As a teenager in the late Fifties I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of music, including everything from early rock & roll to the softer sounds of my parents’ favorite records. But even though I enjoyed a lot of what I heard, I often found myself attracted to big band jazz. The ironic thing about it was that the era of the big bands was into its twilight phase by then.
But even if the boom days were over, there were still bands around that managed to do pretty well. Some of those were led by the stars of the earlier era — guys like Count Basie — but others had come along a little later. One of the most successful of the latter variety was the group led by Si Zentner.
Simon ‘Si’ Zentner had paid his dues in the early days, playing trombone in the bands of Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, and others, and he’d also spent some time in Hollywood doing movie soundtracks. Adding in the fact that he’d considered classical music while growing up in New York, he was someone with a solid foundation for leading a musical group.
Zentner found almost immediate success when he formed his band in 1959, but it wasn’t easy. The band toured extensively, often enduring grueling streaks of one-night stands, but it helped build a fan base, one that bought a lot of records. Among the band’s best-selling platters were new and different versions of established songs like Mancini’s “Charade” and “Walk On The Wild Side,” but the band’s biggest hit was its Grammy winner, a ‘twist’ version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up a Lazy River.” (Video below.)
Although Zentner’s band was both popular and critically acclaimed — it would win 13 consecutive ‘best big band’ polls in Downbeat magazine — things slowed down a little in the mid-Sixties, and he decided to settle his band in Las Vegas. He had a number of good years, performing with Mel Tormé and others, and eventually began touring again with a road band. The band did well, but he later grew ill and returned to Las Vegas, where he performed almost up until his death at age 82 in 2000.