Paul V. Stevens, Jr., Steve Stevens Orchestra, Savanna
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Paul V. Stevens, Jr. October 19, 1926-October 16, 1952

JPG's of 1944-1946's Savanna Times Journal articles about Paul V. Stevens, Jr. and the Steve Stevens Orchestra.
Many 1946-1947 photos of the orchestra being added below biographical sketch of Big Band Leader Paul V. Stevens, Jr.
Updated March 11, 2007
Young Paul Stevens, Jr. organized the largest Savanna-headquartered danceband known (1942-1947). Savanna Bartender Charles Nast acknowledged that in the 1930's the dance location later known as Jimmy Ballas' dancehall was called the Minuet Ballroom, "Sweetest Little Ballroom East of Iowa City" on southeast corner of what was known as the 4-corners of downtown Savanna; it was also known as The National Armory dancehall above Jimmy Ballas' Tavern. Currently, we've identified 20 sidemen who made-up Stevens' 12-piece dance orchestra from engagement to engagement.

Paul Veach Stevens, Jr. was born October 19, 1926 in Savanna, Illinois and died of Hodgkin's Disease October 16, 1952 in California. Paul is buried at Argo Fay, Illinois, just southeast of Savanna. The Steve Stevens Orchestra Project is in memorial to Paul who died too young.

Paul was the youngest of seven children born to Paul V. Stevens, Sr. and Lulu (Trayer) Stevens. Paul's brothers were Daune F. and J. Minard Stevens, Pauls sisters who are still living are Virginia, Shirley, Audrey and Anita. Virginia nine years older and Anita three years older also excelled musically. In May, 2001 Virginia's daughter reported that her mother still plays for her church at age 83.

On November 7, 1999, Paul's older sister Audrey Stevens Carruthers wrote "When my husband went overseas during WWII, I returned to Savanna and was there at the beginning when the orchestra was formed. The orchestra was an immediate "hit," playing at the old VFW Hall down by the Mississippi River."

Paul's older brother Daune Stevens recalls that Paul showed ability and an interest in music as a small child.

Trumpeter John Hanson recalls that Anita Stevens was equally talented with her cornet and vocals. Paul often sang duets in church with his sister Anita. A 1942 photo shows them together in the American Legion Band, Paul with his trombone and Anita with her cornet.

Janis Homedew Wilt recalls that Paul sang beautifully with his baritone voice. Grade School Music Teacher Miss Dorothy Johnson of Savanna recalled in 1997 Paul's beautiful voice and that "everyone knew Paul Stevens."

Norma Schreiner Jones remembers when she and Paul were married at age 8 in 1934 in a make believe wedding at the old Methodist Church across from Lincoln School. The wedding was complete as though it were real. She remembers Paul telling everyone that he really married Norma.

Janis Homedew Wilt remembers Paul as very charismatic on stage. She recalls a high school play where Paul played the lead role. This story will need to be learned again from Janis.

On October 19, 1999 Saxophonist Gene Teeter of Mount Carroll recalled that Paul Stevens, Jr. began his orchestra in 1942 when he took over Gene Teeter's band because Gene left to serve in the U.S. Army. Paul called his orchestra the Steve Stevens Orchestra because he thought the name sounded more like a big band name should. Some of his closest friends called him Steve.

According to Norma Schreiner Jones, sister to Saxophonist Marvin Schreiner, the orchestra's theme song from 1942 to June 1944 was "It's the Talk of the Town." Trombonist Bob Soltow remembers that Paul Stevens Jr. changed the orchestra's theme song to "Marie" after reorganizing in May 1946.

During Pauls U.S. Navy service in WWII, between high school graduation in 1944 and the spring of 1946, Paul's musical ability helped him be assigned to a U.S. Navy band with the famous big band leader Clyde McCoy who had a hit song, "Sugar Blues," in the 1930's. According to The Big Band Almanac, "In 1942 McCoy surprised the music world by enlisting in the navy, taking his entire band with him."

On November 7, 1999, Paul's older sister Audrey wrote "...Paul was eventually stationed in Memphis, Tenn... During that period some of the big bands toured various bases - Stan Kenton was one of them - and Paul somehow was asked if he cared to six in and play with the orchestra during Kenton's visit to Memphis. It was a memorable night. I (sister Audrey)was visiting Memphis at the time and it was a wonderful experience to see him (Paul) perform that evening."

In 1999, Sister Audrey also recalled "...During the time Paul was in the Navy, he used to call home and play his trombone over the phone lines. We'd call his dog, Sandy, and put the phone to the dog's ear while Paul played. Sandy knew it was Paul and looked all over the house for him..."

There were at least seventeen musicians who played with the Steve Stevens Orchestra after it was reorganized in May 1946.

Bill Hawk, Lawrence Hiher, John Hanson, and George Phillips played trumpets.

Bob Marth and Bob Kuntzelman played alto saxophones. Marvin Schreiner and Bob Mitchell played tenor saxophones.

Paul Stevens, Jr. and Bob Saltow played trombones. Wade Law and Dick Saltow interchanged playing drums.

Jeannette Truninger played piano, and Danny Cottral was the orchestra's vocalist.

Bass Fiddler Frank Espisito sometimes helped the orchestra with strings during rehearals. It's uncertain at this time if Frank ever played an engagement with the orchestra.

Also, it's uncertain but thought that an older Savanna Drummer named George Saltow may have been a third drummer for the orchestra.

The orchestra normally used the third floor of the Savanna Township High School on Chicago Avenue for rehearsals. Trumpeter John Hanson called it a "hot building with no air-conditioning," recalling practice sessions in the summertime. In preparation for the first Savanna Junior Women's Club style show held in September 1946, the orchestra rehearsed in the Lincoln grade school where the style show was held.

The show was called "Modes and Melodies"and was produced by Paul's sister Shirley. For this show, Paul employed two pianists, Vernetta Homedew and Mildred Dinsen who played back-to-back piano renditions like "Kitten on the Keys," and "Dizzy Fingers." Vernetta had done duets like this at college and had a number of selections available but cannot remember which ones exactly they played at the September, 1946 style show. Photographs of the orchestra take during this engagement show the back-to-back pianos. The Savanna Times Journal reported that more than 200 attended "Modes and Melodies."

John Hanson remembers playing Savanna Township High School dances, a Christmas dance at Beloit College, and a dance at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. Two arrangements he remembers the Steve Stevens Orchestra played were "Sunny Side of the Street" and "I'll Remember April." Vocalist Danny Cottral remembers playing a couple of engagements at Shimer College where he was introduced to his future wife.

On January 1, 2000, Trumpeter John Hanson recalled that the Steve Stevens Orchestra played in a town hall at Shannon on the 4th of July, in 1946 or 1947. He recalled the Tom Owens Cowboys played a street dance at the same time. Tom Owens Cowboys who did battles of the bands with the Ralph Slade Orchestra in the mid to late 1930's in towns around Cedar Rapids, Iowa were still popular. Mr. Hanson said "they did make quite an impression...dressed with blue cowboy style silk shirts, and bandana type kerchiefs in place of ties."

Members of the orchestra recall that Paul was a good promoter. They say Paul had plans to take the orchestra far until he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Once he booked the orchestra to play a college dance in Darlington, Wisconsin where there was a music department. Before the dance, some members of the orchestra worried that they wouldn't play well enough. The engagement was a success with no complaints from the music students.

On 3/17/01, Drummer Dick Soltow confirmed that he recalled every engagement with the Steve Stevens Orchestra was a success. Dick Soltow recalled many of the engagements mentioned here in a believe another engagement may have been at Melody Mills outside of East Dubuque.

Perhaps Paul's greatest booking was when The Royal Palais in Galena billed the Steve Stevens Orchestra on New Year's Eve 1946. Many nationally known orchestras played The Royal Palace. Trumpet player, John Hanson, recalls "It was 16 degrees below zero when we came outside to go home." On 3/17/01, Drummer Dick Soltow, now Rock Island, recalled that Paul Stevens, Jr. was hired by the Royal Palais for the 1946 New Year's Eve engagement on short notice when a more famous band from Chicago canceled their booking.

Brother Trombonist Bob Soltow, now Dubuque, Iowa, possesses a business card used by Orchestra Leader Paul Stevens, Jr. that states a tag-line: "A Musical Treat for Dancing Feet."

In December, 1999, Trombonist Robert Soltow recalled that when the photos were taken at the AMVET National Armory dance, he was working nearby at Frank Herberts Clothing Store. This is why Bob Soltow is not in these AMVET dance photos. Brother Drummer Dick Soltow recalled that Jimmy Ballast's tavern and dancehall was on the southeast corner of what was known during the 1940's as "The Four Corner's" on Main Street, Savanna, Illinois.

On November 17, 1999, Paul's sister Audrey wrote "...After the war, Paul attended Carroll College in Waubasha, Wisc. and graduated in three years with an engineering degree. He then headed west and came to live my husband and I and our two little daughters in San Bernadino, CA. He started his engineering career there, working for Southern California Edison. At one point in those years he "flirted" with the idea of starting another orchestra but before it could take shape he was to learn he had Hodgkins Disease. He passed away just eighteen (18) months after the cancer was found and passed away on October 16, 1952 - just 3 days shy of his 26th birthday..."

History on Paul V. Stevens, Jr. and his dance orchestra will continue. Be sure to view the photos of the orchestra supplied by Trumpeter John Hanson and Saxophonist Bob Mitchell.

Courtesy The Savanna Times Journal

Courtesy The Savanna Times Journal

Savanna Times Journal, January 22, 1944: 7-member Steve Stevens Orchestra organized in Savanna

Savanna Times Journal, June 25, 1946: Paul V. Stevens, Jr. released from U.S. Navy

Savanna Times Journal: Post WWII reorganization of Steve Stevens Orchestra with 12 members

Where did Paul V. Stevens, Jr live in Savanna? Here's his business card showing 421 Chicago Avenue

Band Leader Paul (Steve) Veach Stevens & Drummer Wade Vernon Law

Trombonist, Band Leader, Arranger & Vocalist Paul V. Stevens, Jr. of Savanna



Modes & Melodies Savanna Womens Club Style Show at Lincoln School

Marv Schreiner & Bobby Marth

Bob Kuntzleman of Savanna & Gene Teeter of Mt. Carroll & Bill Hawk

Drummer Dick Saltow standing one of two drummers at Modes & Melodies at Lincoln School

Trumpets Bill Hawk, John Hanson, George Phillips
Rehearsal for Modes & Melodies at Lincoln School, saxs Marv Schreiner, Bob Marth & Bob Kuntzleman


Savanna, Minuet Ballroom, Sweetest Little Ballroom East of Iowa City

Back: John Hanson, Bill Hawk--Front: Marv Schreiner, Bobby Marth

Practice at the Old Savanna Township High School on Chicago Avenue

L-R Trumpeters John Hanson, Lawrence Hiher, Trombonist Bob Saltow