Sam Donahue's Navy Band


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Today, when we think of swing in uniform during World War II, Major Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band (1942-44) most often come to mind. Artie Shaw led the Navy Dance Band starting in 1942, but the orchestra didn't have much of an opportunity to record after deployment to the Pacific. After performing on ships and bases in forward positions, the tropical climate and stress left the band shattered, forcing its return to San Francisco in 1943. Shaw, trumpeter Max Kaminsky and drummer Davey Tough were granted medical discharges, and saxophonist Sam Donahue [pictured above] took over the band.

Sam Donahue's Navy Band was easily one of the most swinging bands of the war, with a crackerjack trumpet section: Conrad Gozzo, Frank Beach, Don Jacoby and John Best (tp); Tasso Harris, Dick LeFave, Tak Takvorian and Gene Leetch (tb); Bill Nichol, Mac Pierce, Ralph La Polla (as); Sam Donahue and Joe Aglora (ts); Charlie Wade (bar); Rocky Coluccio (p); Al Horisch (g); Barney Spieler (b); Buz Sithens (d) and Bill Bedford (vcl).

Donahue could play trumpet as well as sax and was a superb swing arranger who occasionally commissioned charts from David Rose. Two recordings capture Donahue's superb Navy Dance Band and its fine swing sensibility: Convoy Vol. 1 (Hep) and LST Party Vol. 2 (Hep). After the war, Donahue settled in Los Angeles and wound up recording extensively for Capitol. He died in 1974.

Here's Sam Donahue's Navy Band performing Convoy...

Here's Moten Swing and Just You, Just Me...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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