Billy May


Edward William May Jr.[1] (November 10, 1916 – January 22, 2004) was an American composer, arranger and trumpeter. He composed film and television music for The Green Hornet (1966), The Mod Squad (1968), Batman (with Batgirl theme, 1967),[1] and Naked City (1960). He collaborated on films such as Pennies from Heaven (1981), and orchestrated Cocoon, and Cocoon: The Return, among others.

May wrote arrangements for many top singers, including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Anita O'Day, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, Bobby Darin, Johnny Mercer, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Jack Jones, Bing Crosby, Sandler and Young, Nancy Wilson, Rosemary Clooney, The Andrews Sisters and Ella Mae Morse. He also collaborated with satirist Stan Freberg on several classic 1950s and 1960s comedy music albums.

As a trumpet player in the 1940s Big Band era, May recorded such songs as "Measure for Measure", "Long Tall Mama", and "Boom Shot", with Glenn Miller and His Orchestra,[1] and "The Wrong Idea", "Lumby", and "Wings Over Manhattan" with Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra.[1] With his own band, he had a hit single, "Charmaine". In the 1950s he released several successful albums of his unique orchestral arrangements and compositions, including Sorta-May and Sorta-Dixie.

May was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He started out playing the tuba in the high school band. "I sat in the rear of the stand," he said. "I didn't realize it at the time, but I was intrigued with becoming an arranger and an orchestrator."[2] At the age of 17, he began playing with Gene Olsen's Polish-American Orchestra.

After playing with a few local bands, May heard Charlie Barnet's band on the radio in his hometown of Pittsburgh. In the summer of 1938, he approached Barnet and asked if he could write arrangements for him. From 1938 to 1940, he arranged and played trumpet for Barnet's big band.[3]

His arrangement of the Ray Noble composition "Cherokee" became a major hit of the swing music era.[3] During the Barnet days, May revealed a significant flair for satire on his composition "The Wrong Idea", composed with Barnet, ridiculing the bland "Mickey Mouse" style of "safe" big-band music, with specific aim at bandleader Sammy Kaye, known for his "swing and sway" trademark (which May's tongue-in-cheek lyrics referenced as "swing and sweat with Charlie Barnet").

Bandleader Glenn Miller hired May away from Barnet in 1940. "May points out that he was not responsible for any of the [Glenn Miller] band's signature hits, but he did write the beautiful left-field introduction to [Bill] Finegan's [arrangement of] 'Serenade In Blue'".[2]

Miller and May had a wary relationship. According to Will Friedwald, by 1942 May was ready to resign from the Miller band. Miller refused to record half of May's arrangements, and May objected to Miller's regimented style. But since Miller was joining the military, he convinced May to stay on until the band broke up. May finally said around 1995, after a life of heavy drinking and rehabilitation for alcoholism, that working with Miller "helped me immensely. I learned a lot from Glenn. He was a good musician and an excellent arranger."