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Clayton, Buck (12 November 1911–08 December 1991), jazz trumpeter and arranger, was born Wilbur Dorsey Clayton in Parsons, Kansas, the son of Simeon Oliver Clayton, a musician, and Aritha Anne Dorsey, a schoolteacher, pianist, and singer. His father’s church orchestra rehearsed at their home, and in his youth Clayton experimented with different instruments, learning their basic scales. He took piano lessons from ages six to eighteen. At about age sixteen he was deeply impressed by a trumpeter in ...

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Buck Clayton. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0137 DLC).

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Dizzy Gillespie Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1955. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114444).

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Gillespie, Dizzy (21 October 1917–06 January 1993), jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, was born John Birks Gillespie in Cheraw, South Carolina, the son of James Gillespie, a mason and musician, and Lottie Powe. Gillespie’s father kept his fellow band members’ instruments at their home, and thus from his toddler years onward Gillespie had an opportunity to experiment with sounds. He entered Robert Smalls public school in 1922. He was as naughty as he was brilliant, and accounts of fighting, showing off, and mischief extend from his youth into adulthood....

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Harris, Bill (28 October 1916–21 August 1973), trombonist, guitarist, and composer, was born Willard Palmer Harris in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Willard Massey Harris, an attorney for the U.S. Marine Corps, and Mabel Palmer Harris. Bill's older half brother Robert was a professional bassist who performed with the Ted Weems Orchestra....

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Johnson, Francis (16 June 1792–06 April 1844), musician, bandleader, and composer, also known as Frank Johnson, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known of his youth and parentage. Most sources cite Martinique as his birthplace, but Stephen Charpié's (1999) work with baptismal records establishes his birth date, birthplace, and status as a free African American. Though skilled at a number of instruments, Johnson seems to have first attained local prominence as a fiddler at dances, parties, and the like; there is some evidence that he played with Matthew “Matt” Black's band in the late 1810s. Johnson also seems to have received some limited instruction during this period from Richard Willis, an Irish immigrant who later directed the West Point military band and who introduced the keyed bugle (also known as a Kent bugle) to the United States....

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Francis Johnson. Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

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Johnson, J. J. (22 January 1924–04 February 2001), trombonist, composer, and arranger, was born James Louis Johnson in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of James Horace Johnson and Nina Geiger Johnson. In their early years, the church was a dominant influence in the lives of Johnson and his two younger sisters. His mother and father, who worshiped at a Baptist and a Methodist church respectively on the same street, insisted on bringing up their children in the traditions of both. Johnson's mother hired the church organist to teach him the piano at the age of nine. Later at Crispus Attucks High School, the only African-American public high school in Indianapolis, Johnson became passionate about music. Initially he was forced to play the baritone saxophone, but by the time he was fourteen he was appearing in the high school band and the YMCA marching brass band as a trombonist....

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Jones, Thad (28 March 1923–20 August 1986), jazz horn player, composer, and bandleader, was born Thaddeus Joseph Jones in Pontiac, Michigan. The names of his parents and details of his early childhood are unknown. However, it would seem that his was a musical family: his uncle William was a bandleader, and two of his four brothers were musicians....

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Liston, Melba Doretta (13 January 1926–23 April 1999), trombonist, bandleader, arranger, and composer, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the only child of Lucille Clark, an office worker, and Frank Liston, a laborer. Melba was raised in both her birthplace and Kansas City, Kansas, where her grandparents lived. She recounted a lonely childhood made less lonely by the music in her life. Melba’s early years coincided with Kansas City’s blues and jazz boom and the emergence of musical greats like ...

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Howard McGhee © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0573 DLC).

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McGhee, Howard B. (06 March 1918–17 July 1987), jazz trumpeter, arranger, and composer, known as “Maggie” in the jazz community, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His parents’ names are unknown. His father, seeking factory work, moved the family to Detroit when McGhee was an infant, but his mother died soon thereafter, and he was raised by his grandmother in Bristow and Sapulpa, Oklahoma. His father returned from Detroit but died when McGhee was about five years old. After moving with his grandmother to Boley, Oklahoma, McGhee attended a boys’ school, where he learned to play a scale on trumpet; then, to his disappointment, he was started on clarinet, so as not to be ahead of the rest of the class. McGhee lost an eye in a childhood accident and thereafter always wore dark glasses. Perhaps the fashion among beboppers of the 1940s for wearing dark shades in dingy nightclubs has in McGhee’s experience a practical origin independent of ...

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Miley, Bubber (03 April 1903–20 May 1932), jazz trumpeter and composer, was born James Wesley Miley in Aiken, South Carolina, the son of Valentine Miley, an amateur guitarist. Nothing is known of his mother, but his three sisters sang professionally as the South Carolina Trio. In 1909 the family moved to the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan, where at age fourteen Miley began studying trombone and cornet in school. In 1918 he enlisted in the navy and, after eighteen months of duty, started playing locally with the Carolina Five and in Harlem with pianist Willie Gant. In late 1921 Miley replaced Johnny Dunn, then New York’s leading trumpeter, in vaudevillian blues singer ...

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Morgan, Lee (10 July 1938–19 February 1972), jazz trumpeter and composer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Little is known about his parents except that his father was a pianist for a local church choir. Morgan’s older sister, Ernestine, was influential in his musical education. When he was in his early teens she took him to hear alto saxophone legend ...

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Sy Oliver © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0667 DLC).

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Oliver, Sy (17 December 1910–27 May 1988), jazz arranger, composer, and trumpeter, was born Melvin James Oliver in Battle Creek, Michigan, the son of Melvin Clarence Oliver, a music teacher, concert singer, and choir director. His mother (name unknown) was a music teacher and a church organist. Oliver studied piano from age six but without any special interest in it. Raised in Zanesville, Ohio, from age ten, he decided to play trumpet. He bought a cheap cornet and learned so quickly that he was soon performing with local bands. He switched from cornet to its close cousin the trumpet early on. His father had a stroke, and Oliver in his sophomore year in high school began playing professionally with Cliff Barnett’s Club Royal Serenaders to help support himself....

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Ory, Kid (25 December 1890?–23 January 1973), jazz trombonist, bandleader, and composer, was born Edward Ory in La Place, Louisiana, of Creole French, Spanish, African-American, and Native American heritage. His father was a landowner; the names and other details of his parents are unknown. Ory first spoke French. The family made weekend visits to New Orleans, thirty miles away, where Ory had many opportunities to hear musicians. He built several instruments before acquiring a banjo at age ten, shortly before his mother died....

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Pryor, Arthur Willard (22 September 1870–18 June 1942), virtuoso trombonist, conductor, and composer, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, the son of Samuel Daniel Pryor, a bandleader, and Mary “Mollie” A. Coker, a pianist. Beginning his musical study as early as age six, Pryor studied piano, violin, string bass, cornet, alto horn, and valve trombone. By age eleven he was quite accomplished on the latter instrument, playing solos with his father’s band. At fifteen he taught himself to play the slide trombone utilizing only two positions instead of the usual seven. Later in his career, to his advantage, he used this technique of playing some notes in “false” or “wrong” positions, developing a facility that is often considered the greatest of all time; he also developed a technique for playing chords (multiphonics)....

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Rogers, Shorty (14 April 1924–07 November 1994), jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, arranger, and bandleader, was born Milton Michael Rajonsky in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Abraham Rajonsky, an immigrant tailor from Romania, and Anna Sevitsky, from Russia. Rogers was raised in Lee, Massachusetts, where his father owned a tailor shop. He played bugle from age five. Four years later the family moved to the Bronx, New York. He took up trumpet at age twelve and on the strength of his playing he subsequently enrolled at the High School of Music and Art in New York City....

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Sauter, Eddie (02 December 1914–21 April 1981), arranger/composer and trumpeter, was born Edward Ernest Sauter in Brooklyn, New York. His parents’ names are not known. After studies at Columbia University and the Juilliard School of Music in the early 1930s, Sauter began playing trumpet and mellophone with local bands. He first came to prominence in 1935 as sideman and arranger with ...