Billy Butterfield Biography

14 January 1917, Middleton, Ohio, USA, d. 18 March 1988, North Palm Beach, Florida, USA. As a child Butterfield was taught by cornetist Frank Simons, but as a teenager he began to study medicine. He continued playing music to such good effect that he was soon working regularly with the bands of Austin Wylie and Andy Anderson and eventually quit his medical studies. Although adept on several instruments he concentrated on trumpet, later adding flügelhorn, and in 1937 was hired by the Bob Crosby band. Butterfield’s gorgeous, fat-toned sound was particularly suited to ballads and his recording of Bob Haggart’s ‘What’s New?’, originally entitled ‘I’m Free’, was a hit. In 1940 he joined Artie Shaw, then worked with Benny Goodman and Les Brown, but soon entered the more reliable area of studio work.

After the war Butterfield indulged himself with every sideman’s dream and formed his own big band, in collaboration with former Crosby colleague Bill Stegmeyer. Butterfield took the enterprise seriously, commissioning arrangements from Ralph Burns, Bob Haggart, Bob Peck and Neal Hefti. For all his good intentions, however, the band proved to be a financial disaster. For a while he returned to studio work but then began freelancing, working with old comrades such as Eddie Condon, recording with Louis Armstrong (playing the trumpet obbligato to Satchmo’s vocal on the 1949 recording of ‘Blueberry Hill’) and leading small groups. In the late 60s he became a member of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band alongside former Crosby sidemen Bob Haggart and Yank Lawson. In the 70s he worked with Joe ‘Flip’ Phillips and toured extensively, usually as a solo. Much admired by fellow musicians, and eventually attracting the kind of attention from fans he had always deserved, Butterfield enjoyed a late flowering of his career although suffering from emphysema.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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