Berry, Chu(actually, Leon Brown)

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Berry, Chu(actually, Leon Brown)

Berry, Chu(actually, Leon Brown), jazz tenor saxophonist; b. Wheeling, W.Va., Sept. 13, 1908; d. Conneaut, Ohio, Oct. 30, 1941. He came from a musical family; his brother, Nelson, was a tenor sax player. He took up sax after hearing Coleman Hawkins playing on a Fletcher Henderson summer tour. He played alto sax at high school, and later, during his three years at W.Va. State Coll., played alto and tenor with Edwards7 Collegians, also worked with Perry Smith and with Fleming Huff in Ohio; he was offered a career as a professional football player, but decided on music. While with Edwards’ Collegians in Bluefield, W.Va., was sent for by Sammy Stewart. Traveled to join the band in Columbus, Ohio (1929). At the time of his joining he sported a goatee beard and moustache; lead alto Billy Stewart began calling him “Chu-Chin-Chow”; this was later shortened to “Chu.” (In the late 1930s a photograph was published showing “Chu” wearing a sweater clearly marked “Chew”—it is impossible to ascertain whether Leon or the knitter decided on this spelling.) “Chu” traveled to N.Y. with the Sammy Stewart Band for their Savoy Ballroom residency (February-April 1930), he left the band later that year at the Arcadia Ballroom. During the early 1930s worked short spells with several bandleaders including: Cecil Scott, Otto Hardwick at the Hot Feet Club), Kaiser Marshall, Walter Pichón, and Earl Jackson’s Band at the Lennox Club, with Benny Carter in summer of 1932, and again in 1933, also with Charlie Johnson late 1932 to early 1933. He joined Teddy Hill’s Band and remained until late 1935. Became a regular member of Fletcher Henderson’s Band in late 1935, after having previously worked for Henderson on broadcasts and other dates from the spring of 1934. He left Fletcher Henderson to join Cab Calloway in July 1937. He remained with Calloway until the time of his death (other than absence for a tonsillectomy in June 1939). After playing a one-nighter with Calloway in Brook-field, Ohio, “Chu,” Andy Brown, and Lammar Wright set out by car for the next night’s venue in Toronto, Ontario. Near Conneaut, Ohio, the car skidded on the road and hit a concrete bridge. Brown and Wright were only slightly hurt, but “Chu” received severe head injuries. He died four days later without regaining consciousness.


Sittin’ In (1938). The Chocolate Dandies: “Krazy Kapers” (1933). Teddy Wilson: “Blues in C# Minor” (1935–36). L. Hampton: “Hot Mallets” (1939). Wingy Manone: “Lime-house Blues” (1941).

—John Chilton Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

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Berry, Chu(actually, Leon Brown)

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