As a young musician, I stared to listen obsessively to jazz about the time I became serious about the trumpet. If you love the trumpet, it’s hard not to fall for jazz—since this is the music that really shows off what the horn can do. There were relatively few opportunities for a kid in New Hampshire to hear live jazz in the 1980s, but one could tune in the late-night “Eric in the Evening” show from the Boston NPR affiliate. And there was a great used record store where I found the LP Roy Eldridge 4 – Live at Montreux 77. I must have played “Perdido” and “Joie de Roy” 200 times, as I practiced along
Roy Eldridge was born on the north side of Pittsburgh in 1911. He lead his first band there too, at the age of 20, Roy Elliott and His Palais Royal Orchestra, becoming part of Pittsburgh Jazz History.
The video above has Roy playing one of his signature tunes, “Rocking Chair.” It shows the energy and power he brought to his playing. Legend has it that Roy practiced 8 hours a day, sometimes even playing in the bathroom when the band took a break during a gig. He was largely self-taught and, legend has it, never learned to read music well. But he had a perfect ear.
If playing on the radio and with these high-profile swing bands made Roy famous, it was in the jam session that he really shined. Roy played in the famous jam sessions at
Mintons with jazz greats like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. His endurance, inventiveness, and energy are infectuous. In the famous Jazz at the Philharmonic jam sessions and in his duet album Roy and Diz, you can really hear how the spontinaety and competition of the cutting session inspire the inventiveness of jazz.
The session in this French video seems a bit staged, but I love the way the trumpet walks in at minute 7:28. If you watch from the beginning, you can hear some great playing from another member of the band—sax genius Coleman Hawkins. And although he’s not featured, the guitarist Barry Galbraith is also playing in the band.
Live performance remains at the heart of jazz. Please consider supporting the Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival in our Kickstarter Campaign. This will be a free, outdoor festival. It will only be possible through grants and donations from jazz and blues fans like you.