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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.

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

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).

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