November 1988 – December 2010
June 1981 – September 1983
Larry was playing trombone in the Dunes Hotel “Casino de Paris” orchestra when Glenn Miller Productions, Inc., first asked him to front the band. “It was a great surprise to even be considered for such a job and was definitely a step up for me,” Larry admits. “I was flattered and apprehensive, too. I was following some very fine leaders, and I hoped I could uphold the -fine Miller tradition.”
Larry O’Brien does have a direct link back to the Glenn Miller sense of performance. He first performed with the Miller band in the early Sixties, when Ray McKinley was the leader. Ray, of course, served in Europe with Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force band and then acted as its unofficial leader after Miller’s disappearance.
Larry has been involved with the big bands during most of his career. He performed with the orchestras of Sammy Kaye, Buddy Morrow, Ralph Marterie, Ray Eberle, Billy May, Les Elgart, Boyd Raeburn, Art Mooney, and Lee Castle. In 1962, Larry was the featured soloist / lead trombonist with the Sam Donahue Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and performed all those great Tommy Dorsey solos.
He also spent several years as leader of a group backing Frank Sinatra, Jr., in live appearances, recordings and television shows. They toured worldwide for almost three years and appeared numerous times on The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. The association with Frank, Jr., continued in various formats for sixteen years.
In 1979, Larry settled in Las Vegas where he played with the Al Ramsey Orchestra at Ceasar’s Palace, backing up such stars as Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra. He also worked with Sergio Franchi, Wayne Newton, Roy Clark, and many other noted performers.
In June 1981, Larry accepted his first assignment as leader with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He toured with the Orchestra through September 1983 and then returned to Las Vegas again to fulfill commitments to the Al Ramsey Orchestra at the Golden Nugget Hotel and the Russ Gary Big Band Express.
Larry is quite proud of the two albums he recorded with the Big Band Express, Have Horns Will Travel and A Time To Remember, which also featured trombonist, Carl Fontana.
When not working in Las Vegas, Larry toured with Pia Zadora around all of the United States and Korea. He also performed on her record Pia Today which features the Sammy Nestico Orchestra. Larry also reunited with his friend, Frank Sinatra, Jr., and with trumpeter Buddy Childers they toured Italy and performed in Las Vegas regularly.
The trombone has been Larry’s instrument right from the start. He was born in Jamaica, New York on July 15, 1933. His father, Vincent, preferred classical music, but Larry and his mother, Leonore, liked the sounds of the big bands.
“Tommy Dorsey was my primary motivation force. He was the enfant terrible, the bad one who, when it came to trombone, put everybody away. I started on trombone when I was about 13, and as soon as I got interested, Dorsey became prominent. I remember picking up Marie and Hawaiian War Chant and stuff like that. From then on, he was like a religion to me.”
The musical training really began at John Adams High School in Jamaica, New York, with trombone lessons by the band director. He also studied privately with trombonist Ed Kolyer who played in Broadway shows. A year later, Larry, who was then only 15, was first trombonist with the New York City All-City High School Symphony Orchestra and, at age 16, won the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Trombone Scholarship. Then there was a three-year stint in the service from 1952 to 1955. He attended the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. and was assigned to the 328th Army Band. When O’Brien got out of uniform, he went to New York University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education with his major in music. It was while attending college that Larry joined the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, which was then performing at the Roosevelt Grill in New York City. He also toured and recorded with the orchestra and was the featured soloist on the Sammy Kaye Television Show. That job lasted right through the four years of school and whetted his appetite for the big band career.
“I’m only somewhat amazed about the Miller mystique.” Larry stated. “It’s many-faceted. There’s more than one reason for the continuing popularity of the band. For one thing, Glenn gave up a lucrative band business when he was at his zenith to join the service-when he didn’t have to. He was immensely popular when he entered the service. The band had sold more records in a year than, I think, Elvis or the Beatles ever did in a year. Then he went on to form a monster band, play all over Europe for the GIs, help sell a lot of war bonds, improve morale, and generally contribute greatly to the war effort. Finally, he disappeared mysteriously in a plane that took off from England for France on December 15, 1944. No trace of the plane has ever been found. So I think it’s a combination of all these factors in addition to the great Miller sound itself that keeps his music and his name alive.”
O’Brien has his own ideas about how to keep the Miller style and sound fresh. “I’m a traditionalist, but we’re not nit-picky Miller. We’ve instituted some changes we think Glenn probably would have instituted himself were he still here such as retaining the voicing of Danny Boy as a brass chorale, but replacing the trumpets with fluegelhorns and having the trombones play in hat.”
There’s more. One critic wrote: “A sense of swing feeling … seems to have returned with Larry O’Brien’s assumption of the leadership of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. [Larry] has steered his orchestra in the direction the Miller music followers demand-the band’s basic foundation-the Glenn Miller Music.”
Larry O’Brien underscores his dedication to maintaining the Miller aura: “Some of the more modem part of our repertoire we play in the big band style. Some we don’t. What we’re trying to do is run this band the way we feel Glenn would have if he were still here.”