Wells Dicky (William) jazz trombonist, singer, arranger, composer; b. Centerville, Term., June 10,1907; d. N.Y., Nov. 12, 1985. Family moved to Louisville, Ky., in 1911. (It is said that he first encountered there the music of a player who was a lifelong influence, Jimmy Harrison.) Studied music from the age of ten, played baritone horn in the Booker T. Washington Community Center Band at 13 and trombone from the age of 16. He played locally in Lucius Brown’s Band, then went to N.Y. in drummer Lloyd W. Scott’s Band (1926). Remained in N.Y. with the band, which was later led by Lloyd’s brother Cecil Scott. Worked mainly with Cecil Scott until early 1930, then joined Elmer Snowden’s Band (1930-31), appearing with Snowden in the film Smash Your Baggage. Through the 1930s, he worked with several leaders, including Benny Carter (1932-33, and again in early 1934) and Teddy Hill, joining Hill in September 1934 and remaining with the band for a trip to Europe (summer 1937), where he recorded with Django Reinhardt. After 1937, Wells regularly led his own recording bands, also appeared on many freelance recordings. He joined Count Basie at The Famous Door in July 1938, and played regularly with Basie until early 1950 (with a brief break from early 1946-47). For Basie he wrote “After Theatre Jump” (1944) and others, but the famous “Dickie’s Dream” (1939) was written for him by Lester Young. After leaving Basie, Wells worked in Jimmy Rushing’s Band before going to France in October 1952, toured Europe wifh Bill Coleman’s Swing Stars. Returned to N.Y. in February 1953, worked with Lucky Millinder (autumn 1953), worked briefly with Earl Hines in 1954, then freelanced with various leaders, mainly in N.Y. He toured Europe in autumn 1959 and spring 1961 with Buck Clayton’s All Stars. He joined Ray Charles’s Big Band in November 1961 for 18 months and also worked in the 1960s for B. B. King. During the 1960s, Wells continued to play regularly with various leaders, mainly in N.Y. Wells did freelance recording and touring for the remainder of his career, occasionally playing sessions with various Basie side-men and alumni under the banner of the Countsmen. In late 1968, Wells toured Europe with Buddy Tate’s Band and played at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in June 1969. He left full-time music, but continued to gig. He was seriously injured in a mugging incident during 1976, but recovered and resumed playing. He toured Europe with Earle Warren and Claude Hopkins. Continued to play during the early 1980s, often with Bobby Booker’s big band.
His brilliant style was characterized by daring leaps and speech-like quartertones, especially evident in his first recordings and on through the 1940s.
Dickie Wells in Paris (1937); Bones for the King (1958); Trombone Four in Hand (1959); Lonesome Road (1981); Kansas City Seven: “After Theatre Jump” (1944).
—John Chilton/Lewis Porter