Though not well remembered today bandleader Boyd Raeburn blazed trails in progressive jazz that took his music in directions beyond even those explored by such adventurous types as Stan Kenton and Tom Talbert. Raeburn, however, did not start out to be a jazz innovator. For many years he operated a successful society orchestra before making a big leap into the unknown.
Raeburn began his career as a bandleader in the early 1930s, leading a college orchestra at the University of Chicago. By the early 1940s, however, his interest had shifted into jazz and his group's music had edged towards swing. In 1944 he scrapped his dance orchestra completely and formed a progressive jazz outfit, bringing in arranger Ed Finckel and hiring musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Berman, and Al Cohn. The new group wowed the critics, producing sounds far more modern than any other orchestra of its day. Unfortunately a fire at the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey destroyed the band's book and some of its instruments.
Raeburn reorganized in 1945 and took his group a step further, relying on composer and arranger George Handy, who wrote extremely complex and dissident charts. Handy's work, however, did not go over well with the public, and eventually he was replaced by Johnny Richards and Ralph Flanagan. Musicians Dodo Marmarosa and Johnny Mandel joined the orchestra in 1945. Vocalists included David Allen, Don Darcy, Johnny Darcy, June Christy (at that time known as Sharon Leslie), and Ginny Powell, whom Raeburn later married.
The band lost momentum after Handy left, and by 1950 Raeburn had abandoned it. He returned to his roots and formed a new society orchestra. Unsuccessful in resurrecting his career he left the music business entirely. Boyd Raeburn passed away in 1966 after suffering a heart attack.