Skip to main content

Severinsen, Doc

Doc Severinsen

Trumpet player, bandleader, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography


By virtue of his two-decade association with The Tonight Show, Doc Severinsen is probably the best-known trumpeter in the nation. The flamboyantly dressed entertainer has been playing in bands since the mid-1940s, but it is his long association with Johnny Carson that has made his fame. Severinsen earns in excess of a half million dollars a year for 200 Tonight Show tapings; on his days off he may appear with his own band, Xebron, the Phoenix Pops, or any one of a number of classical orchestras in the United States.

Zan Stewart observed in down beat that the best accompanists for Severinsens work spotlight the trumpeters masterful ability to produce clear, powerful tones throughout the range of his horn and over an assortment of rhythmic and harmonic foundations. If Seversinsen gets little opportunity to display the full range of his talent on The Tonight Show, he is nonetheless respected by his peers in the music businessespecially those involved with jazz and big bands. I have not known a musician who is as talented as Doc and who works as hard as he does to stay there, fellow Tonight Show band member Tommy Newsom told People magazine. Doc has always been the worlds greatest trumpet player, and his crazy clothes just helped to make people aware of it.

The nickname Doc has been with Severinsen since birth. He was born Carl Hilding Severinsen in tiny Arlington, Oregon, on July 7, 1927. The nickname came from his father, a dentist, who was also known as Doc Severinsen. The elder Doc was the only dentist in town and an avid amateur musician. Severinsen reminisced about his youth in down beat.I was born in a cow town, he said. Really, they had cattle drives down the main street, and you had to close your doors so the animals didnt come into your house. My dad was the dentist and he played a little violin, so he started me on a junior-sized model. But I wanted to play trombone, so I refused to have anything to do with the violin. There werent any music stores in Arlington, and thus no trombones, but a guy down the street had a cornet for sale, so that became my instrument.

At first the young Severinsen hated to practice his horn as well, but gradually he began to apply himself. At thirteen he was named the youngest member of an all-star band from four western states, and by his junior year of high school he had formed a band, The Blue Notes, that performed at local dances and parties. As early as 1940at age fourteenSeverinsen auditioned for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in Portland. He did not win a spot in the prestigious band at that time, but he did learn a great deal from the experience of associating with Dorseys musicians.

Severinsen joined the Ted Fio Rito Band during his

For the Record

Full name, Carl Hilding Severinsen; born July 7, 1927, in Arlington, Ore.; son of Carl Severin (a dentist) and Minnie Mae Severinsen; married third wife, Emily Marshall, 1980; children (first marriage) Nancy, Judy, Cindy; (second marriage) Robbin, Allen. Education: Finished high school by correspondence course, c. 1944.

Formed band The Blue Notes, c. 1944; member of Ted Fio Rito Band, 1945; member of Charlie Barnet Band, 1947-49; also played with the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Norro Morales, and Vaughn Monroe during late 1940s and early 1950s; member of and soloist in network band for The Steve Allen Show, NBC TV, 1954-55; member of NBC Orchestra for The Tonight Show, 1962, musical director, bandleader, and soloist, 1967. Bandleader, member, and featured soloist in Xebron; resident conductor of Phoenix Pops Orchestra. Vice-president of C. G. Conn Company (musical instrument manufacturer).

Awards: Voted top instrumentalist in Playboy magazine music poll for ten straight years.

Addresses: Office c/o NBC Press Dept., 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10020.

senior year of high school, finishing his studies by correspondence course. Even during his compulsory stint in the army he won a spot in the Special Services band. When he was discharged at the age of twenty, Severinsen was a polished professional performer, ready to try his luck with the numerous big bands that were so popular at the time. For two years he played in a mixed-race be-bop band led by Charlie Barnet. Then, in 1949, he finally landed a regular job with Tommy Dorseya position he has described as a dream come true.

Severinsen told down beat: Tommy was such a great musician that you couldnt help but play great with him. His sound was one of the finest Ive ever heard, but he was a little old-fashioned. From Dorseys band Severinsen moved on to Benny Goodmans, and from there to the NBC staff orchestra in New York City. As television began its ascent in popularity Severinsen found himself a member and soloist of the band on The Steve Allen Show. He also did steady moonlighting gigs and studio sessions with a wide variety of jazz, classical, and popular musicians.

In 1962 Severinsen joined The Tonight Show at the same time the show got a new host, the affable comic Johnny Carson. Severinsen merely played in the Tonight Show band for the first five years, but when the bands leader Skitch Henderson retired in 1967, Severinsen took over as director. He has had the position ever since, with his pick of the crop of L.A. studio and jazz players behind him, to quote Stewart. Nor does Severinsen express any impatience with his job, similar as it is from night to night. Lets face it, he told People. I owe my career to Johnny.

Severinsen is more than just a standard backup band trumpet player, however. He is wildly experimental, culling material from rock, jazz, blues, and classical sourcesand he even co-wrote the country hit Stop and Smell the Roses. In his numerous nightclub appearances, he told down beat, he might even sing something by Elvis or B.B. King or a new tune, maybe one Ive heard on MTV that Ive had arranged for my style. As in all my appearances, I just play music that appeals to me, you know, good music with melody. In People he put it another way: What I want people to know is that Doc Severinsen plays many different things.

Severinsen is a recovered alcoholic who lives with his third wife in California. He enjoys exercising and raising animals, especially dogs and race horses. An interest in arresting clothing dates back to his early days in Arlington, when he dressed for the local rodeos. Now his clothes excite regular comment from Carson and have become an established part of his persona. Severinsen told down beat that as vice-president of the C. G. Conn musical instrument company he helps to design new horns for sale. Its important to have a good horn and mouthpiece, the noted trumpeter said. But the basic requirement to be a good player is not equipment, but practice, practice, practice.

Selected discography

Brass Roots, RCA, 1971.

The Best of Doc Severinsen, MCA.

I Feel Good, Juno.

(With Gerry Mulligan)A Concert in Jazz, Verve.

(With Mulligan)Concert Jazz Band 63, Verve.

(With Henry Mancini)Brass on Ivory, RCA


down beat, November, 1985.

People, July 13, 1981.

Anne Janette Johnson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Severinsen, Doc." Contemporary Musicians. . 22 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Severinsen, Doc." Contemporary Musicians. . (March 22, 2019).

"Severinsen, Doc." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 22, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.