17-05-08

Bob Florence Obituary

by Rachel McGrath Ventura County Star, May 17, 2008

Legendary jazz composer, arranger and Big Band leader Bob Florence,
who won a Grammy and two Emmy awards during his long career, died
Thursday at his home in Thousand Oaks.

His death came five days before his 76th birthday.

Florence was widely acknowledged as a dominant force in Big Band
music, keeping the genre alive with his own Los Angeles-based band,
Limited Edition. He also was a respected music educator.

"He's been a fixture on the West Coast for over 50 years," said Don
Shelton, a professional musician who has known Florence since 1956
and been a member of his band for the past 20 years.

"I've been listening to his music and crying tears of joy," Shelton
said by phone from his La Quinta home Friday. "He was a very
sensitive man, and he showed that in his music and in his personal
life."

Florence won a Grammy Award in 2000 for Best Large Jazz Ensemble
Performance for his album "Serendipity 18." He received 15 other
Grammy nominations during his career.

He won Emmy awards for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction
for the 1990 PBS-TV show "Julie Andrews in Concert," which was in
the network's "Great Performances" series, and the 1981 CBS
program "Linda Lavin, Linda In Wonderland."

Florence was born in Los Angeles on May 20, 1932.

In an interview with The Star in 2000, he recalled his earliest
musical memory as "my mother standing over me with a switch, making
me practice."

He was supposed to grow up to be a concert pianist, but he fell in
love with the sounds of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody
Herman. At the age of 19, he dropped his classical music studies in
favor of pursuing his passion for jazz.

His first break came in 1959 when he arranged two numbers for
trumpeter Harry James' band. That led to work with drummer Louie
Bellson and Si Zentner, for whom Florence arranged the 1961 hit "Up
a Lazy River."

He also became the pianist of choice for many singers, including
Julie Andrews, Vikki Carr, Dean Martin, Andy Williams and Red
Skelton, and he wrote charts for Doc Severinsen, the leader of the
in-house big band on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" on NBC.

For several years, Florence had been a faculty member at Centrum, a
music and arts center based at Fort Worden State Park in Port
Townsend, Wash., where he led workshops at its annual weeklong jazz
festival.

Centrum's associate director Gregg Miller said Florence was highly
respected for his composing and arranging.

"What impressed me so much was that, even though he was an older
man, his playing was so vigorous and youthful," said Miller. He
noted Florence was scheduled to lead the Centrum faculty's All-Star
Big Band in a concert of his own music July 26 in Washington state.

Instead, Kim Richmond, adjunct assistant professor of Jazz Studies
at USC's Thornton School of Music — and lead alto player in
Florence's band — will direct the All Stars in a tribute to him.

Florence's survivors include his wife, Evie, their two children and
grandchildren.

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