Jabbo Smith Biography

Cladys Smith, 24 December 1908, Pembroke, Georgia, USA, d. 16 January 1991, New York City, New York, USA. Smith was taught trumpet and trombone while still a small child and later toured with a youth band. At the age of 16 he was working professionally as a trumpeter (although he would periodically play trombone in later years). In New York from about 1925 he played with Charlie Johnson, Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson and others. Stranded in Chicago when a show in which he was playing folded, he worked in bands led by Carroll Dickerson, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Erskine Tate and Charlie Elgar. During the 30s he played with Fess Williams, Dickerson, led his own band, then returned to New York with Claude Hopkins and also played with Sidney Bechet. By the mid-40s, reputedly exhausted through high-living, he was leading his own band in the comparative musical backwater of Milwaukee and for the next dozen years mostly played in that city. He also worked outside music, for a car rental company, into the late 50s.

Thereafter, he played less and less until he was brought to New York in 1975 to receive an award at Carnegie Hall. This event prompted him to begin practising again and he was soon touring internationally, playing and singing with Sammy Rimington, Orange Kellin and others. In the early 80s he suffered a series of heart attacks but kept on playing, often working in harness with seemingly unlikely musical companions such as Don Cherry. In these later years he increasingly turned to composing, writing music for the Mel Lewis orchestra, often in collaboration with Keith Ingham. Despite his remarkable durability and longevity, Smith remains a little-known figure in jazz and, given the extremely high regard in which he is held by fellow musicians, he is also very much under-recorded. In his youth he was often considered to be a potential rival to Louis Armstrong and although he has none of Armstrong’s creative genius, his recordings display many flashes of spectacular brilliance.

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

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