Shortly after Andy Razaf and Eubie Blake's Memories of You was performed in the Blackbirds of 1930 revue, the song was recorded by vocalist Ethel Waters in August 1930 for the Columbia label. Duke Ellington soon followed in early October with an RCA release featuring Dick Robertson on vocal. Two weeks later, Louis Armstrong and His New Cotton Club Orchestra cut it for Okeh, providing a laid-back vocal and an effortless trumpet solo that spiraled up to end on a pitched high note. Armstrong's record became a hit on Variety's weekly sales charts in November. Then Memories of You faded slightly until December 1937, when trumpeter Sonny Dunham recorded one of the most searing solos of the song up until that point.
Dunham [pictured] was lead trumpet and an arranger for Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra [pictured] when he recorded Memories of You in 1937. Dunham had an expressive, open-horn sound that was embraced by Harry James, and he could soar effortlessly up a scale with power and bend notes gracefully at the top to make a point. Dunham's 1937 and 1939 versions of Memories of You were so potent and dramatic that for the rest of his career he owned the song, much in the way Bunny Berigan owned I Can't Get Started, also recorded in 1937. What's more, Dunham's interpretation became so signature that it revived the song as a jazz standard and led to popular recordings by Benny Goodman (1939), Coleman Hawkins (1944), Anita O'Day (1945) and many others.
At the height of his 1937 fame, Dunham left Glen Gray to start his own band with 14 musicians, 10 of whom doubled on trumpet. But the horn-heavy gimmick never caught on, forcing Dunham to fold the band. For the next two years, he traveled the country promoting trumpet mouthpieces for a manufacturer.
When Dunham returned to recording in 1939, he was a Metronome magazine poll-winner and appeared on the publication's first Metronome All Stars recordings. To give you a sense of how big a deal Dunham was at the time, the All Stars' personnel featured Charlie Spivak, Harry James, Bunny Berigan and Sonny Dunham (trumpets); Jack Teagarden and Tommy Dorsey (trombones); Benny Goodman (clarinet); Hymie Schertzer (alto sax); Arthur Rollini and Eddie Miller (tenor saxes); Bob Zurke (piano); Carmen Mastren (guitar); Bob Haggart (bass) and Ray Bauduc (drums).
Dunham also played with Armstrong when Armstrong recorded two tracks for Decca with Glen Gray and His Casa Loma Orchestra in 1939. Dunham remained with Gray until 1941, when he left again to form his own orchestra, using Memories of You as its theme song. Dunham's new band was inventive and featured musicians who soon would wind up in Boyd Raeburn's experimental orchestra.
But Dunham was never able to carve out a musical identity for himself, and as music styles changed, he fell short of becoming a name-brand bandleader during the 1940s.Dunham did have an ear for talent, though, and he is credited with discovering trumpeters Uan Rasey and Pete Candoli, trombonist Kai Winding and tenor saxophonist Corky Corcoran. His early-1940s band also featured trombonist Earl Swope, trumpeter Sonny Berman, bassist Mert Oliver and drummer Don Lamond.
Dunham continued to lead his own band into the mid-1950s before rejoining Glen Gray for a series of record dates. He recorded intermittently in the 1960s, and his last recording was in 1974. By the 1980s Dunham was all but forgotten, living in a trailer in Florida, where he died of cancer in 1990.
JazzWax tracks: Ethel Waters' recording of Memories of You can be found at iTunes or Amazon on The Incomparable Ethel Waters. Duke Ellington's version is on Duke Ellington: 1930 (Vol. 2) from the French Classics label here. Louis Armstrong's version is on Louis Armstrong: 100th Anniversary Anthology at iTunes.
Armstrong's two tracks with Glen Gray (Rockin' Chair and Lazybones), featuring Sonny Dunham and trombonist Pee Wee Hunt in 1939, can be found on Louis Armstrong: Thanks a Million at iTunes or the splendid Mosaic Records box The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) here.
Sonny Dunham's 1937 recording of Memories of You does not appear to be available on CD. It opens with a descending figure before warmly launching into the theme. However, the 1939 version is available at iTunes on Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra 1939-1940. There's also a crisp 1956 version at iTunes on Sounds from the Great Casa Loma Band, which seems to be the Casa Loma in Hi-Fi album renamed.
A JazzWax thanks to Stan Cooper, a former Brill Building music-publishing executive who turned me on to Sonny Dunham during a recent phone conversation.
JazzWax clip: Here's Sonny Dunham leading his orchestra in 1945, featuring Pete Henley on vocal...