Trummy Young: Profile in Jazz

Trummy YoungIf Louis Armstrong and his manager Joe Glaser had decided to put out a personal ad for a trombonist in 1952, it might have read something like this:

“Swing-based trombonist wanted to join the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. Must be a brilliant and flexible player, have experience working with strong leaders, and have a cheerful personality both on and offstage no matter what the circumstances. Familiarity with Louis Armstrong’s repertoire is a plus along with the ability to make every song and routine sound fresh and lively despite how many times they have previously been performed. Must enjoy traveling and be in excellent physical shape because there will be many lengthy tours. And most of all, the trombonist must love being in a supportive role because, although there will be individual features, the main purpose is to uplift the music of Louis Armstrong.”

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Trummy Young had all of those qualities and is today best remembered for his 11 years as a member of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars where he was reliable, colorful, and always a major asset. He became so well known for that association that sometimes it is forgotten that he was an important trombonist in a variety of settings during the 20 years before he joined Armstrong.

James “Trummy” Young was born on Jan. 12, 1912 in Savannah, Georgia, growing up in Richmond, Virginia, and Washington D.C. (He started off as a child playing trumpet and drums but, by the time he started working as a professional in 1928, he was a trombonist. His early gigs including working with Booker Coleman’s Hot Chocolates, the Hardy Brothers, Elmer Calloway, and Tommy Myles. While with Myles, he acquired the lifelong nickname of Trummy.

In the fall of 1933, Myles’ arranger Jimmy Mundy left to join the Earl Hines Orchestra in Chicago. There was an opening for a trombonist and Mundy recommended that Trummy Young join the group. It was the first big break for the 21-year old.

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During his three and a half years with Hines, Young extended the range of the trombone (he hit high notes with ease) and displayed a great deal of power. He had occasional solos during the seven recording dates that he made with Hines, participating on such numbers as “Take It Easy,” “Bubbling Over,” “Madhouse,” “Copenhagen,” and “Cavernism.” It is a coincidence that both he and Hines would later be with Armstrong’s All-Stars although at different times.

In 1937, Trummy Young left Hines and Chicago, joining the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra in New York. He soon became one of Lunceford’s main stars. On his first record date with the increasingly popular big band, he took an impressive solo on “Annie Laurie.” On the next session, on Jan. 6, 1938, he was showcased as both a soloist and a singer on “Margie” which became a big seller. His solo, which ends on an impressive high note, was emulated by many during the era. Although “Margie” was composed in 1920 and had been a hit for both the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (their pianist J. Russell Robinson was its co-composer along with Con Conrad) and Eddie Cantor, it is the Lunceford recording that is best known.

Trummy Young was a consistent attraction with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra during his five years. He took many fluent trombone solos with the band and co-wrote both “Tain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It” (singing on the original recording) and “Easy Does It,” both with Sy Oliver. (Although one does not generally think of him as a singer, Young sang on a variety of Lunceford’s recordings including “Cheatin’ On Me,” “The Lonesome Road,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “I Want The Waiter With The Water,” “Whatcha Know, Joe,” and “Easy Street,” in addition to being part of the band’s “glee club.” While he was very busy with the popular band, he did break away once to record a session with Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson that included “Let’s Dream In The Moonlight.

Young, who wrote “Trav’lin’ Light” in 1942 with Jimmy Mundy and lyricist Johnny Mercer (Billie Holiday made a famous recording of the song), left the Lunceford band in 1943. The orchestra was in decline and Lunceford was a bit infamous for paying his sidemen low salaries although Young’s departure might have just been the 31-year old trombonist simply wanting to test the waters and go out on his own.

Biographies of Trummy Young tend to skip over the next decade but it was actually one of the most interesting periods of his career, particularly the first four years. While he remained a swing player with a melodic style, a big sound, and a wide range, he was versatile enough to fit comfortably in a wide variety of settings. Young was a member of an unrecorded version of the Charlie Barnet Orchestra for nearly a year. He led his first record date on Feb. 7, 1944 and recorded that year with Cozy Cole (a date that introduced his song “Thru’ For The Night” and teamed him with Coleman Hawkins and Earl Hines), the Billy Eckstine Orchestra, Una Mae Carlisle, and a hot V-Disc version of “Rosetta” with Charlie Shavers and Don Byas. He was also a regular on Mildred Bailey’s Music ’Til Midnight radio show (a series that is long overdue to be released in full on CDs).


Bebop caused no difficulty for Young even though he did not alter his style much through the years. He was a regular on 52nd Street, hung out with Dizzy Gillespie, and recorded with the Clyde Hart All-Stars (taking four vocals) which included Gillespie and Charlie Parker. On Jan. 9, 1945, Young appeared with Gillespie on the original version of “Salt Peanuts,” plus “Be-Bop,” a modernistic transformation of “I Can’t Get Started,” and Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait,” sounding quite at home.

That year Young really displayed his versatility. He was part of Boyd Raeburn’s orchestra with guest Gillespie on “A Night In Tunisia,” was a member of the Benny Goodman big band (including soloing on “Gotta Be This Or That”), recorded with ensembles led by Georgie Auld, Johnny Bothwell, and Al Killian, was on V-Disc dates that teamed him with Roy Eldridge, and led his own swing session. 1946 found him recording with Benny Carter’s big band, clarinetist Tony Scott, Buck Clayton, Illinois Jacquet, Tiny Grimes, a reunion session with Jimmie Lunceford (including a remake of “Margie”), Billy Kyle, and two sessions of his own. In addition, Young toured with Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic, working alongside Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, and Buddy Rich.

Clearly Trummy Young was in great demand during this era. In 1947 he toured again with JATP and was on some Los Angeles jam session records in 1947 next to Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and trumpeter Howard McGhee. But after a record date with Gerald Wilson’s big band, he was off records altogether for five years.


Young’s disappearance was really not that mysterious. He had gotten married, his wife was from Hawaii, and he moved there. The trombonist freelanced and soon had his own band, playing swing and Dixieland while enjoying the climate and environment. But then his life changed again in 1952 when he was offered an opportunity to join the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.

Jack Teagarden had been Armstrong’s trombonist during 1947-51 and Russ Phillips had filled in for a few months. Trummy Young joined in time for a tour of Scandinavia in September and, from that point on, he became an indispensable part of the band, staying for over 11 years. Being a supportive player did not bother him; nor did the All-Stars’ endless tours. He modified his style a little bit to fit Armstrong’s music, but it was not that much of a stretch for him since he was a melodic player who enjoyed playing harmonies. His role was often to be boisterous in his playing (most notably on Armstrong’s classic version of “St. Louis Blues” in 1954) where his roars were a contrast to the beauty of the leader’s trumpet. He also proved to be an agreeable part of Satch’s comedy routines, sometimes sharing the vocals (including on “Rockin’ Chair”) and having an occasional feature. Most importantly of all, he always seemed to be having a good time while being proud to be on the same stage with Louis Armstrong.

During his years with the All-Stars, Young appeared in several films with Armstrong (including The Glenn Miller Story and High Society) and constantly traveled the world. He outlasted all of the other sidemen, playing next to clarinetists Bob McCracken, Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall, Peanuts Hucko, and Joe Darensbourg, pianists Marty Napoleon and Billy Kyle, bassists Arvell Shaw, Milt Hinton, Dale Jones, Squire Gersh, Mort Herbert, Irv Manning, and Bill Cronk, and drummers Cozy Cole, Kenny John, Barrett Deems, and Danny Barcelona, He was part of nearly all of Louis Armstrong’s triumphs during that long period including the W.C. Handy and Fats Waller tribute albums, performing “St. Louis Blues” with the New York Philharmonic, all of the “Ambassador Satch” world tours, Armstrong’s “Musical Biography” recordings, the Timex All Star Jazz television specials, the album that had Duke Ellington with the All-Stars, Dave Brubeck’s musical The Real Ambassadors, and the original versions of both “Mack The Knife” and “Hello Dolly.”


Trummy Young was not heard outside of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars very often but there were a few exceptions. He was a major part of the famous Buck Clayton Jam Session records of Mar. 31, and Aug. 13, 1954, playing a roaring solo on “How Hi The Fi” that stole the show. He was on a posthumous Jimmie Lunceford tribute project led by Billy May in 1957, an album by the Lawson-Haggart Band (Boppin’ At The Hop), and played with Teddy Buckner at the 1958 Dixieland Jubilee in Los Angeles. But mostly he was associated with Armstrong.

Shortly after “Hello Dolly” caught on, the 52-year old trombonist decided to finally quit the road and settle back in Hawaii. Louis Armstrong was very sorry to see him go. During his final 20 years, Young worked with a variety of bands in Hawaii, sometimes led his own groups, and occasionally went on European tours (including with Chris Barber in 1978) and returned to the mainland for special appearances and jazz parties. His style remained intact in his later years as can be heard on his handful of recordings which include two songs from the 1971 Colorado Jazz Party, an all-star concert from 1973 (A Night In New Orleans), his own albums (1975’s A Man & His Horn and 1978’s Yours Truly which reunited him with Barney Bigard), and recordings during 1983-84 with pianist Doctor Billy Dodd and Peanuts Hucko (the latter a Louis Armstrong tribute).


Trummy Young remained active up until the very end. He was featured next to Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, and Eddie Miller at the Peninsula Jazz Party in July 1984. Two months later, on Sept. 12, he died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 72. Beloved by all, the always-smiling Trummy Young had succeeded in carving out his own place in jazz history.

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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