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Leading Chronicler of the Big Band EraCopyright © 2001The Scotsman, 2001
George T. Simon was a former drummer with the Glenn Miller Orchestra who went on to become a leading expert on the music of the swing era and the big bands. He wrote several acclaimed books, including The Sinatra Report (1965) and his authoritative The Big Bands (1967), as well as copious articles, liner notes for recordings, and occasionally even song lyrics for the likes of Duke Ellington and Alec Wilder.
He was born George Thomas Simon into a talented family. His father was a milliner, but his brother, Richard Simon, was the co-founder of the American publishing house Simon & Schuster, and the singer-songwriter Carly Simon is one of his nieces. He graduated with a BA from Harvard University in 1934, and began working for the music magazine Metronome the following year.
He was Associate Editor of the magazine from 1935-39, and its editor-in-chief from 1939-55. As editor, Simon shifted the focus of the magazine away from technical articles, and established it as a leading chronicler of the swing era, and subsequently of the emergence of bebop (it was Simon who hired the late Barry Ulanov, one of the most vocal of the new musics supporters in the media, to work for the magazine).
His involvement in the jazz scene began while he was a student at Harvard, where he played drums in his own band. He helped Glenn Miller to organise his first band, and played briefly as a drummer in that group in 1937, including participating in their earliest recording session, and again in the Army Air Force Band during the war. He did not pursue a career as a musician, but later wrote what became the standard work on the band, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (1974).
He was able to persuade top name artists to contribute voluntarily to the production of V-discs, wartime recordings which were made for the forces stationed abroad, but which later became a valuable source of historical reference in a period where the commercial recording industry was virtually dormant.
In later years, he wrote on jazz for a variety of publications, including the New York Herald Tribune (1961-4) and New York Post (1980-1). His book The Big Bands, originally published in 1967 and frequently revised and reprinted, won him an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award in 1968, and remains the standard work on the subject.
He wrote many sleeve notes for recordings, and received a Grammy Award in 1978 for his notes which accompanied the album Bing Crosby: A Legendary Performer (RCA Victor). He had been Crosbys personal choice to write the notes.
He was involved in record production with the Jazztone label in 1956-7, and went on to produce records for several companies, including Columbia, Capitol, RCA Victor and Warner Bros. He became the executive director of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, a position he held from 1961-72.
He had been suffering from Parkinsons disease, and died from pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, Beverly Jean Simon; a daughter; a son; and three grandchildren.