Jazz Musician. An acclaimed tenor saxophonist, he was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, he began piano lessons at the age of five; learned cello and at age nine took up the tenor saxophone; and studied music theory Washburn College in Topeka. From age 14, he was playing professionally in eastern Kansas. He joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in 1924 along with Louis Armstrong. In his ten years with the band he transformed the tenor sax from a novelty instrument into an instrument for the powerful and suave solos that were the essence of swing and bringing its popularity up to that of the clarinet. He almost single-handedly changed perceptions of the sax and its role in jazz. Successful in Europe during 1930's he was forced to return to America after encountering the Nazis' racial restrictions. His 1939 "Body and Soul" became a standard for jazz ballad improvisation, and remains one of the milestone records in jazz history to this day. Down Beat magazine readers voted him "best tenor saxophonist" for his powerful swing style. He was one of the few Hot Jazz musicians who made the shift to Be Bop in the Forties. He hired an unknown Thelonius Monk for his quartet in 1944, and also hired Miles Davis and Max Roach to play on his bands early in their careers. His last concert was in April 1969 at the North Park Hotel in Chicago. He died of pneumonia in New York City.
Bio by: Fred Beisser