Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: Doc

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Doc Severinsen turned 92 this week.

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From the Associated Press:

Severinsen, best known for leading the band on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,″ was born Carl Severinsen in Arlington, Ore., and nicknamed Doc for his dentist father. As a boy he wanted to be a jockey. He played trumpet in a band that performed between horse races in the afternoon and at horse shows at night at the Oregon State Fair.

“I’d walk around the stables looking at my favorite horses,″ he recalls. “I had afternoon and evening horses I loved. I know their names to this day.″

He got his first big music job at 16, when he went on the road with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. He later played with the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Charlie Barnet and became a freelance musician in New York.

Severinsen says he still remembers locations of restaurants with cheap spaghetti.

When he took a sideman job with NBC in 1949, Severinsen says, “There were so many jobs for musicians in those days, most of the good trumpet players weren’t interested. I thought, `This is terrific.‴

He was a “Tonight″ band member when Carson became host in 1962 and was promoted to leader in 1967.

“The show was put together as we went along. A lot of it, we would just wing it. It was stimulating,″ Severinsen said. “You never knew what was going to happen when you went to work. And it stayed stimulating.

“The last six months with Johnny Carson were even more so. Once people realized he was leaving and there was going to be a big change, everybody wanted to be on the show. People started watching it more intensely than they had, and the buildup of emotion was tremendous.″

Severinsen said he was prepared to stay with the show as long as Carson did. But when Carson left in 1992, so did Severinsen.

One of the biggest thrills of my broadcasting career came in either 1980 or 1981 when I was working in news at Milwaukee Public Radio.

The station programmed news and jazz music at the time.

One day we were doing one of those God-awful annoying on-air fundraisers, and that afternoon I was in one studio and the on-air jazz host in an adjacent studio, and the two of us begged for money.

Severinsen was in Milwaukee to perform a concert that night, and the station arranged for Severinsen to call in for a live interview done by the jazz host and me.

We were about the time Doc was to phone us when the host (I just can’t remember his name, good guy) informed me on-air that we would not be getting the call as expected.

Why not?

“Because,” the host said, “Doc is in the hallway right now and is about to join you in the studio.”

In mere seconds the celebrity trumpeter walked in, extended his hand, said hello, and plopped himself in the chair to my right. It was amazing.

For over an hour we interviewed him even though his staff person said it could only go about 45 minutes as I recall. He was every bit as personable and funny as you’ve seen him on TV.

Doc also came bearing gifts. Anyone who called in with a pledge would receive tickets to the show. The phones went bananas.

Somewhere in my basement is a cassette tape with the entire interview. Unforgettable.

I also remember that the vast majority of those who called in for tickets never paid their pledges.

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From the spring of 2011 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, with the Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force.

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
A paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain

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