Ken Bruce celebrates Sheila Tracy’s quest to discover the real stories behind the music. Sheila Tracy presented Big Band Special on BBC Radio 2 for 21 years, from 1979 until 2000. When she died in September 2014, Sheila left behind a treasure trove of interviews with great jazz and big band musicians. These offer revealing insights, not only into the development of swing music, but also into the lives, attitudes and struggles of the musicians who played it.
The Sheila Tracy Tapes showcase Sheila Tracy at work as a specialist music presenter on BBC Radio 2. The programme features a series of captured moments with some of the biggest musicians of the big band era.
- Band leader & clarinetist Artie Shaw, who spoke to Sheila before his death in 2004;
- Before his death in 1985, Nelson Riddle spoke to Sheila about working with Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey
- British jazz trombonist Chris Barber chats about whether jazz and classical musicians can ever collaborate successfully together
- British jazz pianist George Shearing discusses his first gig and how his parents didn’t encourage him to follow a career in music
- American singer Helen Forrest speaks about the trials of working for Benny Goodman
- Glenn Miller’s musicians (including Bill Finnegan, Billy May, Nat Peck and Bernie Privin) reveal what they really thought of the celebrated band leader
- American bass player Milt Hinton and his wife Mona speak to Sheila about segregation and what it meant for black musicians and their families on the road in the Southern states of America…
- In the late Thirties, the big band scene was at its height. Benny Goodman was the top band leader in America at the time and his band was the first swing outfit to play the prestigious Carnegie Hall. Jimmie Maxwell played trumpet for Goodman from 1939-1943. He told Sheila: “It was the most famous band in the country, I suppose in the world. Wherever we would go there would generally be thousands of people waiting for Benny to come out. In New York people would line up the night before to get in show the next day. I never had an experience like that. It was like being with the Beatles”.
- Trombonist Milt Bernhart worked with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas in the 1960s: “When Frank Sinatra would open at The Sands in Las Vegas. Opening night we would play and naturally he was playing to turn-away-crowds and he was at his best at that time, but the second night he would have been out all night the previous night drinking, carousing. So he was starting to come down with Las Vegas Throat…Frank would get it and he would be unable to sing the second night. They’d tell the audience and you can imagine the disappointment”.
- Bill Finnegan started working for Glenn Miller in late 1938 at the famous Glen Island Casino. Bill arranged many of Glenn Miller’s biggest hits including Little Brown Jug, The Song of the Volga Boatmen and Story of a Starry Night… He told Sheila, “the band was in good shape. That was the summer that the band really started packing them in”.
- Mona Hinton lived on the road with her husband Milt, who was a bass player in Cab Calloway’s band. She spoke to Sheila about the difficulties of life on the road for black musicians. She said, “for instance, in the south [of America] they had white drinking fountains and black drinking fountains. You couldn’t go in the restaurants to eat. You couldn’t go in the stores and shop. And unfortunately in many cases the black proprietors would realize this and they took advantage”.