George Clarence Brunies, a.k.a. Georg Brunis was born into a musical family on February 6, 1902 in New Orleans, Louisiana.. His father led a family band with his brothers Henry, Merritt, Richard, and Albert who all became noted professional musicians. By the age of 8 he was already playing alto saxophone professionally in Papa Jack Laine’s band, but a few years later he switched to trombone.
Though Brunies never learned to read music, he played with many jazz, dance, and parade bands in New Orleans, quickly picking up tunes and inventing a part for his instrument. He first went to Chicago, Illinois in 1919 with a band led by Ragbaby Stevens, then worked the riverboats up and down the Mississippi River.
By 1921 he returned to Chicago and joined a band of his New Orleans friends playing at the Friar’s Inn, and this band eventually became famous as the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. His trombone style was influential to the young Chicago players, and his records were much copied. In this era Brunies was never bested as he could play anything any other trombonist could play as well or better. He would often end battles of the bands or cutting contests by outplaying other trombonists while operating the slide with his foot.
In 1924 after the Rhythm Kings broke up in Chicago, George joined the Ted Lewis band, which he played with through 1934. He spent some time with Louis Prima’s band, then landed a steady gig at the New York City jazz club Nick’s through 1938. In 1939 he joined Muggsy Spanier, with whom he made some of his most famous recordings. The following year he returned to Nick’s, where he remained through 1946 and then worked with Eddie Condon.
In 1949 Brunies returned to Chicago and landed at the 1111 Club leading his own band. Often showing off his unusual technical abilities and bizarre sense of humor at the same time, for example, he would lie on the floor and invite the largest person in the audience to sit on his chest while he played trombone. Believing that this name change would increase his good luck, on the advice of a numerologist, he changed his name to Georg Brunis in the late 1940s. While in residence every now and then other well-known jazz musicians would sit in and play until the wee hours.
Trombonist George Brunies, known as the King of the Tailgate Trombone, passed away in Chicago on November 19, 1974.
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Fred Lee Beckett was born on January 23, 1917 in Nettleton, Mississippi and began playing horn in high school. He began playing the trombone professionally in Kansas City, Missouri in the 1930s. Soon after beginning his career he landed a job with Eddie Johnson’s Crackerjacks in St. Louis, Missouri.
He went on to play with Duke Wright, Tommy Douglas, Buster Smith and Andy Kirk over the next few years. Beckett spent time as well in a territory band with Prince Stewart and played a gig in Omaha, Nebraska with Nat Towles. Towards the end of the Thirties he played with Harlan Leonard.
The early 1940s saw Fred performing and recording extensively with Lionel Hampton, and providing trombone support behind Dinah Washington recordings. Serving in the Army during World War II he contracted tuberculosis and passed away of the illness on January 30, 1946. He was twenty-nine years old.
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Ray C. Sims was born on January 18, 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, the older brother of Zoot Sims. He learned to play the trombone and coming of age he was a part of the Swing Era in jazz.
He first played with Jerry Wald, then with Bobby Sherwood, and in 1947 was with Benny Goodman and recorded How High The Moon on Capitol Records. From 1949 to 1958 he was a trombone soloist and vocalist in the Les Brown Orchestra before joining Harry James.
In 1955 he recorded with Les Brown on trombone and vocals, Bill Johnson, Benny Goodman, Harry James and Frank Sinatra, among others It’s A Lonesome Old Town. Ray was primarily a lead trombone or session player and over the course of his career played and recorded with Earle Spencer, Lyle Griffin, Anita O’Day, Dave Pell, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Ray Anthony, Peggy Lee, Bill Holman, Jackie and Roy, Lena Horne, Georgia Carr, Red Norvo, John Towner Williams, Jerry Gray, Maxwell Davis, Ernie Andrews, Frank Capp and Corky Corcoran.
Trombonist and vocalist Ray Sims, who never led a session, passed away in 2000.
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Quentin “Butter” Jackson was born January 13, 1909 in Springfield, Ohio. His brother-in-law Claude Jones, who played with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers taught him to play the trombone. During the Thirties he played with Zack White, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and the Don Redman Orchestra.
The Forties saw Butter, as he was affectionately known, working with Cab Calloway and then Lucky Millinder, taking occasional solos with those groups, and in the early days was a ballad singer. In 1949 he became a fixture in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, becoming his best wa-wa trombonist utilizing the plunger mute. This relationship, that included recordings, lasted until 1960, both as a soloist and in the ensembles.
Jackson went on to tour of Europe and recorded with Quincy Jones, then performed and recorded with Count Basie for two years and recorded notable work with Charles Mingus in 1962-63, followed by a return to Ellington and worked with the big bands of Louie Bellson and Gerald Wilson. By the 1970s he was working with the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra until near the end of his life.
A consummate sideman he recorded with Dorothy Ashby, Kenny Burrell, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Leon Thomas, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Milt Jackson, Herbie Mann, Freddie McCoy, Wes Montgomery, Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith, Clark Terry, Billy Strayhorn, Randy Weston and Dinah Washington, who did a version of Bessie Smith’s Trombone Cholly on her album Dinah Sings Bessie Smith, enlisting Jackson on the horn, under the title “Trombone Butter”.
Trombonist Quentin Jackson, whose only session as a leader resulted in four titles in 1959 that were reissued by Swing, passed away on October 2, 1976 in New York City.
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George Duke was born on January 12, 1946 in San Rafael, California and raised in Marin City. It was at the young age of 4 that he first became interested in the piano when his mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert. He began his formal piano studies at the age of 7, at his local Baptist church. Attending Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass from the San Francisco Conservatory in 1967.
Initially he played with friends from garages to local clubs, George quickly eased his way into session work, before getting his master’s degree in composition from San Francisco State University. Although starting out playing classical music, his musician cousin Charles Burrell convinced him to switch to jazz and improvise what he wanted to do.
1967 saw Duke venturing into jazz fusion, playing and recording with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as performing with the Don Ellis Orchestra, and Cannonball Adderley’s band, and recorded with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention on a number of albums through the 1970s. He also played with Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Bruce Fowler from Zappa’s Overnite Sensation band that he was a part of, along with Johnny “Guitar” Watson and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour. Lynn Davis and Sheila E recorded with him on his late-1970s solo albums Don’t Let Go and Master of the Game.
During the 1980s he collaborated with bassist Stanley Clarke and produced the Clarke/Duke Project that released three albums, he served as a record producer and composer on two instrumental tracks on the Miles Davis albums Tutu and Amandla, worked with a number of Brazilian musicians, including singer Milton Nascimento, percussionist Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim, and in the 1992 film Leap of Faith featured gospel songs and choir produced by him and choir master Edwin Hawkins.
Duke was musical director for the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London, temporarily replaced Marcus Miller as musical director of NBC’s late-night music performance program Sunday Night during its first season, and was a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers. He worked with Jill Scott on her third studio album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3; and put together a trio with David Sanborn and Marcus Miller for a tour across the United States.
His educator side had him teaching a course on Jazz And American Culture at Merritt College in Oakland, California. He was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Jazz Performance for After Hours in 1999, was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame in 2012, and was honored with a tribute album My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke, produced by long-time friend and collaborator Al Jarreau, that received a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album in 2015.
As leader he recorded some four dozen albums and as sideman he worked with such artists as Third World, The Keynotes, Gene Ammons, Billy Cobham, Eddie Henderson, Alphonse Mouzon, Michael Jackson, Deniece Williams, Miles Davis, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield, Chanté Moore, Joe Sample, Phil Collins, Regina Belle, Teena Marie, Joe Williams, Gerald Wilson and Larisa Dolina among many others.
Keyboard pioneer, vocalist guitarist, trombonist, producer and composer George Duke passed away on August 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 67. His songs have been sampled by Daft Punk, Kanye West and Ice Cube among numerous others.