Shorty Rogers Biography

Milton Rajonsky, 14 April 1924, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, USA, d. 7 November 1994, Van Nuys, California, USA. After studying in New York, Rogers played trumpet in the bands of Will Bradley, where he first met Shelly Manne, and Red Norvo. Military service interrupted his career, but in 1945 he joined Woody Herman for a spell, during which he also wrote a number of bop-flavoured big band charts. After Herman, he played with and arranged for the Stan Kenton band, thus increasing his public exposure still more. While with Kenton he also composed a number of features for fellow sidemen such as Art Pepper and Maynard Ferguson.

During the 50s Rogers worked mostly in California, still writing hard-swinging charts for Kenton but trying to find work locally. He worked in films, appearing on-screen and on the soundtrack of The Man With The Golden Arm (1955). He also recorded with his own big band, effectively ‘borrowing’ most of the Kenton band, but he was most often in a succession of important small groups. Rogers’ involvement in the west coast scene was intense and he, more than any other single musician, is most readily identifiable as a prime mover in the movement’s success. The first small group record session Rogers organized was in October 1951 and resulted in the influential Modern Sounds, on which he was joined by Manne, Pepper, Jimmy Giuffre, Hampton Hawes and others. He also appeared on the Lighthouse All Stars, then led his own groups through a succession of fine recordings, including the big band Cool And Crazy, on which he used Kenton’s men. On these and his many other albums of the 50s, including The Swinging Mr Rogers and Martians, Come Back!, Rogers ably demonstrated his arranging gifts and magnificently showcased the musicians hired for the occasion. This use of several young veterans of the swing era tradition to play music that drew heavily upon the newer vocabularies of bebop created a perfect blending of all that was best of both forms. There was little or no evidence of the clichés which were, by then, adversely affecting the performances of many of the surviving big bands. While the Rogers brand of west coast jazz did not have the aggressive urgency of its east coast counterpart, it always swung lithely. Rogers was constantly on the look-out for new and unusual sounds and styles and was an early jazz experimenter with 12-tone writing.

Rogers continued playing and writing throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, touring extensively and always eager to work with young musicians in the USA or UK and with old friends like Bud Shank and Vic Lewis. In the early 90s, shortly before his death, he most frequently played flügelhorn, the warmer, denser sound admirably suiting his expressive playing style.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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