Miley, Bubber (James Wesley)

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Miley, Bubber (James Wesley)

Miley, Bubber (James Wesley), famed jazz trumpeter, composer; b. Aiken, S.C., April 3, 1903; d. Welfare Island, N.Y., May 20, 1932. Miley was crucial to the early sound of the Ellington Group and even helped write some of their first hits. His expertise with the plunger (wa-wa) mute was an essential aspect of the Ellington sound in every trumpeter afterward. His family moved to N.Y.C. in 1909. His father, Valentine Miley, was an amateur guitarist; his three sisters, Connie, Rose, and Murdis were professional singers (known as the South Carolina Trio). Miley was taught trombone while at school, then switched to cornet. He joined the U.S. Navy as a boy in 1918, served for 18 months, then worked in N.Y. with The Carolina Five before joining Willie Gant’s Band at Lee’s Cabaret in N.Y. He toured with Mamie Smith (autumn 1921), and later worked at various N.Y. clubs through mid-1923. He was back on tour that spring and summer, again working with Smith. In September 1923, he joined the Washingtonians (then led by Elmer Snowden), remaining with it when Duke Ellington took over as the leader in 1924. Other than brief absences, Bubber worked with Ellington until January 1929. After leaving Ellington, he gigged in N.Y., then sailed to France with Noble Sissle in May 1929 for a two-week engagement. On his return to N.Y., he worked with Zutty Singleton’s Band at the Lafayette Theatre, then joined Allie Ross Band at Connie’s Inn. From early 1930 he worked occasionally for white bandleader Leo Reisman; sometimes dressed as an usher he would join the band from the audience. Where racially mixed bands were not permitted to perform, Miley played with the orchestra, but was hidden from view by a screen. In January 1931, he accompanied noted writer Roger Pryor Dodge (then a professional dancer) in the “Sweet and Low” revue, where he remained for four months. In late 1931 Miley (financed by Irving Mills) formed his own band. They played in the “Harlem Scandals” show in Philadelphia, then opened in N.Y. (January 1932). Shortly afterwards Miley, ill with tuberculosis, was forced to stop playing. He entered a N.Y hospital on April 18, 1932, and died just over a month later.


duke ellington:Choo-choo (1924); Animal Crackers (1926); East St. Louis Toodle-oo (1926); Immigration Blues (1926); Black and Tan Fantasy (1927); Creole Love Call (1927); Jubilee Stomp (1928); The Mooche (1928); Doin the Voom-voom (1929); The Ellington Trumpet Tradition (1929).

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