Edward William May Jr., the Grammy Award-winning jazz bandleader, trumpeter and composer, died on Jan. 22 from a heart attack. He was 87.
To counter his childhood asthma, a doctor advised May to play the tuba. The treatment worked. May joined his school band and soon taught himself to play the trumpet and trombone.
May’s first professional gig was playing the trumpet with the Charlie Barnet Band in 1938. His arrangements for Barnet included the hit recording “Cherokee,” a Ray Noble song that became a standard of the swing era and the band’s signature song. A year later, May joined the Glenn Miller Band and arranged the classic tunes, “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Serenade in Blue.”
In the 1940s and ’50s, May became one of the most popular and prolific big-band music arrangers. He created arrangements for the Woody Herman and Alvino Rey orchestras and formed his own band, scoring successes with “All of Me,” “Charmaine,” “Lean Baby” and “Fat Man Boogie.” His album, “Billy May’s Big Fat Brass,” won a Grammy in 1958 for Best Performance by an Orchestra. The following year, he won a Grammy for Best Arranging for “Come Dance With Me!”
May worked as an arranger-conductor with many of the greatest singers of that era, including Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee. He spent three decades collaborating with Frank Sinatra after meeting the singer in a New York bar in 1939. Their first effort was the 1957 album “Come Fly With Me,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart. On television, May composed the theme songs for the police dramas “Naked City” and “The Mod Squad.” He also wrote the music for the Red Skelton and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson shows.
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