Like many jazz musicians of his generation just after the Swing Era, Knepper became fascinated with “Modern Jazz” in general and Charlie Parker’s playing in particular.
At least once, Knepper recorded Parker live himself; he’s responsible for a recording initially distributed by Charles Mingus’s Workshop label called Bird at St. Nicks. (To conserve tape, Knepper turned the tape recorder on only during Charlie Parker’s solos.)
Despite the primary influence of jazz players on instruments other than the trombone, Jimmy’s improvising style is unique and features a personal sound that is immediately identifiable. It’s virtuosic without ever being cold or showy.
Knepper is perhaps best known for playing with Charles Mingus, but he had a varied career which included playing in the Broadway pit orchestra for the entire original run of Funny Girl.
Harrison was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1900. He was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Like Jack Teagarden, he was self largely taught, but started the trombone later, as a teenager. Soon, he was able to get work as a musician in his hometown, later gigging throughout the midwest. Harrison eventually made it to New York City, and continued a promising trajectory. There were stints with with Fess Williams, Elmer Snowden, June Clark, Billy Fowler, and even, in the early 20s, Duke Ellington.
Kaiser Marshall, Fletcher Henderson’s drummer, remembered meeting Jimmy Harrison at Small’s 5th Avenue Club in 1923, when he was playing with cornetist June Clark’s five-piece band. He recalled:
“Jimmy played riffs and often played his trombone very high, so that sometimes you would think two cornets were playing instead of one…He was crazy about Louis Armstrong, and some of the things that Louis made on his cornet or trumpet, Jimmy could play the second part of it. In fact like I said, before you could think, two trumpets were playing.”
Harrison joined Fletcher Hendersons’s band in 1925, becoming bandmates with Coleman Hawkins. Kaiser recalled that Harrison had a one-year contract with Charlie Johnson and that Fletcher Henderson had to “buy his contract in order get him.” The meeting between Jimmy and Jack Teagarden took place soon after, in part engineered by Hawkins himself at the Roseland Ballroom. Later, the musicians put together jam sessions at Marshall’s place. Kaiser again:
Harrison on record:
Blazin’ May 29, 1925 with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra: Harrison’s solo is in at 1:10:
Sweet and Hot 1931 with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra: Jimmy Harrison, trombone and vocal.
“Jack Teagarden … used to come over to our house often, sometimes staying all night, and we would have a slight jam session between Hawk who lived only a few doors from us. So Jack would play piano, Jimmy trombone, Hawkins tenor, and myself on my rubber-pad I kept at home. Then Hawk would play piano, Jack and Jimmy trombone. My, what fun we had!”
Most of Harrison’s best recorded solos are with Benny Carter‘s Chocolate Dandies, a group that at the time had a fair amount of overlap, personnel wise, with Fletcher Henderson’s aggregation.
Here’s Jimmy with his pre-Henderson employer, Charlie Johnson. With Johnson’s “Paradise Orchestra,” the tune is Walk That Thing, recorded on September 19, 1928:
Also with Johnson, The Boy in the Boat from 1928:
Here’s Jimmy with Benny Carter’s Chocolate Dandies group: Dee Blues, recorded on December 3, 1930:
In addition to arriving at similar jazz trombone styles inspired by Louis Armstrong, Harrison and Teagarden were both singers. Jimmy added something more, entertainment wise, which was a Bert Williams inspired, vaudeville-style “preaching” act. Some of these performances by Harrison were apparently recorded; none have yet surfaced.
Jimmy Harrison continued playing with Fletcher Henderson through early 1931. He joined Chick Webb‘s band next. Sadly, he became ill soon after, succumbing to a severe stomach ailment which has been described as “ulcers,” or possibly cancer. He was only 29.
Including Coleman Hawkins, musicians that enjoyed much longer careers in jazz never forgot about Jimmy Harrison. Benny Carter lauded him for his “warmth, tone, feeling and style,” and felt that recordings don’t give a full picture of his playing. Trumpeter Rex Stewart also testified to Harrison’s preeminence as a swing trombonist in mid-twenties New York, adding that, because of the trombonist’s early death, “History inadvertently and unwittingly bypassed Jim.”
As you’ve probably noticed, this website isn’t updated nearly enough. Today, however, is International Jazz Day, (the culmination of Jazz Appreciation Month), so updating today is probably a solid idea! To get in on some international events for this celebratory day, head on over to the International Jazz Day website right now, or watch here . . .
Trombonist and proprietor of Hip Bone Music Michael Davis has been running his excellent Bone-to-Pick interview series for a while now. A little over a year ago, Davis featured the incomparable trombonist Bill Watrous. Watrous, who is full of stories, observations, and the occasional joke*, is a natural for this sort of thing, and that makes the interview fun to watch.
How Long Has This Been Going On?
*The Carl Fontana Joke
Watch the entire interview if you haven’t already, but for the joke as told by Carl Fontana to Watrous, check out 32 minutes 13 seconds.
When recalling his earliest — and fairly obscure — LP solo recordings, Bill mentions one whose title seems to be a 60s zeitgeist send-up: Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. Watrous remembers the arranger Walter Raim talked him into the project when he was in New York City doing other recording work. Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known had interesting instrumentation in addition to Watrous’s trombone, consisting of string quartet, vibes, guitar, bass, and drums, plus voices. “I still have a copy of this. You can’t get these anywhere,” says Watrous.
Well, over at my favorite used record store, Hymies, I did find a copy of, you know, Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. It was recorded in 1969 for MTA Records in New York (not to be confused with the current label of that name). Despite the high concept title, the recording is a standards outing with Aquarius (from the 1967 musical Hair) added in. (Also, did Aquarius ever really become a standard?) To be sure, it’s easy listening, but as the liner notes mention, using a string quartet — as opposed to a huge string section — changes up the usual “easy listening” texture. The arrangements are interesting — the tracks on this LP could have easily been used for Mad Men music cues.
We serve cookies. If you think that's ok, just click "Accept all". You can also choose what kind of cookies you want by clicking "Settings".