Hopkins, Claude (Driskett)

views updated

Hopkins, Claude (Driskett)

Hopkins, Claude (Driskett), influential early jazz pianist, leader (composer); b. Alexandria, Va., Aug. 24, 1903; d. Riverdale, Bronx, N.Y., Feb. 19, 1984. He was raised in Washington, D.C., where both parents were on the staff of Howard Univ. He began playing piano at the age of seven, and later spent two years studying medicine and music at Howard Univ. (B.A., 1923), and did a further year’s study at the Washington Cons. He played in college orchs., then led his own band in Atlantic City (summer 1924), played briefly in N.Y. with Wilbur Sweatman, then again organized his own band. He sailed to Europe in September 1925, leading his own band (including Bechet) for the Josephine Baker revue. He toured throughout Europe with the show, then led his own band (comprised of Joe Hayman and several European musicians) in Italy and Spain (early 1926). He returned to N.Y. in spring of 1926 and led his own band through 1930. He then took over the leadership of Charlie Skeets’s band, which performed together through 1941, including long residencies at the Roseland Ballroom (1931–34) and the Cotton Club (late 1934-36). Members included at times Jabbo Smith, Vic Dickenson, and Edmond Hall. Orlando Robersons’s vocal on “Trees” turned the song into a huge hit. Hopkins was on the West Coast with a new band from 1941-42, then worked briefly in an Aircraft Plant Band during the war. From the mid-1940s through mid-1950s, he led his own groups, which decreased in size from full bands to mostly five or six piece units. From 1954, Hopkins began making regular appearances with Henry “Red” Allen. He also played in Herman Autrey’s Trio in late 1950s and with clarinetist Sol Yaged in 1960. From 1960-66, he regularly led his own small group in small clubs. From late 1967-69 he played with Wild Bill Davison in The Jazz Giants. He worked briefly with Roy Eldridge in N.Y. in 1970. He played many jazz festivals during the 1970s and toured Europe with Earle Warren and Dicky Wells. Hopkins fell sick in his later years and died in a nursing home.


Discography Singiri in the Rain (1935); Yes Indeed (1960); Let’s Jam (1961); Swing Time (1963); Soliloquy (1972); Crazy Fingers (1972).

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