Acclaimed by critics as "the brightest young British trumpet soloist of his era," Tommy McQuater co-founded the now-legendary Squadronaires, a pioneering force in the development of English jazz as well as the most popular military dance band in the U.K. during and after World War II. Born September 4, 1914, in Maybole, Scotland, the self-taught McQuater began playing cornet at age 11, and made his professional debut as a teen, supporting bandleader Louis Freeman at Glasgow's Green's Playhouse. McQuater remained with Freeman for several years, a period that included a series of performances on transatlantic ocean liners bound for various destinations in the U.S. and South America. In 1934, he signed on with bandleader Jack Payne, playing London and Paris before joining Lew Stone in 1935 as a replacement for Nat Gonella, considered the first superstar trumpeter in the annals of British jazz. In September 1936 McQuater vaulted to national prominence as a member of the renowned Ambrose Orchestra, and in the years to follow he cut a series of London recording sessions in support of everyone from multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter to clarinetist Danny Polo, proving himself a fiery soloist with a sound and sensibility still radical in the prewar era. As traditional ballroom jazz gave way to swing, McQuater and fellow Scot George Chisholm co-founded the Heralds of Swing in 1939, landing a residency at London's Paradise Club -- the group nevertheless proved too far ahead of the curve and dissolved the following spring, briefly reuniting before splitting again as Britain entered World War II.
After entering the Royal Air Force in 1940, McQuater found himself serving alongside Chisholm and other Heralds of Swing alumni in the RAF Dance Orchestra, unofficially dubbed the Squadronaires. As American swing began to find a commercial foothold overseas, the Squadronaires dusted off the Heralds of Swing arrangements and became a fixture on BBC radio before landing a record deal with RCA, scoring a series of hits including "There's Something in the Air" and "South Rampart Street Parade." In the wake of D-Day, the Squadronaires were dispatched to entertain service personnel in the Northwest European campaign. So great was the group's popularity that it remained a going concern even after demobilization, with longtime pianist and arranger Ronnie Aldrich taking the helm in 1950. McQuater left the Squadronaires two years later to join the Skyrockets, then the resident band at the London Palladium. In 1953 he caught on with the BBC Show Band under conductor Cyril Stapleton, concurrently pursuing a freelance career in film and television. During the early '60s McQuater served as a member of Jack Parnell's ATV Orchestra, appearing on programs like Sunday Night at the London Palladium. From 1976 to 1981 he was a member of The Muppet Show's house orchestra, even contributing the frenzied trumpet work of "Lips," a player in the Muppet band Electric Mayhem. In the autumn of his life McQuater regularly collaborated with fellow trumpeter Johnny McLevy, and was a fixture of the annual Ealing Jazz Festival. His appearance at Ealing in 2004 proved his final public performance, and he died January 20, 2008, at the age of 93.