You might think you never heard of him, but if you ever read Jack Keroauc's MEXICO CITY BLUES, you have. Kerouac refers to Finegan and his big band partner and fellow arranger Eddie Sauter, two pretty famous names when I was a kid.
Finegan came from Newark, NJ, which was our big city since our town was right next door. I always assumed he was of Irish descent, given the name, and first knew of him as an arranger for the Glen Miller band before I was born but still present on the records my older brothers and sisters played.
In many ways, despite the film THE GLEN MILLER STORY (in which Jimmy Stewart humanized an otherwise pretty cool character, as bandmembers later told it), Finegan created (or at least perfected) the Glen Miller sound. A sound that not only influenced me, but anyone living or born in the late 1930s and 1940s and right up into the 1950s (when the movie came out), including Paul McCartney and John Lennon, by their own accounts.
After WWII, in which Finegan served and Miller died (when the plane he was in went down over the English channel), Finegan arranged for the Tommy Dorsey band, who Eddie Sauter also had arranged for, and eventually the two of them formed the Sauter-Finegan orchestra, which was one of the most innovative big bands in recording history, as well as one of the last, as rock'n'roll and economics pretty much killed the old big band thing.
Sauter died a while ago, and Finegan, who was 91 when he passed on Wednesday, was possibly the last big name from the big band era still alive. How terrific that this musical era lives on in recordings and on the web. It's impossible to return to the mindset of that time, musically or otherwise, and feel what it was like to be hit with Finegan's innovations as a dynamic and historic change of direction in the course of popular music, (which in his and Sauter's band included jazz and classical innovations), but you can still have the pleasure of his particular genius even if not the impact of the originality of his unique contribution.
(Although I couldn't find any Sauter-Finegan Orchestra videos on youtube, I did find this film version of the Glen Miller tune I loved most as a little kid, notice Jackie Gleason pretending to play bass and Caesar Romero the piano (actors replacing the real guys obviously) and keep watching as the best dancers besides Fred Astaire in film history, the Nicholson Brothers [woops, I of course mean the Nicholos brothers, my friend Ray corrected my somehow thinking of Jack!] do a pretty rad routine to their version of the same tune, which was originally arranged by Finegan)