Celebrating Trumpet Great Roy Eldridge

Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Special Announcements | 0 comments

Trumpet great Roy Eldridge was born in Pittsburghon January 30, 1911. He began playing the piano at the age of five, claiming that he was playing coherent blues licks at this young age. He took up the drums at the age of six, but his older brother, Joe, convinced him to pick up the trumpet instead.  Althgough Eldridge lacked sight-reading skills, a gap in his musical education that would affect him for much of his early career, he could replicate melodies by ear.

Eldridge led and played in a number of bands during his early years, moving extensively throughout the Midwest. He absorbed the influence of saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins, setting himself the task of learning Hawkins's 1926 solo on The Stampede in developing an equivalent trumpet style. Eldridge soon found work leading a small band in the traveling "Rock Dinah" show, his performance there leading Count Basie to recall the young Eldridge as "the greatest trumpet I'd ever heard in my life." He played with a number of other territory bands, eventually joining Speed Webb's band. Many of Webb's band members, annoyed by the leader's lack of dedication, left to form a group with Eldridge as bandleader. 

Moving to New York in 1930, Eldridge playing in various bands. It was during this time that he received his nickname, 'Little Jazz', from Duke Ellington saxophonist Otto Hardwick, who was amused by the incongruity between Eldridge's raucous playing and his short stature. In 1935, he laid down his first recorded solos with Teddy Hill, and then went on to record a number of small group sides with singer Billie Holiday, including What a Little Moonlight Can Do and Miss Brown to You.  Later that same year, Eldridge joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, playing lead trumpet and occasionally singing. Until he left the group in early September 1936, Eldridge was Henderson's featured soloist. 

Fed up with the racism he had encountered in the music industry, Eldridge quit playing in 1938 to study radio engineering.  However, he was back playing by 1939, when he formed a ten-piece band that gained a residency at New York's Arcadia Ballroom.

In 1941, after receiving many offers from white swing bands, Eldridge joined Gene Krupa's Orchestra, and was successfully featured with rookie singer Anita O'Day. He was instrumental in changing the course of Krupa's big band from schmaltz to jazz.  Eldridge and O'Day were featured in a number of recordings, including the novelty hit Let Me Off Uptown and Knock Me a Kiss.

After leaving Krupa's band, Eldridge joined Artie Shaw's band in 1944. As the featured soloist in Artie Shaw and Gene Krupa's bands, Eldridge was something of an exception, as black musicians in the 1930s were not allowed to appear in public with white bands. Artie Shaw commented on the difficulty Roy had in his band, noting that "Droves of people would ask him for his autograph at the end of the night, but later, on the bus, he wouldn't be able to get off and buy a hamburger with the guys in the band." Krupa, on at least one occasion, spent several hours in jail and paid fines for starting a fistfight with a restaurant manager who refused to let Eldridge eat with the rest of the band.In the postwar years, he became part of the group which toured under the Jazz at the Philharmonic banner. Owing to these kind of racial incidents, he left to form his own big band, but this eventually proved financially unsuccessful and Eldridge returned to small group work.

Beginning in 1969, Eldridge became the leader of the house band at Jimmy Ryan's jazz club in Manhattan. He was incapacitated by a stroke in 1970, but continued to lead the group at Ryan's. As leader, Eldridge was noted for his occasional hijinx, including impromptu "amateur night" sessions during which he would invite inexperienced players on stage to lead his band, often for comedic effect and to give himself a break. In 1971, Eldridge was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

After suffering a heart attack in 1980, Eldridge gave up playing. He died at the age of 78.

His legacy is huge. He was extremely versatile on his horn, not only quick and articulate with the low to middle registers, but in the high registers as well. Jazz critic Gary Giddins described Eldridge as having a "flashy, passionate, many-noted style that rampaged freely through three octaves, rich with harmonic ideas impervious to the fastest tempos."  Eldridge is frequently grouped among those jazz trumpeters of the '30s and '40s who eschewed Louis Armstrong's lyrical style for a rougher and more frantic style. 

Eldridge was also lauded for the intensity of his playing.  Ella Fitzgerald once said: "He's got more soul in one note that a lot of people could get into the whole song." The high register lines that Eldridge employed were one of many prominent features of his playing, and Eldridge expressed a penchant for the expressive ability of the instrument's highest notes, frequently incorporating them into his solos.  He was also known for his fast style of playing, often executing blasts of rapid double-time notes followed by a return to standard time. 

Eldridge's fast playing and extensive development of the instrument's upper register were heavy influences on Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy got the chance to engage in numerous jam sessions and trumpet battles with Eldridge at New York's Minton's Playhouse in the early 1940s. Referring to Eldridge, Dizzy went so far as to say: "He was the Messiah of our generation." Eldridge first heard Dizzy on Lionel Hampton's 1939r ecording of Hot Mallets and later recalled, "I heard this trumpet solo and I thought it was me. Then I found out it was Dizzy."  Although frequently touted as the bridge between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, Eldridge always insisted: "I was never trying to be a bridge between Armstrong and something."

(Excerpted and Edited from Wikipedia)

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