Orie Frank Trumbauer was born on May 30, 1901, in Carbondale, Illinois. The family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Frank’s mother directed theater orchestras. Frank studied violin, and tried trombone and piano, before deciding on reed instruments—most famously the C melody saxophone. He would also go on to play and record on alto sax, clarinet, bassoon, and even cornet.
With a school friend he founded a jazz band which provided music for various local functions. In 1918 he served in the Navy—as a musician at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. After the Armistice, he worked as a sideman around St. Louis with various bandleaders.
In New York, Frank Trumbauer joined Gene Rodemich, with whom he first recorded. He subsequently played with the Benson Orchestra of Chicago, and Ray Miller’s orchestra. In October 1924, he recorded for Gennett with the Sioux City Six, which included cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Tram’s musical association with Bix would renewed the next year when they were in a band assembled for a summer job by Jean Goldkette.
Thereafter, and for the remainder of Beiderbecke’s active musical life, they worked together: first in Trumbauer’s own band in St. Louis; then in another Jean Goldkette group originally formed for a gig at Hudson Lake, Indiana, and which led to a remarkable series of recordings for Okeh (under the leadership of Trumbauer); in Adrian Rollini’s brilliant “musician’s band” (which failed financially); and ultimately in Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.
Bix remained with Whiteman until 1929 but Tram worked with Pops off and on until 1937. He assembled and broke up numerous bands during sabbaticals from Whiteman, and afterward. In 1936, he had a successful engagement at the Hickory House in New York with Jack and Charlie Teagarden as “The Three Ts.”
In 1940 he gave up bandleading and joined the Civil Aeronautics Authority. He worked as a test pilot during World War Two, briefly joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, and, after one brief stint with Raymond Paige’s band, returned to the field of aviation in 1947. Frank Trumbauer died suddenly of a heart attack on June 11, 1956.
Frank Trumbauer made cool, elegant music in an age of riotously hot playing—and Lester Young, Benny Carter, and others were listening.