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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Claude Thornhill: The Godfather Of Cool

The music and story of a bandleader from Terre Haute, Indiana who helped shape the sound of modern jazz.

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  • Thornhill & Orch

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    Photo: album art

    "Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra, 1946-47 Performances, Vol. 2"

  • Claude Thornhill, 1947

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    Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

    Claude Thornhill in 1947.

  • Thornhill's orchestra, 1947

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    Photo: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress

    Thornhill's orchestra in 1947 during a film shoot.

Claude Thornhill was a pianist, composer, and arranger whose 1940s big band helped shape the sound of modern jazz. His orchestral bop and ethereal ballads were tinged with classical influences that set the stage for later masterpieces by Miles Davis and Gil Evans.

Through his unusual instrumentation and subtle sense of dynamics, Thornhill and his collaborator Evans created music that was powerful yet quiet and that “hung like a cloud,” as Evans said. This week Night Lights pays a symbolic centennial tribute to the bandleader and native of Terre Haute, Indiana with a comprehensive look at his career in music.

Claude Thornhill: Godfather of Cool includes music from both his pre-World War II and postwar bands. The show features arrangements from

  • Thornhill and Evans
  • Soloists and singers like Fran Warren and Lee Konitz
  • A wide range of Thornhill’s repertoire, from the ballads and classically-influenced pieces to pop hits and bebop anthems such as “Robbins Nest,” and an early Thornhill foray into the avant-garde with “Portrait of a Guinea Farm.”
  • We’ll also hear reflections on how Thornhill’s origins influenced his music, from singer and historian Tom Roznowski (host of the epic WFIU Terre Haute series Hometown).

For More Claude Thornhill

  • Read JazzWax blogger Marc Myers‘s interview with former Thornhill band member Hal McKusick.
  • Read The Terre Haute Tribune-Star‘s recent piece that draws on the memories of Thornhill trumpeter Rusty Dedrick. (A bit of trivia: Thornhill has long been thought to have been born on August 10, 1909, which would have made this his centennial birthday. As the Terre Haute Tribune-Star now reports, however, he was actually born in 1908.)
  • Hear the Thornhill band’s performance of Gerry Mulligan‘s “Jeru” on a previous Night Lights program, The Birth of the Cool Songbook.
  • Read Jazz writer Will Friedwald on a Thornhill tribute concert earlier this year.

The Scottish label Hep Records has released 8 CDs of Thornhill’s music, covering the years 1940-42 and 1946-53. All of the music for this program came from those CDs (see playlist at right).

Music Heard On This Episode

La Paloma
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 1 (Hep, 2003)
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La Paloma
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 1 (Hep, 2003)
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Snowfall
Claude Thornhill — Snowfall (Hep, 1999)
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Portrait of a Guinea Farm
Claude Thornhill — Snowfall (Hep, 1999)
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Buster's Last Stand
Claude Thornhill — Buster's Last Stand (Hep, 2001)
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There's a Small Hotel
Claude Thornhill — Buster's Last Stand (Hep, 2001)
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Arab Dance
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 1 (Hep, 2003)
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Anthropology
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 2 (Hep, 2005)
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The Troubadour
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 2 (Hep, 2005)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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Sunday Kind of Love
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 1 (Hep, 2003)
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Sorta Kinda
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 2 (Hep, 2005)
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Robbins' Nest
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 2 (Hep , 2005)
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Donna Lee
Claude Thornhill — 1946-47 Performances V. 2 (Hep, 2005)
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Rose of the Rio Grande
Claude Thornhill — 1949-53 Performances (Hep, 2004)
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Now That Summer's Gone
Claude Thornhill — 1949-53 Performances (Hep, 2004)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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