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Spotlight on Jazz-Roy Eldridge

July 23, 2011

Eldridge was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and originally played drums, trumpet and tuba. He led bands from his early years, moving to St. Louis, and then to New York. He absorbed the influence of saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins, setting himself the task of learning Hawkins 1926 solo on “The Stampede” in developing an equivalent trumpet style.
Eldridge played in various bands in New York in the early 1930s, as well as making records and radio broadcasts under his own name. His rhythmic power to swing a band was a dynamic trademark of the jazz of the time. It has been said that “from the mid-Thirties onwards, he had superseded Louis Armstrong as the exemplar of modern ‘hot’ trumpet playing”.
Eldridge was very versatile on his horn, not only quick and articulate with the low to middle registers, but the high registers as well. The high register lines that Eldridge employed were one of many prominent features of his playing, another being blasts of rapid double-time notes followed by a return to standard time. These stylistic points were heavy influences on Dizzy Gillespie, who, along with Charlie Parker, brought bebop into existence. Eldridge participated in some of the early jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse. A careful listening to bebop standards, such as the song “Bebop”, reveals how much Eldridge influenced this genre of jazz.
In May 1941, Eldridge joined Gene Krupa’s Orchestra, and was successfully featured with rookie singer Anita O’Day on a series of recordings including the novelty hit “Let Me Off Uptown”. However, Eldridge complained that O’Day was upstaging him and the band broke up after Krupa was jailed for marijuana possession in July 1943. Eldridge then joined Artie Shaw’s band.
In the postwar years, he became part of the group which toured under the Jazz at the Philharmonic banner. He became one of the stalwarts of the group. Its producer Norman Granz said that Roy Eldridge typified the spirit of jazz. “Every time he’s on he does the best he can, no matter what the conditions are. And Roy is so intense about everything, so that it’s far more important to him to dare, to try to achieve a particular peak, even if he falls on his ass in the attempt, than it is to play safe. That’s what jazz is all about.”
Eldridge moved to Paris for a time, before returning to New York, where he worked with Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald and Earl “Fatha” Hines among others. In 1971, Eldridge was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. After a stroke in 1980, he continued performing on other instruments for the remainder of his life. Here is Roy Eldrige with After You’ve Gone.

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