As if having a hyphenated name wasn’t unusual enough, a 1950s swing band known as the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra had a couple of other odd attributes. For one thing, the group reached its peak during the twilight of the big band era. It was also unusual for having dual bandleaders, but the real oddity was how they turned the orchestra into a unique musical experiment.
Brooklyn-born Eddie Sauter and New Jersey native Bill Finegan were both consummate professionals, with backgrounds that included classical musical educations and decades of service in some of the biggest of the big bands. Both were capable and versatile instrumentalists but they had become better known as two of the best arrangers around, and as the swing era wound down they decided they were ready to try something new.
The duo had all kinds of new ideas they were eager to try, such as coming up with cutting-edge music and utilizing unusual instrumentation (including everything from glockenspiel to kazoo) while not worrying too much about the music’s popular appeal. Their debut record — “Doodletown Fifers” — set the tone, and they were soon spinning out a lot of platters that received a decidedly mixed reception. While many fans enjoyed the new sound, others were confused and more than a little put off.
Originally a studio band but eventually becoming a touring group too (although the leaders were a little charisma-challenged), the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra sold a lot of records during the 1950s, and even if most them didn’t make the upper ranges of the record charts the band did have some success with songs like “Nina Never Knew” and “The Moon Is Blue.” But things wound down later in the decade and the band’s founders decided to go on to other things. Although they found success with other groups and did work together again from time to time, the original Sauter-Finegan Orchestra was history.