Eldridge, (David) Roy (aka Little Jazz)
Eldridge, (David) Roy (aka Little Jazz)
Eldridge, (David) Roy (aka Little Jazz), noted jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist, singer, drummer, pianist; b. Pittsburgh, Jan. 30, 1911; d. Valley Stream, L.I., N.Y., Feb. 26, 1989. Eldridge was a brilliant, hair-raising daredevil of an improvisor, especially on his recordings of 1936–1. He was the primary influence on young Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Guy, and numerous other trumpeters. Trombonist Otto Hard wick gave him his nickname of “Little Jazz.”
Eldridge played drums at the age of six, then the bugle before graduating to trumpet taught by P. M. Williams and his brother Joe (b. Pittsburgh, 1908; d. March 5, 1952), who was an alto saxophonist and violinist. Roy also picked up some ability on piano. As a youngster, Eldridge played throughout the Midwest with traveling shows and territory bands. He moved to N.Y. in November 1930, working with Elmer Snowden, Charlie Johnson, and Teddy Hill before touring with the Hot Chocolates Show. In 1933, he founded his first band with his brother Joe in Pittsburgh, then worked with McKinney’s Band in Baltimore. In 1935, he returned to N.Y. to rejoin Teddy Hill at the Savoy Ballroom. After a spell with Fletcher Henderson (1935–36), Eldridge formed his own band (again with Joe) for a long residency at Sam Beer’s Three Deuces Club in Chicago (in autumn 1937, Eldridge took a brief break to recover from pneumonia). The band toured in 1938, making its N.Y. debut at the Savoy Ballroom in August 1938. Soon after, Eldridge briefly left full-time music to study radio engineering, but by November, he had reformed his own band playing N.Y.-area clubs through October 1940, when the group disbanded.
Eldridge then returned to Chicago, leading his own small group for residency at Capitol Lounge. He joined Gene Krupa as featured soloist in April 1941, being the first black musician to join an otherwise white band not just as a featured attraction or singer, but as a regular member of the section. He remained until the band broke up in the spring of 1943 (he occasionally played drums while Krupa fronted the band). From June 1943 to early 1944, he again led his own band, playing inN.Y, Toronto, and Chicago. He then worked as a single and in pickup bands, until joining Artie Shaw, playing with the band from October 1944-September 1945. By February 1946, he was back in the leader’s chair, playing residencies in Chicago, N.Y, and Calif. This band lasted until February 1949, when he rejoined Gene Krupa; Eldridge left in September 1949 to feature in first national J.A.T.P. tour. He went to Europe with Benny Goodman in April 1950; when Goodman returned home in June, Roy toured Europe as a single. After a long stay in Paris, he returned to N.Y. in 1951. Through the 1950s, Roy lead small groups, made many guest star appearances, and was regularly featured with Norman Granz’s J.A.T.P. tours (including many trips to Europe). Beginning in 1952, he did regular club and concert dates in quintet co-led with Coleman Hawkins, together they did several overseas tours for Norman Granz, and also appeared at many jazz festivals in the U.S. During the 1950s he also recorded on drums and piano; Garvin Bushell says he gave Eldridge some lessons on Saxophone during this period as well. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Eldridge played many dates with clarinetist Sol Yaged. While still leading his own small groups, Eldridge worked with Ella Fitzgerald from late 1963-March 1965, and then briefly with Count Basie from July 1-Sept. 17, 1966. He toured Europe with the “Jazz from a Swinging Era” package in the spring of 1967. Eldridge continued to work as a soloist and group leader through the 1970s, including an appearance at the first New Orleans Jazz Festival (1969). He was featured at President Jimmy Carter’s White House Jazz Party in June 1978. Although plagued by ill health after a 1980 heart attack, he made occasional appearances as a singer, drummer, and pianist until his death. A party was thrown for him at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan around the time of his 75th birthday in January 1986. He died three years later.
After You’ve Gone (1936); Live at the Three Deuces (1937); Arcadia Shuffle (1939); At Jerry Newmans (1940); Alt the Cats Join In (1943); I Remember Harlem (1950); Roy Eldridge in Paris (1950); Roy Eldridge in Sweden (1951); Dale’s Wail (1952); Roy Eldridge with Zoot Sims (1954); Roy and Diz, Vols. I, 2 (1954); Tour De force (1955); 1957 Live (1957); And Benny Carter (1957); At the Opera House (1957); Little Jazz Live in 1957 (1957); Swing Goes Dixie (1957); Just You Just Me, Live in 1959 (1959); Nifty Cat Strikes West (1966); Jazz Maturity… Where It’s Coming From (1975); Little Jazz & The Jimmy Ryan All Stars (1975); Trumpet Kings at Montreux (1975); What It’s All About (1976); Montreux (1977); Roy Eldridge Four (1977).
J. Evensmo, The Trumpet of R. E. 1929–1944 (Hosle, Norway, 1979); The Artistry of Roy Eldridge (trans, by Thomas W. Stewart Jr.; Denton, Tex.,1989).
—John Chilton/Lewis Porter