William James Finegan (3 April 1917 – 4 June 2008) was an American jazz bandleader, pianist, arranger, and composer. He was an arranger in the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He later traded in commercial success to co-create the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, which produced music that still stands as some of the most experimental of the swing era.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Finegan grew up in a household full of piano players. While growing up in Rumsen, NJ he studied piano with Elizabeth Connelly, piano and musicianship with flautist/alto saxophonist Rudolph John Winthrop (1883–1959), himself a student of Engelbert Humperdinck. He spent time studying at the Paris Conservatory and had his first professional experience leading his own piano trio.
Finegan was offered a job as a staff arranger for Glenn Miller after Tommy Dorsey bought a copy of his "Lonesome Road" and recommended him. Between 1938 and 1942 Finegan wrote more than 300 arrangements for Miller, including some of the band's biggest hits: the classic “Little Brown Jug,” “Sunrise Serenade” and “Song of the Volga.” Finegan also wrote arrangements for the films “Sun Valley Serenade” in 1941 and “Orchestra Wives” in 1942, and had begun a lifelong profession as a teacher.
He composed "Down For The Count", "Conversation Piece", "Are Ya Jumpin' Jack?", recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, "Doodletown Fifers", "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum", "Doodletown Races", "Yankee Doodletown", "Pussy Willow", "Bingo, Bango, Boffo", "Hollywood Hat", "Piccalilli Dilly", "Church Mouse", "Alright Already", "Texas Tex", recorded by Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1946, "Child's Play", and "Tail End Charlie" which was released by Glenn Miller and his AAFTC Orchestra as a V-Disc, no. 144A, in March, 1944.
Finegan also arranged music for films in which the band appeared, such as Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942). He then worked off and on for Tommy Dorsey from 1942 to 1952, including on the 1947 film The Fabulous Dorseys.
In 1947-48 Finegan studied with Stefan Wolpe in NYC, and lived in Europe from 1948-1950 where he studied with Darius Milhaud and Valerie Soudere, a pianist and composer who premiered Bartók's 3rd Piano Concerto in Paris. After returning to the United States, Finegan and Eddie Sauter formed a highly successful ensemble, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, in 1952 which remained active until 1957.
His composition "Doodletown Fifers" was one of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra's best-known originals. Following this Finegan found work in advertising, writing music for commercials. In the 1970s he arranged for the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Mel Lewis's orchestra. In 1985, four years after Sauter's death, Finegan directed a 30-year reunion of the Sauter-Finegan band in concert at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.
He taught jazz at the University of Bridgeport in the 1980s. He wrote arrangements for cornetist Warren Vaché (with the Scottish String Ensemble) in 2004, and the vocal group Chanticleer. He was revered and befriended in his later years by many sensitive musicians such as Bob Brookmeyer and Ruby Braff. Although he was immobilised for the last 20 years or so of his life by continuous pain in his spine, he continued to write and teach music.
His last composition included arrangements for Warren Vache's “Don't Look Back” and for the Gotham Wind Symphony in 2007. Bill Finegan died on Wednesday, June 4, 2008, in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the age 91 from pneumonia. (Info various mainly Wikipedia)