Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Young, Trummy (James Oliver)

Trombonist Trummy Young developed a bright, energetic sound with unprecedented facility in the upper register which opened new opportunities for the trombone in jazz music. His work in reshaping the role of his instrument beyond tailgate lines provided a key resource for future generations. As a vocalist, his tenor voice was characterized by a breathy, joking quality.

Best known for his work in the bands of Jimmie Lunceford and Earl "Fatha" Hines, and later in Louis Armstrong's All-Stars, Young helped lay the foundation for modern jazz trombone technique, and wrote original compositions such as "Margie," "Easy Does It" and "Travlin' Light."

Tracks such as "Margie," with Lunceford in 1938, "The Hunt," recorded with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray in 1947, and "Black and Tan Fantasy," recorded with Armstrong and Duke Ellington in 1961, capture Young's virtuosity in all its glory: controlled vibrato, hard-swinging blues and mastery of the trombone's upper range.

Born in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia, Young's first exposure to jazz came through the minstrel shows that traveled occasionally through the area. He began to experiment with the trombone, and at age 14 moved to Rock Castle, Virginia, to start high school. As a member of his high school band, he began to sit in on some gigs in nearby Richmond.

In 1929, Young and a couple of his bandmates moved to Washington, DC to find more musical work. His first big break came with Booker Coleman's Hot Chocolates, where he earned the nickname "Trummy."

Drummer Tommy Miles brought Young into his band soon after he landed the gig with Coleman. Miles's band became an incubator for young talent, and included saxophonist Jimmy Mundy, and later Billy Eckstine and Tyree Glenn, Around this time, Young first heard classical trombonist Arthur Pryor perform in Washington, which began to open his ears to a realm of new possibilities for the jazz trombone.

In 1933, Young followed Mundy to join Earl Hines's band, where he stayed for another four years. When he wasn't playing with Hines, he played some with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, pianist Albert Ammons and others. While he was with Hines,Young began working with a trombone teacher, Jerry Chimera, who helped him improve his intonation and technique. He also sought out and played often in informal jam sessions with the pioneering jazz trombonists Jack Teagarden and J.C. Higginbotham.

Young stayed with Hines until 1937, when he left to join the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. It was with Lunceford that Young made a big name for himself as a trombonist, singer and composer. Lunceford's 1938 recording of "Margie," a huge hit for Decca, featured Young's unique tenor voice as well as an impressive trombone solo that ends on a high F#, demonstrating his ability to play higher than any of his fellow jazz trombonists at the time. Even later trombone masters, such as J.J. Johnson, have no recordings which feature that range on the instrument.

He played with Lunceford until 1943, when he turned to a series of shorter engagements with various other artists, starting with Charlie Barnet. Later that year, he coled a group with saxophonist Lester Young, and later worked with Boyd Raeburn, Tiny Grimes, Roy Eldridge, Claude Hopkins, Johnny Bothwell, Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1946, he began touring with Jazz At The Philharmonic, an association that lasted about a year. The West-Coast cutting session classic "The Hunt," recorded with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray in 1947, provides an example of Young's work as one of the most-sought-after trombone sidemen during this time.

On tour in Hawaii with C.P. Johnson, Young met Sally Tokashiki. The two were married four months later, and Young moved to the islands. Despite facing overt racism and hostility towards his interracial marriage, Young was able to make a living playing in resort hotels with various small groups.

Five years later, in September 1952, Young decided to leave the islands to join the Louis Armstrong All-Stars as Jack Teagarden's replacement on trombone. This move was controversial, as many of his admirers believed that the Dixieland-revival music was not a good fit for the bebop-oriented sounds that Young was developing with his small groups in Hawaii. Contrary to critics' ungrounded opinions, however, Young's work with Amrstrong represented some of the best playing of his career, as evidenced on their many recordings from this period; the collaboration lasted until 1964.

As a sideman with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, Young transformed the role of the trombone in traditional jazz. He was not featured for solos as often as his predecessor Jack Teagarden. Instead, Young played behind Armstrong, subtly improvising countermelodies and harmonizing underneath his trumpet or in the spaces between his vocal lines. "Memphis Blues," "Mack the Knife," and "Black and Blue," all recorded in 1954 and 1955, are good examples of Young's role in the band: out of the spotlight, but still improvising and playing a crucial role in the ensemble's sound.

Young did get to solo occasionally with the All-Stars, as is evidenced in his live 1956 recordings of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," " "Basin Street Blues" "When the Saints Go Marching In." All of these tracks feature brief solos by Young which show off his bright tone and upper register strength, especially the chorus on "Basin Street Blues."

Five years later, Young was featured with the All-Stars in Armstrong's collaboration with Duke Ellington. Young was featured more prominently in these takes, including "Mood Indigo," "Duke's Place, "The Beautiful American," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and a Tricky Sam Nanton-inspired plunger solo on "Black and Tan Fantasy."

These recordings reflect Young at the height of his development of his role with Armstrong. They feature a controlled vibrato, and flawlessly-executed, hard-swinging blues vocabulary in addition to his trademark tone and upper register acumen.

Young left Armstrong in 1964 to return to Hawaii, where he spent the rest of his life playing with small groups in local hotels, especially the Sheraton Waikiki. He toured regularly as a soloist with other groups such as Earl Hines in 1971 and Chris Barber in the early 1980s. He was also a regular at Dick Gibson's annual "Jazz Parties" in Denver, CO, which he described as the site of some of his best playing. Back in Hawaii, his performances at the Waikiki Sheraton helped inspire Conrad Herwig when he was a teenager living there. Herwig credits Young's mentorship as one of the defining influences in his development as a trombonist. Young passed away on September 10, 1984 while visiting friends in San Jose, California

Of course, Herwig wasn't the only trombonist whose playing was shaped by Young's pioneering approach. His work in refining the sound and reshaping the role of the instrument beyond tailgate lines provided a key resource for the bebop trombone generation: a foundation for younger trombonists such as Bennie Green, J.J. Johnson and Herwig to continue to expand the instrument's possibilites.

Select Discography

A Man and His Horn (1975, Flair UK)

with Jimmie Lunceford:

Margie (Savoy reissue, recorded in 1946)

with Louis Armstrong:

Satch Plays Fats (Columbia, 1990)

The Great Summit: The Master Takes (Blue Note, 2001)

Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (Polygram, 1997)

with Dexter Gordon:

Bopland: The Legendary Elks Club Concert L.A. 1947 (Savoy, 2004)

with Jazz At The Philharmonic:

Complete Jazz At The Philharmonic Concerts On Verve 1944-1949 (Verve,1998)

Contributor: Alex W. Rodriguez