Harry James, Trumpeter & Bandleader Harry James (born Henry Haag James, 1916-1983) was an American trumpeter and bandleader. He was one of the most popular bandleaders of the first half of the 1940s and he continued to play with his orchestra until just before his death.

Born in Albany, Georgia, by age 10, young Harry James began learning to play trumpet from his father, who was a circus bandleader. His father insisted on a strict practice regimen whereby James had to learn one page from the Arban method book every day, before attending to any other activities. At age 14, after his family had moved to Texas, James won a state music contest  playing trumpet which inspired him to pursue a professional music career.

After playing in local dance bands, he eventually signed on with the nationally known Ben Pollack Band in 1935, and later joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1937. In February 1939, James debuted his own band in Philidelphia, with which he toured well into the 1980s.

Around 1941, James changed up the musical style of his band, adding strings to the instrument line-up and incorporating a sweeter sound, a smart move which landed him a series of popular successes. His first Top Ten Hit was “Music Makers,” whose song title referred to the band’s commonly used name: “Harry James and the Music Makers.”  The 1941 song “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)” was his first to reach the Top Five, and established James as a musical star. In 1942, seven of his recordings reached the Top Ten, earning him a title as the second most successful bandleader after Glenn Miller. When Miller enlisted in the war effort, he passed his radio show, Chesterfield Time, off to Harry James.  James’ band was the first big name band to utilize the singing talent of then-little known Frank Sinatra and the band also employed singer Helen Forrest to great success.

When WWII-era travel restrictions by the musicians union limited James’ touring and recording opportunities, he found other chances to continue his music career through appearance in many Hollywood films. His first film appearance was Syncopation in 1942, followed by appearances in Private Bukaroo and Springtime in the Rockies that same year. Private Bukaroo has a great Collegiate Shag and Tap dance sequence in it:

Video Clip from Private Bukaroo

Springtime in the Rockies is significant because it also starred Betty Grable, who became Harry Jame’s second of three wives in 1943.

Signature Harry James swing dance tunes include:

  • I Heard That Song Before
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light
  • Strictly Instrumental
  • Music Makers

If you prefer lo-fi recordings, you’ll want to check out this album:

Some of my favorites from that album:

  • Two O’Clock Jump
  • King Porter Stomp
  • I Found a New Baby
  • Fannie-Mae
  • Sugar Daddy
  • Vol Vistu Gaily Star
  • Flash
  • Flatbush Flanigan
  • Strictly Instrumental
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light

Another great album, for those of you who prefer hi-fi recordings is:

Here are my picks from this album:

  • James Session
  • Moten Swing
  • Cherry
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light
  • Two O’Clock Jump
  • Strictly Instrumental
  • Barn 12
  • I’ve Heard that Song Before
  • Blues on a Count
  • Music Makers
Trumpet Man: Harry James