Sullivan, Joe (actually, Joseph Michael)

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Sullivan, Joe (actually, Joseph Michael)

Sullivan, Joe (actually, Joseph Michael), jazz pianist, composer; b. Chicago, Nov. 4, 1906; d. San Francisco, Oct. 13, 1971. Sullivan studied for several years at the Chicago Cons, of Music. In the summer of 1923 he led his own quartet in Ind., then worked for 18 months on the vaudeville circuit, beginning with Elmo Mack and His Purple Derbies. He then played mainly in Chicago, working on the radio and making many recordings. Sullivan moved to N.Y. in the late 1920s, and played with Red Nichols’s Band there and on tour (1929). Through the early 1930s, he worked with various N.Y. groups, including Roger Wolfe Kahn’s Orch. (1930, again spring 1933), Red McKenzie’s Mound City Blue Blowers (1931 and early 1932), Ozzie Nelson (mid-1932), and Russ Colombo (late 1932). He moved to Calif, in 1933 and worked regularly in a studio orch. and as Bing Crosby’s accompanist (he appeared with Bing in three films). Sullivan moved back to N.Y. in the summer of 1936 and joined Bob Crosby’s Band. He remained with Bob Crosby until December 1936; a lung complaint was diagnosed and he spent the next 10 months in a sanatorium recovering. (During 1938 a mammoth benefit concert was held for him in Chicago, featuring Bob Crosby’s Band, Roy Eldridge, The Dodds Brothers, and others.) Sullivan subsequently recommenced working as accompanist for Bing Crosby. In the summer of 1939 he briefly rejoined Bob Crosby as featured pianist. He left in September 1939 and a month later began leading his own mixed small band at N.Y.’s Cafe Society; the band continued to work N.Y. clubs until January 1941. From spring 1943 to spring 1945, Sullivan was back in Los Angeles, then worked as a duo with pianist Meade Lux Lewis in Chicago. He played regularly at Eddie Condon’s N.Y. club from 1946 to 1947, then returned to the West Coast. During the 1950s Sullivan worked mostly in San Francisco, except for a brief spell with The Louis Armstrong All Stars in early 1952. His health began to fail in the early 1960s due to years of heavy drinking, but he managed to continue to play occasional engagements. He became seriously ill in 1970 and died shortly thereafter.

Sullivan composed many well-known jazz tunes, including “Little Rock Getaway” and “Gin Mill Blues.” He appeared in many films in the 1930s; his sextet also recorded the music for the 1940 film Fight for Life. In 1955 the original Bob Crosby Band assembled for a television tribute to Sullivan.


Piano (1944); New Solos by an Old Master (1951); Joe Sullivan Plays Fats Waller (1954); Mr. Piano Man (1955); Joe Sullivan (1963).

—John Chilton/Lewis Porter

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Sullivan, Joe (actually, Joseph Michael)

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