b. William H. Challis, 8 July 1904, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 4 October 1994, Wilkles-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA. A versatile musician, Challis played piano and saxophone before becoming a staff arranger for band contractor Jean Goldkette in 1926, when Goldkette’s band included several enthusiastic young jazzmen, notably Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer. In 1927 Challis was among the group who deserted Goldkette for Paul Whiteman, with whom he remained until 1930. From then on he freelanced, writing arrangements for many big bands of the swing era, including those led by Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. He also wrote for the Casa Loma Orchestra and trumpeter Bobby Hackett.
For most of his career Challis’ work was notably ahead of its time. Although often disregarded in assessments of the role played by arrangers in the development of big band music, his charts for Whiteman’s sometimes ponderous orchestra are brilliant technical exercises which counter accusations that this band never swung. Importantly, Challis’ long association with Beiderbecke and other top-flight jazzmen meant that many of their best jazz solos appear in his arrangements of tunes such as ‘Lonely Melody’, ‘Dardanella’ and ‘San’.