For more than seven decades, Texas-bred George “Buddy” Tate graced the American jazz scene with his hard-blowing tenor saxophone style. A resilient tone with high register inflections in the so-called “Texas tenor” sound distinguished Tate among his swing era colleagues. He was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra during the late 1930s and 1940s and later became a bandleader in his own right. A legend in his own time, Tate was heard with progeny saxophone player James Carter on Conversiti’ with the Elders in 1996 in what was Tate’s final recorded appearance just five years before his death at the age of 87.
By most accounts, Tate was born George Holmes Tate on February 22, 1913, in Sherman, Texas. (He might have been born as late as 1915, and some sources report his birthplace as Fordham, Texas.) True to his heritage, Tate became accomplished in playing Texas tenor saxophone, a robust horn style that was popular during the swing era of jazz. Tate began performing in 1925 while still in his teens when his brother handed him an instrument and asked him to play tenor saxophone with the family quartet called McCloud’s Night Owls. Tate and the Night Owls learned to play largely by listening to recordings by Louis Armstrong and mimicking the sound. The band toured professionally for the next four years, after which Tate continued to play the horn, performing with a series of territory bands (which played off-road venues) and with circus bands until the early 1930s when he toured the southwestern United States with Nathan Towles’ band. During those early years, Tate spent time with Terrence Holder’s band from 1930-33 and toured with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy in 1934-35.
In 1934 Tate filled in briefly with Count Basie’s Orchestra as a replacement for Lester Young. Young eventually returned to the band, and Tate joined up with Towles for another four years beginning in 1935. Tate worked with Towles until 1939 when Herschel Evans, who was Basie’s tenor saxophone player, died. Basie then brought Tate back into the orchestra as a permanent fixture for nearly a decade. Perhaps nowhere was the contention for attention between saxophone players of that era more pronounced than among Basie’s sidemen. Among the notables were Illinois Jacquet— also one of the so-called Texas tenors—Lucky Thompson, and Young, all of whom along with Tate transformed moments of the orchestra’s performances into full-scale dueling sets between horns. Tate was heard on many recordings by the Basie orchestra during that era, including selected recordings where Tate performed on alto saxophone as well as tenor. He emerged from Basie’s band as a seasoned professional. Tate, according to Gene Seymour in Newsday, “could howl in one measure and coo in the next… [He] could climb aboard a 4/4 tempo and ride it straight-backed and resolute without slipping off.” After Tate parted ways with Basie in 1949, Tate appeared with Hot Lips Page, Lucky Millinder, and Jimmy Rushing
Born George Holmes Tate on February 22, 1913 (or 1915), in Sherman, TX; died on February 10, 2001, in Chandler, AZ; married Viola (widowed, 1991); four children: Georgette Matthews and Josie Sanabia; two sons (deceased).
Performed with McCloud’s Night Owls, 1925-29; with territory and circus bands, late 1920s and early 1930s; with Terence “T” Holder, 1930-33; with Andy Kirk, 1934-35; toured with Nat Towles; with Count Basie Orchestra, 1939-49; house bandleader, Celebrity Club, New York City, 1950s-70s; European tours: 1959, 1961, 1967, 1968; Texas Tenors, with Illinois Jacquet, 1980s; Buddy Tate Sextet, 1993; Lionel Hampton’s Statesmen of Jazz, mid-1990s; performed regularly at many jazz festivals; film work included Choo Choo Swing, Reveille with Beverly, and Hit Parade of 1943, 1943; L’Aventure du Jazz, 1970; Born to Swing, 1973; Rocky Mountain Jazz Party, 1977; To the Count of Basie, 1979.
until 1952. He then assembled his own house band at Harlem’s Celebrity Club in 1953, marking the start of a gig that lasted for 21 years, until the early 1970s.
Tate’s European tours brought him largely to France where, in 1967 and 1968, he performed as bandleader in a trio comprised of Milt Buckner on organ and Wallace Bishop on drums. Tate and Buckner recorded a series of tenor saxophone and organ duets in 1967 on the Black and Blue label, including Buddy Tate with Milt Buckner, which is revered among Tate’s best works. He made two earlier European tours as a sideman for Buck Clayton, in 1959 and 1961 respectively. In 1967 Tate also appeared with John Hammond in a concert program called Spirituals to Swing and toured with the Saints and Sinners. Tate spent time in the 1970s as a sideman in the Benny Goodman Orchestra. In the 1980s, Tate toured extensively with Jacquet’s group called the Texas Tenors. The Tenors followed a festival circuit that took the players to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980 and to the festival in Cork in 1983 and again in 1985. His festival tours with Jacquet in the 1980s included annual visits to the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. Additionally, Tate’s North American agenda included both live and taped performances with Jay McShann and Jim Galloway in Canada.
Tate’s 1973 release, Buddy Tate and His Buddies, featured his former Basie cohort, Jacquet, pianist Mary Lou Williams, and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Also numbered among the buddies were guitarist Stan Jordan, drummer Gus Johnson, and Milt Hinton on bass. The album, one of Tate’s more popular recordings, was re-issued in 1994. In 1978 Tate taped a collection of recordings for Muse Records under the bill of Buddy Tate & the Muse All Stars. Those albums included Live at Sandy’s, Hard Blowin’, and Muse All Stars. In 1991 Tate joined fellow tenor saxophone player James Moody and a collection of others among his peers on the live recording, Lionel Hampton and the Golden Men of Jazz. The 1996 album Conversin’ with the Elders by saxophonist James Carter marked what would become Tate’s final appearance on record.
Tate and his wife, Viola, were married during his years with Count Basie. The couple moved to Massapequa, New York, in 1945 and raised four children. Tate’s later career was twice marred by tragedy; in 1981 when he suffered serious scalding in a hotel shower and again in the early 1990s when he suffered fractures in both legs in a car accident. His resilience left his fans to marvel as he rebounded from his burns in particular with remarkable speed. Although both accidents impacted him for a time, neither signaled an end to Tate’s career. He remained active and performed with Lionel Hampton and the Statesmen of Jazz in the late 1990s until a bout with cancer left him incapacitated. In January of 2001 Tate moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to live near his daughter. He died in Arizona soon afterward, in a nursing home in Chandler on February 10. The jazz world mourned Tate as the last surviving member of the Count Basie Orchestra of the 1940s. Steve Voce in Independent recalled how Tate “played ballads beautifully and … was a consistently interesting soloist who was instantly recognizable.”
Of Tate’s children, his two daughters, Georgette Matthews and Josie Sanabia survived him along with a number of grandchildren. Viola Tate, founder of the Bayview Rest Home in Babylon, New York, died in 1991.
Buddy Tate and His Orchestra, Halo, 1955.
Swinging Like Tate, London, 1958.
Tate’s Date, Swingville, 1959.
Groovin’ with Buddy Tate, Swingville, 1959.
Tate-A-Tate, Swingville/OJC, 1960.
Buddy Tate with Milt Buckner, Black & Blue, 1967.
Unbroken, Pausa, 1970.
Broadway, Black & Blue, 1972.
Buddy Tate and His Buddies, 1973; reissued, Chiaroscuro, 1994.
The Count’s Men, RCA, 1973.
Kansas City Woman, Black Lion, 1974.
Swinging Scorpio, Black Lion, 1974.
The Texas Twister, New World, 1975.
Jive at Five, Storyville, 1975.
Tate a Tete at La Fontaine, Copenhagen, Storyville, 1975.
Kansas City Joys, Sonet, 1976.
Meets Doiiar Brand, Chiaroscuro, 1977.
Sherman Shuffle, Sackville, 1978.
Buddy Tate Quartet, Sackville, 1978.
Hard Blowin’, Muse, 1978.
Live at Sandy’s, Muse, 1978.
Muse All-Stars, Muse, 1978.
Great Buddy Tate, Concord Jazz, 1981.
Ballad Artistry of Buddy Tate, Sackville, 1981.
Scott’s Buddy, Concord Jazz, 1981.
For Sentimental Reasons, Open Sky, 1982.
Just Jazz, Reservoir, 1984.
Long Tall Tenor, Calligraph, 1985.
After Dark, Progressive, 1985.
Jumping on the West Coast, Black Lion, 1993.
(Contributor, ) Conversin’ with the Elders, Atlantic, 1996.
Dallas Morning News, February 14, 2001, p. 26A.
Independent, February 15, 2001, p. 6.
Jet, March 19, 2001, p. 17.
Newsday February 14, 2001, p. A39; April 6, 2001, p. D23.
Sunday Star Times (New Zealand), February 18, 2001, p. 7.
“Buddy Tate,” All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com (April 20, 2001).
“Jazz Artists: Buddy Tate,” Jazz Canadiana, http://jazzcanadiana.on.ca/_TATE.html (May 18, 2001).
“Tate, Buddy [George Holmes]” Xrefer, http://www.xrefer.com/entry/628264 (May 18, 2001).