07/29/02

Matt Dennis Dies

Singer, songwriter and pianist Matt Dennis, who composed the standards “Angel Eyes” and “The Night We Called It a Day” and who worked with Tommy Dorsey as an arranger and vocal coach passed away June 21 in Riverside, Calif. He was 88.

Born in Seattle on Feb. 11, 1914, Matthew Loveland Dennis was part of a family who made their living as a vaudeville act known as “The Five Musical Lovelands.” Dennis studied piano as a boy and in 1933 he joined the Horace Heidt Orchestra as a piano player and vocalist. Several years later, he formed a band with Dick Haymes, who was one of the popular baritones of the time. He then landed a gig as an arranger, accompanist and vocal coach for Martha Tilton and worked with a new group that had recently formed called the Stafford Sisters. Eventually one of the sisters, Jo, joined the Tommy Dorsey Band and in 1940 convinced Dorsey to hire Dennis as staff arranger and composer. In one year, Dorsey recorded fourteen of Dennis’ songs, including “Everything Happens to Me,” which was one of Frank Sinatra's early hits with the band. During his time with Dorsey, Dennis wrote many of his biggest hits, including “Will You Still Be Mine?” and “Let’s Get Away From it All.” Dennis is also the composer of “Little Man With a Candy Cigar” and “Violets for Your Furs.”

Dennis spent three and a half years in the US Air Force during World War II, during which time he played with Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band. After the war he worked in radio and television, recorded for several labels and performed with his wife, singer Virginia Maxey Davis. He is also the author of several instructional books for piano students, published by Mel Bay.

Dennis is survived by his wife, three children, and four grandchildren.

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