Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith was born August 14, 1909 in Portsmouth, Ohio and was better known in the jazz circles as violinist Stuff Smith. He studied violin with his father, cites Louis Armstrong as his primary influence and inspiration to play jazz, and like Armstrong, was a vocalist as well as instrumentalist.
In the 1920s, Smith played in Texas as a member of Alphonse Trent’s band. After moving to New York he had a regular gig with his sextet at the Onyx Club starting in 1935, performed with Coleman Hawkins as well as with younger musicians such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and later Sun Ra.
After signing with Vocalion in 1936, Stuff had a big hit with “I’se A Muggin’” and was billed as Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys. He recorded for Decca in 1937 and Varsity in 1939-1940. He is well known for the song “If You’re A Viper” and is featured in several numbers on the Nat King Cole Trio album, After Midnight.
Part of Smith’s performance at what is considered the first outdoor jazz festival, the 1938 Carnival of Swing on Randall’s Island turned up unexpectedly on audio engineer William Savory’s discs, which were self-recorded off the radio at the time, then long-sequestered.
Smith was critical of the bebop movement, although his own style represented a transition between swing and bebop. He is credited as being the first violinist to use electric amplification techniques on a violin. He contributed to the 1938 tune “It’s Wonderful” often performed by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald throughout their careers.
He moved to Copenhagen in 1965, performed actively in Europe, record with Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, Kenny Drew, Alex Riel, Stephane Grappelli and Jean Luc Ponty among others until his passing away in Munich on September 25, 1967.
Stuff Smith, one of the jazz industry’s preeminent violinists of the swing era is one of the 57 jazz musicians photographed in the 1958 portrait “A Great Day In Harlem”.
Harold “Doc” West was born on August 12, 1915 in Wolford, North Dakota. He learned to play piano and cello as a child before switching to drums. By the 1930s he was playing in Chicago with Tiny Parham, Erskine Tate and Roy Eldridge. Towards the end of the decade he filled in for Chick Webb when he was unable to lead his own orchestra.
The early 1940s Doc played with Hot Lips Page and on the emerging bebop scene at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Tiny Grimes and Don Byas. He played with Oscar Pettiford in 1944 and stood in for Jo Jones occasionally in Count Basie’s orchestra.
He appears on recordings led by Slam Stewart, Leo Watson, Wardell Gray, Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann and Erroll Garner, leaving a small but impressive catalogue as a sideman. Drummer Doc West passed away on May 4, 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio while on tour with Roy Eldridge.
Bill Coleman was born William Johnson Coleman on August 4, 1904 in Paris, Kentucky. In 1909 his family moved from Kentucky to Cincinnati and his first musical explorations were on clarinet and C melody saxophone, but he eventually settled on trumpet. He studied with Cincinnati trumpeter Theodore Carpenter and played in an amateur band led by trombonist J.C. Higginbotham. He began professional work in Cincinnati with bands led by Clarence Paige, Wesley Helvey and then Lloyd and Cecil Scott.
In 1927 he traveled to New York City and played with the Scott brothers to New York City, and continued to work with them until 1929, when he joined the orchestra of pianist Luis Russell. His first recording session was with Russell and he soloed on the tune “Feelin’ the Spirit”. Over the next couple of years he floated between Russell and Scott participating in recording sessions with each of them. By 1933 Bill was on his first European tour with Lucky Millinder, then in October returned to New York, worked with the bands of Benny Carter and Teddy Hill and sat in on a recording session with Fats Waller and laying down a number of memorable sides.
Coleman returned to Europe, played a residency in Paris with entertainer and vocalist Freddy Taylor, recorded with guitarist Django Reinhardt and made several freelance sessions under his own name. In late 1936 he traveled to Bombay, India playing with Leon Abbey’s Orchestra, then back to Paris to join saxophonist William T. Lewis. Returning to the States found him playing with Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Andy Kirk, Ellis Larkins, Mary Lou Williams, Sy Oliver, John Kirby, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins.
Due to racial segregation Bill Coleman returned to France in 1948 and lived out his days there touring and performing in clubs and concert halls all over Europe. In 1974 he received the Ordre National du Merite and in 1978, he performed at the first Jazz in Marciac festival (along with tenor saxophonist Guy Lafitte, later becoming an honorary president of the festival organization.
Jazz trumpeter Bill Coleman passed away in Toulouse, France on August 24, 1981. His sound and phrasing were immediately recognizable with a style of the swing era musicians.
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Elmer Crumbley was born on August 1, 1908 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. The trombonist joined the Dandie Dixie Minstrels in 1926 in between stints with bandleader Lloyd Hunter and his Serenaders. By 1930 Elmer made it east to Kansas City and the George E. Lee band.
During the 30s he continued to work with Lloyd Hunter as well as with western swing pioneer Tommy Douglas in Nebraska, then with Bill Owens, Jabbo Smith and in Chicago with Erskine Tate. He led an ensemble in Omaha in 1934 then joined up with Jimmie Lunceford, enjoying a thirteen-year stint playing with band mates Eddie Wilcox, Lucky Millinder and Erskine Hawkins.
By the late ’50s Crumbley was touring Europe with Sammy Price and became part of the combo scene at the Apollo in Harlem. The Sixties saw him playing with Cab Calloway and Earl Hines, keeping him in slide oil.
Little is known about him after this period and trombonist Elmer Crumbley passed away in 1993 at the age of 85.
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Hilton Jefferson was born on July 30, 1903 in Danbury, Connecticut. He began his professional career in 1929 with Claude Hopkins and throughout the 1930s was busy working for the big bands of Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.
From 1940-49 Hilton led the saxophone section of Cab Calloway’s band then went on to perform with Duke Ellington for a year in 1952 but ultimately became a bank guard to support himself with a steady income. He continued to perform through the Fifties, especially with Rex Stewart, ‘Buster Bailey, Red Richards, Gene Ramey, Vic Dickerson, Herman Autrey and some former members of the Fletcher Henderson band.
Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophonist with a soft, delicate sound and exquisite sensibility passed away on November 14, 1968.
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