that too rare combination: musical sophistication and vast commercial appeal. Though the brothers went separate ways for most of their careers, they had great influence on the Swing Era, from the '20s through their deaths in the mid-'50s.
"The Dorsey bands were as important as any of them — Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Harry James, Benny Goodman," said trombonist Bill Tole. "When they had their famous sibling argument in the '30s and broke up the Dorsey Brothers band, the public actually benefited. We lost one great band, but got two great bands in return."
"Tommy was the forerunner of the pretty ballad trombone style," said Tole, who was hired to play with his idol's orchestra not long before Tommy's death. "And they were both intelligent businessmen. Both knew how to hire the right musicians, both hired the best singers, both led the top-rated band in the country at one time or another."
Tommy's band included such notables as Bunny Berigan, Yank Lawson and Buddy Rich and such singers as Connie Haines, Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra. Jimmy was regarded as one of the leading saxophonists of his time, whose influence was felt on such players as Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.
The two brothers were like night and day, said trombonist Jim Miller, a band member in the 1950s.
"Jimmy was the gentleman of gentlemen, the opposite of Tommy completely," Miller said. "Tommy was aggressive because he was a perfectionist, and of course he was hardest on himself. He always demanded that we give our best, plus 10% or 15%. Jimmy also demanded that, but he did it in a very laid-back style."