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Doc Severinsen

For 25 years, Doc Severinsen was arguably the best-known trumpet player in America, appearing on television every weeknight as the leader of the Tonight Show Orchestra. Known for his exceptionally loud wardrobe, Severinsen often bantered good-naturedly with host Johnny Carson, while supplying the show's incidental music (bridging commercial breaks, introducing guests, etc.). Despite the musical limitations of that format, the Tonight Show Orchestra was increasingly considered one of the best big-band jobs available as time passed: generous exposure, steady work, and declining options elsewhere. Severinsen maintained a side career to allow himself to stretch out, recording bop, big-band swing, and crossover-friendly instrumental pop for a series of labels beginning in the '60s. When The Tonight Show was on hiatus, he toured with smaller groups and guested with numerous jazz and pops orchestras around the country. He had his critics in the jazz world, partly because his albums weren't strictly jazz, but also partly because he didn't display his chops very often; he was an able bebop soloist with a bright, clean tone and a tremendous range in the upper register of his horn. In the mid-'80s, he finally brought the Tonight Show Orchestra into the studio for a series of popular and well-received recordings. When the orchestra broke up in 1992, Severinsen hit the road with a select group of alumni, and also continued his guest appearances around the country.