Buck Clayton Biography

Wilbur Dorsey Clayton, 12 November 1911, Parsons, Kansas, USA, d. 8 December 1991, New York City, New York, USA. By his late teens Clayton was already an accomplished trumpeter, having worked locally in Kansas and briefly in California. He returned to the west coast, playing in several Los Angeles-based bands including that led by Charlie Echols. He also formed his own unit, which he took to China for two years. Back in California he found that his reputation had spread and in 1936 he was invited to join Count Basie. He remained with Basie until drafted for military service in 1943, by which time his fame was guaranteed thanks to a succession of fine solos on many of the Basie band’s best recordings. After the war he worked mostly with small bands and also appeared as a member of Jazz At The Philharmonic. He worked, too, with a former Basie colleague Jimmy Rushing and occasionally formed bands, big and small, under his own leadership. He toured extensively and made numerous records, including a series of very highly regarded jam sessions in the early and mid-50s which brought together several major mainstream musicians. These sessions used Clayton’s marvellously loose arrangements and became exemplars of their kind. He had begun arranging with Basie, and other band leaders who used his charts included Benny Goodman and Harry James.

In the 50s Clayton toured with Mezz Mezzrow, Eddie Condon and Sidney Bechet. A gifted soloist with a clean, mellow tone, his arranging skills stood him in good stead when, in the late 60s, he began to suffer from severe lip problems. Extensive surgery failed to improve matters and he eventually abandoned playing in favour of arranging. In the late 70s he led a number of bands on international tours under the auspices of the US State Department and occasionally played a little. His activities as band leader, lecturer and arranger continued into the late 80s. A major figure in the establishment of mainstream jazz who was greatly respected by his peers.

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

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