George Dorsey


While the surname Dorsey is a big deal in jazz circles, the journeyman saxophonist and flutist George Dorsey has nothing to do with the family that begat brothers and sometimes co-bandleaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. George Dorsey hailed from a historical black neighborhood of Savannah, GA. He played in many big bands but stayed clear of the Dorsey Brothers. An article on the 36th Street district published in The Savannah Morning News mentions the jazzman: "George Dorsey, whose parents lived at 628 W. 36th, left Savannah to become a celebrity saxophone player in Count Basie's band." This is an interesting choice of words considering the fact that what Dorsey became was in a sense everything but a celebrity.

He became a valued member of reed sections and not only the Basie band. Since he was not featured as a star soloist, however, he was not able to use the band as a springboard for his own fame. Dorsey played on many recording sessions for decades beginning in the '50s, but doesn't seem to have worked as a member of orchestras that backed the often faceless pop music of that decade. Most of his credits are for projects in which tried and true jazz greats expand their recording outfits into big-band size. He was frequently associated with Benny Carter, referred to as a "Benny Carter alumnus" when referred to at all. Dorsey shows up on a big slab of orchestral Louis Armstrong sides from the Decca years, employment that wound up expanding his discography considerably. He is also present on several fine albums created by composer, arranger, and alto saxophonist Oliver Nelson and some heavy-hitting Jimmy Smith releases in which more than just his usual trio members are present before the microphones.

When big-band work began to fizzle in the rock era, Dorsey kept busy like many of his peers in soul groups such as Ray Charles and James Brown. Swing revival outfits such as Manhattan Transfer eventually made use of his talents. Dorsey seems to have retired in the '80s, but information is lacking regarding his whereabouts or state of health. Researchers trying to find him should be sure to stay clear of the British pop sensation Engelbert Humperdinck. His real name was George Dorsey and coincidentally he was also a saxophonist until he decided to sing one night in a talent show.
- by Eugene Chadbourne
All Music Group