Pops Conductor Laureate
Doc Severinsen became the Minnesota Orchestra’s pops conductor laureate in 2007 after completing 14 seasons as principal pops conductor. He has enjoyed a career of more than six decades as conductor, trumpet soloist and bandleader, well-known as the flamboyant former music director of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a position he held for more than 25 years.
Severinsen made his Minnesota Orchestra debut in 1965 and, in 2003, was featured with the Orchestra in the world premiere of Stephen Paulus’ Concerto for Two Trumpets and Orchestra, written for Severinsen and Manny Laureano, the Orchestra’s principal trumpet. In 2017, Severinsen celebrated his 90th birthday in two remarkable concerts at Orchestra Hall that featured him in the varied roles of soloist, conductor and host.
With more than 30 albums to his credit, Severinsen has recorded everything from big band and jazz-fusion to classical works. He received a 1987 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance—Big Band for his recording Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band-Volume I.
In 2006, Severinsen moved to Mexico, and within weeks he was jamming with the guitarist Gil Gutierrez. He toured often with Gutierrez in a quintet called the San Miguel Five, performing a mix of Latin and Gypsy jazz and standards to great acclaim. Oblivion, the ensemble's most recent CD, was released in 2014.
Severinsen performs on a S.E. Shires Severinsen Destino III, a trumpet developed under his supervision by the S.E. Shires Company in Massachusetts. He continues to make regular visits to the factory to consult on their designs.
In recent years, Severinsen also served as principal pops conductor of the Milwaukee and Phoenix Symphony Orchestras. He has continued to perform with both orchestras—and others, including the Colorado Symphony, the Pacific Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic. He regularly tours across the country with his own Doc Severinsen Big Band, and performed at the Hollywood Bowl with Pink Martini in 2015.
Severinsen made his most recent musical release in 2019 with The Lost Tapes, Vol. I & II, which comprise “lost” live recordings he made in the 1970s and ‘80s with high school bands in Baytown and Plano, Texas. A documentary about Severinsen’s career entitled Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story was released on PBS in 2020, and toured at film festivals across the country.
Today, Severinsen has not lost his flair for fashion or his trademark wit. But his gregarious nature has never interfered with the fact that he has been one of the greatest trumpeters of the last 60 years, respected in the worlds of classical music, jazz, big band and additional styles popular around the world. In the end, Severinsen has transcended his celebrity and rejoiced in his remarkable ability to simply play his trumpet as well as he can.