Russell “Big Chief” Moore: Native American Jazzman

Russell “Big Chief” Moore was a jazz trombonist who was born on an Indian reservation in Arizona and who went on to play with Oscar “Papa” Celestin, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Miles Davis and Sidney Bechet. Most recently, he was honored as a 2021 recipient of the International Trombone Association’s Legacy Circle Award, which recognizes individuals who have made a profound and lasting impact on the evolution of trombone playing or teaching. Moore was born in 1912 in Gila Crossing, Arizona, part of the Akimel O’Odham (Pina) Indian Reservation that is now the Gila River Indian Community. He learned to play the trumpet as a youth in Arizona and then picked up the trombone in Blue Island, Illinois where he lived with his uncle and aunt after the death of his father. At the age of 17, he ran away to Chicago and lived on the street, often sleeping in a casket in a burned-out casket factory. One evening when he was standing outside the Sunset Café where he was too young to be admitted, he heard Armstrong for the first time. He attended high school at the Sherman Institute Indian School in Riverside, California, and played with many groups in Southern California, including Lionel Hampton’s band at the Cotton Club in Culver City. He settled for a time in New Orleans where he played with Oscar “Papa” Celestin’s band, and then moved to Harlem where h
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Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag in 1989 and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we grew to become The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles of today's top musicians are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz.Volume two, Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz contains 43 more! Lew taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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