Tonight Show Band

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The Tonight Show Band is the band which plays on the American television variety show, the Tonight Show. From 1962 to the 1990s it was probably the most important source of serious jazz on American television.

The band was founded in 1954, and its first long-term director was Skitch Henderson (1954-57). Henderson was replaced by Jose Melis in 1957, when Jack Paar took over as host from Steve Allen. Henderson returned in 1962 when Johnny Carson took over from Paar. Carson increased the band budget, and Henderson created a major jazz big band by hiring some of the best jazz musicians from the touring big bands which were going out of business at the time, and by commissioning charts from top jazz arrangers. The new band included Clark Terry, Bobby Rosengarden, Doc Severinsen, Urbie Green, and Ernie Royal, among others.

In 1966, Henderson left the show and was replaced by Milton DeLugg, who in 1967 was replaced by Severinsen. Severinsen continued to add important musicians to the band, including Louie Bellson and Snooky Young.

In 1992, when Jay Leno replaced Carson, Branford Marsalis took over as musical director, and the number of band members was reduced. Marsalis was succeeded in 1995 by Kevin Eubanks.

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