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 Cootie Williams

Cootie Williams

Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama, USA
Death 15 Sep 1985 (aged 74)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA
Plot Alpine Section
Memorial ID 100331569 · View Source
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Musician. Jazz trumpeter was born Charles Melvin Williams. His fame came being a long time member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He began his professional career at age 14 playing with Lester Young in the Young Family Band. Cootie's first run with the Ellington Orchestra ran from 1929-1940. He left in 1940 to join the Benny Goodman Orchestra. One year later he began his own orchestra which over the years included a number of important jazz players, including, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis. He eventually rejoined the Ellington Orchestra for his final run from 1962-1974. Inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.

Chicago Tribune (IL) - Tuesday, September 17, 1985


Cootie Williams, 77, a jazz trumpeter, was the last surviving member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra that played the Cotton Club in Harlem during the 1920s. Playing professionally for more than 50 years, he was noted for his ''growling'' style on the muted trumpet with a sound that has been compared to ''talking through the horn.'

''In his heyday,'' the Encyclopedia of Jazz states, ''Cootie Williams was a magnificent product of the best of Bubber Miley and Louis Armstrong and probably the best all-around trumpet player in jazz.''

Services for Mr. Williams, a resident of Queens, will be held on Wednesday in St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City. He died Sunday in Long Island Jewish Hospital.

His mother was a church organist, and his father ran a gambling house. They named him Charles Williams, but at an early age he picked up the nickname, Cootie, by which jazz lovers knew him for more than a half century. He had attended a concert as a child and been asked afterwards what he had heard. He said, ''Cootie, cootie, cootie.''

In high school, he played the trumpet in the band. He had wanted to play the trombone, but his arms were not long enough. His first professional appearance was at the age of 17 with the Eagle Eye Shields Band in Florida.

He joined Ellington's Band at the Cotton Club in the spring of 1929 and played with it through 1940, contributing one of its most distinctive sounds in the 1930s.'' When he left, Duke Ellington wrote a piece, ''Concerto for Cootie'' that later became the pop song, ''Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.''

''Cootie was part of the funky contingent of Duke Ellington's Band,'' according to Bob Koester, proprietor of Chicago's Jazz Record Mart. ''He was associated with the wa-wa-wa mutes and the plunger sound because he followed Bubber Miley in the band and imitated him. His own orientation was more blues and had more of the looseness of the Southern sound. His sound was distinctive even when he didn't use the mutes or the plunger. He also was a vocalist with Duke's and later his own band.''

He played for a year with Benny Goodman, mixing his funkiness with its almost symphonic sound. He then formed his own band, which featured such performers as Pearl Bailey, Thelonius Monk and Bob Merrill. Its success was limited, and he cut the band down to combo size by the early 1950s.

While Louis Armstrong was his hero and model from the middle 1920s, Mr. Williams beat him out as the best all-around jazz player and won the Esquire Gold Medal in 1945-46.

In the 1950s, he played for 7 years at the Savoy Ballroom in New York until it was closed. He rejoined the Ellington Band and played with it from 1972 to 1975 under Duke's son, Mercer.

Survivors include his wife, Catherine, and a brother, Barney Leroy Williams




  • Created by: Steven Laird
  • Added: 7 Nov 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 100331569
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Cootie Williams (10 Jul 1911–15 Sep 1985), Find A Grave Memorial no. 100331569, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Steven Laird (contributor 47793622) .