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ROLAND, GENE (1921–1982). Gene Roland, jazz instrumentalist and composer, was born on September 15, 1921, in Dallas. Roland began studying the piano at age eleven. He eventually became proficient on a variety of instruments and developed into a noted arranger and composer. Taken at the age of eighteen with the big band sound, he switched his emphasis from piano to trumpet and taught himself to play in 1939. While attending North Texas State Teachers College (now University of North Texas) in Denton from 1940 to 1942, he and three other Texas jazz musicians became friends and roommates. The three were Jimmy Giuffre, Herb Ellis, and Harry Babasin.
After leaving North Texas, Roland served in the Eighth Army Air Force Band, for which he created dance-band arrangements. In 1944 he made his way to California to join the Stan Kenton orchestra, in which he served as arranger, composer, trombonist, and trumpeter. He appeared with Kenton in the film Artistry in Rhythm (1944) and established himself as Kenton's first full-time arranger. Roland also composed songs for vocalist June Christy, probably the most famous of which was "Ain't No Misery in Me," and contributed to the arrangement of Kenton's first million-selling album, Tampico. Roland was rightly credited with helping to make Kenton's orchestra known across America.
For a brief period he was an arranger for Lionel Hampton and a trumpeter for Lucky Millinder before rejoining Kenton in the summer of 1945. In 1946 he split his time between arranging in New York and playing piano in Los Angeles with Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Jimmy Giuffre, Woody Herman, and Stan Getz. Woody Herman recorded Giuffre's piece "The Four Brothers," which Roland's experimentation with the sound of three tenors and baritone had helped make possible. In the late 1940s Roland played bass trumpet with jazz great Count Basie and wrote arrangements for Claude Thornhill and Artie Shaw.
In the early 1950s he had a chance to lead a twenty-six-piece band with some of bop's greatest musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. This project unfortunately proved unsuccessful and Roland returned to his arranger position with Kenton. He was an integral part of the Kenton orchestra during the next few years before rejoining Woody Herman to arrange sixty-five new numbers for the Herman Herd. Roland can be heard playing mellophonium and soprano saxophone in his original compositions recorded in 1961 for the Kenton album entitled Adventures in Blues. He toured with Kenton in 1973 and worked for the remainder of his career in New York playing piano, tenor sax, and trumpet, and arranging for his own big bands. Gene Roland died in New York on August 11, 1982. He was survived by his wife Charlotte and two children.
Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2002). Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Daniel Rendon, "ROLAND, GENE," accessed December 16, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frodd.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 3, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.