Born on December 17, 1910, Melvin James” Sy” Oliver was from Battle Creek, Michigan. Both of his parents were music teachers in Ohio, where he grew up. He played the trumpet as a boy and at the age of 17 took a job with Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels. There he began to hone his arranging skills. He then moved to Cincinnati, continuing his arranging and playing with the Alphonso Trent band.
He joined the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra in 1933 and within six years, his compositions and arrangements made the orchestra one of the most successful and individual big bands of the swing era as it toured. He established a reputation for innovative arranging characterized by imaginative instrumentation and a full-bodied sound. The orchestra became known for its precision playing, high powered, novelty numbers, slick showmanship and razor sharp swing. Oliver also developed a distinctive “growl” sound, in his own playing as one of Lunceford’s main trumpet soloists. Among the orchestra’s repertoire, are such Oliver compositions as ''For Dancers Only,'' ''Dream of You,'' ''Organ Grinder Swing,'' ''Stomp It Off'' and '' 'Tain't What You Do.'' Not only did they help define the orchestra, they remain some of jazz's finest arrangements and compositions.
In 1939, he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra as a singer and arranger. There his arrangements included “Opus One'' and ''Easy Does It.'' He led a band while in the Army during World War II between 1943 and 1945. He also hosted a radio show, “Endorsed by Dorsey” which featured his own band. He returned to Dorsey’s orchestra after the war.
From the late 1940s to the early 1970s Oliver held a variety of jobs, including a decade as musical director of Decca Records. He recorded several albums, including a tribute to the Lunceford band, and wrote scores for several television shows. He continued to compose, arrange and, occasionally, to perform. In 1942, his first major screen credit with his arrangement of the score for the musical comedy, “Ship Ahoy,” a film featuring Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. He worked on Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” as well.
In the early 1970s, he formed a nine-piece orchestra that continued to perform until 1984. n The orchestra featured clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Cliff Smalls and tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb. They played the St. Regis-Sheraton, Rainbow Grill and other clubs.
In 1974, he and the group moved into the Rainbow Room, where they stayed until 1984, with occasional breaks for performances at jazz festivals and at Roseland in New York. He was also one of four musical directors of the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra, which was dedicated to keeping jazz masterworks alive in a repertory setting. In 1984, Sy Oliver retired to spend time with his family.
Sy Oliver died May 28, 1988 in New York City.
One of America's great jazz composers and arrangers of the big band era, and a musician who had a significant impact on American popular music playing trumpet.
From www.anothershadeofcolor.com, http://www.answers.com/topic/sy-oliver, and http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=9969.