Happy Caldwell was born Albert W. Caldwell on July 25, 1903 in Chicago, Illinois. He began on clarinet at age 16, playing in the Eighth Illinois Regimental Band and soon after in an Army band. He studied to be a pharmacist but eventually gave up his medicinal studies for jazz.
He worked with Bernie Young early in the 1920s in Chicago, where he recorded for the first time in 1923 and began doubling on tenor saxophone. In the middle of the 1920s he played with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, Bobby Brown’s Syncopaters, Elmer Snowden, Billy Fowler, Thomas Morris, Willie Gant, and Cliff Jackson. By 1929 he had recorded with Louis Armstrong.
The 1930s saw him playing with Vernon Andrade, Tiny Bradshaw, and Louis Metcalfe, and leading his own band, the Happy Pals. He played at Minton’s in New York City for a short time before moving to Philadelphia, where he played with Eugene Slappy and Charlie Gaines. Returning to New York he put together a new ensemble in the Forties and continued to work in small settings for several decades. In the 1970s he played with Jimmy Rushing, including on international tours. Never leading his own sessions, clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Happy Caldwell, sometimes misspelled as Cauldwell, passed away on December 29, 1978 in New York City at age 75.
Omer Victor Simeon was born on July 21, 1902 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a cigar maker. His family moved to Chicago, Illinois but he learned to play the clarinet from the New Orleans master Lorenzo Tio, Jr., and started playing professionally in 1920.
He worked in Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin with various bands, including Jimmy Bell’s Band and Charlie Elgar’s Creole Orchestra. Starting in 1926 he began playing with Jelly Roll Morton, and made a well regarded series of recordings with Morton’s Red Hot Peppers and smaller groups.
By 1927 he was a member of King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators with whom he moved to New York City. After time back in Chicago with Elgar, he joined Luis Russell in Manhattan, New York then again returned to Chicago in 1928 to play with the Erskine Tate Orchestra. 1931 saw him beginning a 10-year stint with Earl Hines.
In the 1940s he worked with Coleman Hawkins and Jimmie Lunceford. After some recordings with Kid Ory’s band, he spent most of the 1950s with the Wilbur de Paris band, including a tour of Africa in 1957. In 1954 he played saxophone in a duet on Louis Armstrong’s popular dixieland recording of Skokiaan.
Clarinetist Omer Simeon, who taught music and also played soprano, alto, and baritone saxophones and bass clarinet, passed away of throat cancer on September 17, 1959 in New York City at the age of 57.
Wilton Crawley was born on July 18, 1900 in Virginia with his family moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some of his musical influences may be traced back to Virginia and its many farms and barnyards with cackles and clucks like a chicken, oinks like a pig, and neighs like a goat that he . It was in Philadelphia that along with his reed-playing brother Jimmy that they formed their first band. During the ’20s and ’30s, the clarinetist found success with a variety act featuring his singing and playing. Though not the most versatile musician he had a sound and style that utilized weird speech-like sound effects and extended use of slap tonguing, sometimes filling out whole lines of a solo with obnoxious little pops.
Between 1927 and 1930 Wilton recorded his own compositions for OKeh and Victor Records, working with Paul Barbarin, Lonnie Johnson, Henry “Red” Allen, Pops Foster, Luis Russell, Jelly Roll Morton, Eddie Heywood and Eddie Lang among others. After splitting with Morton in the 1930s he toured England and after the death of his father and his friend guitarist Eddie Lang, his personal problems derailed his career and slipped into oblivion.
His most famous pieces include Crawley Clarinet Moan, She’s Forty With Me, Put a Flavor to Love, Futuristic Blues and Irony Daddy Blues. Much of this music reveals his attempts to recreate jazz sounds from other instruments, particularly the muted trumpet effects that might have been done by an artist such as Bubber Miley. While some of this sound effect activity have may influenced Anthony Braxton, he may have more in common with the clarinetists who worked with Spike Jones or even later rock showmen like Arthur Brown. Some of the membership in his ensembles such as Wilton Crawley & His Orchestra or the Washboard Rhythm Kings remains unknown, however, banjoist Johnny St. Cyr and blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson show up in his bands.
It is unfortunate that many of the recordings originally done under his own name have all been reissued in various Jelly Roll Morton retrospectives, as he went on to become a lasting legend of early jazz while the clarinetist went into obscurity. Clarinetist, composer, contortionist and vaudevillian Wilton Crawley passed away in 1948 in Maryland.
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Joe Darensbourg was born Joseph Wilmer Darensbourg on July 9, 1906 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He received some of his earliest training from Alphonse Picou. After playing with local groups, and traveling with a medicine show and a circus band, he settled in Los Angeles, California and worked with Mutt Carey’s Liberty Syncopators.
He worked in Seattle from 1929 to 1944, working on cruise lines, playing in after-hours clubs and roadhouses, and backing several non-jazz entertainers. Darensbourg resumed playing jazz in 1944, in a traditional group with Johnny Wittwer. When he returned to Los Angeles, he recorded with Kid Ory and worked briefly with R&B bandleader Joe Liggins.
From 1947 to 1953 Joe worked solely with Ory, then spent the rest of his career in traditional ensembles, working with such musicians as Gene Mayl, Teddy Buckner and Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. He led his own groups, and had a hit with the song Yellow Dog Blues, and toured with the Legends of Jazz from 1973 to 1975. He also worked with Buddy Petit, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Creath, Fate Marable, Andy Kirk, Johnny Wittwer and Wingy Manone. Clarinet and saxophonist Joe Darensbourg, one of the purest soloists in traditional jazz, passed away in Van Nuys, California on May 24, 1985.
Bruce Turner was born Malcolm Bruce Turner on July 5, 1922 in Saltburn, England. Educated at Dulwich College, he learned to play the clarinet as a schoolboy and began playing alto sax while serving in the Royal Air Force in 1943 during World War II. He played with Freddy Randall from 1948–53, and worked on the Queen Mary in a dance band and in a quartet with Dill Jones and Peter Ind.
He briefly studied under Lee Konitz in New York City in 1950 then joined Humphrey Lyttelton’s outfit from 1953 to 1957. After leaving Lyttelton he led his own Jump Band from 1957–65 and was featured and arranged the music in the 1961 film Living Jazz. In 1961, Turner and his band recorded the LP Jumpin’ At The NFT (National Film Theatre) coinciding with the film’s release. Two years later he took part in the largest trad jazz event to be staged in Britain with George Melly, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Alex Welsh and Mick Mulligan.
He returned to work with Randall from 1964–66, and played with Don Byas in 1966 and Acker Bilk from 1966 to 1970. He continued to work with Lyttelton and Ind in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and played with the Jump Band every so often. He worked with Wally Fawkes, John Chilton, Stan Greig, Alex Welsh, and Dave Green through the Seventies. He led his own small ensembles in the 1990s, up until his death.
He was noted for his very quiet voice and his autobiography Hot Air, Cool Music was published in 1984. He also wrote a column on jazz for the Daily Worker. Saxophonist, clarinetist, and bandleader Bruce Turner passed away on November 28, 1993 in Newport Pagnell.