By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette — Brother problems go back a bit in history — at least to Cain and Abel! I was thinking this a while back when I attended a concert by Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra at Artpark (led by a very old, now deceased Buddy Morrow, once anointed by Dorsey as a kind of successor). The first thing you should know about the late TD: he looked avuncular, i.e., mild-mannered, and his trombone certainly sounded that way, including on smooth recordings he made with a young Sinatra; but Tommy was as tough as the Pennsylvania coal country whence he hailed.
His brother, Jimmy Dorsey, split from him in the 1930s and had his own orchestra, and they were very different — Jimmy the sweeter one, including in his playing on reed instruments. But by the early ‘50s Jimmy was busy drinking himself to death in a New York hotel, and the brothers’ blunt old mother enjoined Tommy to fish him out of there. Near the end of both their lives they joined forces again, then Tommy died in 1956, and somewhat bereft, Jimmy followed soon after.
Staying with old music, I know less about the Crosby brothers, except that Bing was obviously more famous than his brother Bob, a bandleader. But Bob seemed more akin to Jimmy Dorsey in terms of personality. Bing’s character? I hesitate to knock the man whose rendering of Berlin’s “White Christmas” is truly iconic. Not to mention his roles in old movies and the rest that so often appear on TV.
And yet, I always denoted a certain coolness in his music, and while he may have been nicer to his second family, he was certainly a rough father to his first, especially to Gary Crosby, whose memoir “Going My Own Way” seems as true to a sad growing-up reality as Christina Crawford’s “Mommie Dearest” on her ultra- demanding mom, Joan Crawford.
Of course there are brothers who always got along well from the start — you see their names on business signs, etc. But more often, I believe, rivalry (whether spoken or unspoken) goes with the territory. Sometimes one brother needs to wriggle away to create his own reality that works for him.
Which used to be par for the course in frontier America, as it was for distancing from dads. You got oedipal problems (not that pre-Freud, anyone would have used that term)? You got problems with your four older brothers? At 18 or so in, say, Indiana, you shuffled off — generally not to Buffalo, but to some stand of woods 80 or 100 miles away. You cleared the land, you married and raised kids there, you and family maybe visited the home base every few years, but you didn’t email or call incessantly from the cell phone!
And this was possibly a healthier way to go for some, or really, for many.
By the way, that was a heckuva concert by the modern Dorsey orchestra under a tottering Morrow, clutching his trombone. You heard some of the fine old chestnuts marvelously done, such as “Song of India,” and you thought of original Dorsey sidemen like the great trumpeter Bunny Berigan, who died at 33 (too fond of the drink) or Buddy De Franco.
They all had horror stories to tell about Tommy, but would also laud his intermittent bouts of generosity. Temper boiling quickly (and he was around other heavy-duty types in that realm, like Sinatra or Buddy Rich), TD could quickly fire a sideman, then relent the next day or week, and rehire him!
And hey, Jo Stafford sang with him early in her career, before going on to wonderful solo work. But what happened to our brother theme?
I guess so much of life is paradox, right? In theory, siblings have the same mother and father, but quite often, they don’t. Mom and dad treat one brother differently from another, not to mention sister. Then of course there’s genetics playing a fascinating role from the get-go, and this puts us on the old debate path of nature versus nurture, a debate I don’t wish to join. And there are old saws concerning family which still resonate, such as “you can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em.”
Like Tommy and Jimmy, right?B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.