Between Pops and Dizzy Gillespie, one trumpeter stands out: Roy Eldridge, also called “Little Jazz” because, though only five foot six, he was hip from top to toe. Eldridge lived a long time for a jazz musician: 1911-1989, spanning the eras of Armstrong, swing, and bebop. (Why did jazz trumpeters live so long—Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie also come to mind—while sax players dropped in their 30s and 40s?)
Eldridge combined great technical virtuosity (attained by practicing six hours a day) with remarkable improvisational skill. Both are on offer on this 1937 recording of After You’ve Gone. The vocals by Gladys Palmer are forgettable, but oh, what musical fireworks you hear at the beginning and—especially—in the final choruses! According to the liner notes of one of my Eldridge CDs, the young Dizzy Gillespie listened to this song every day for inspiration.
That’s one of my favorite jazz pieces, and one of the few that makes me want to get up and dance. (Another is Cottontail by Duke Ellington.)
Recorded about the same time (I like the early Roy best) is Wabash Stomp. Teddy Cole on piano, Zutty Singleton on drums, and Roy’s older brother Joe Eldridge on alto sax.
Eldridge played for Artie Shaw’s, Benny Goodman’s and Gene Krupa’s groups, as well as smaller ensembles. He’s well known for accompanying jazz vocalist Anita O’Day, particularly in their duet Let Me Off Uptown. Here’s that song, with Gene Krupa’s orchestra, from a film made in 1942. You can hear the original Okeh recording here.
“Uptown”, of course, refers to Harlem, where the white people would be “let off” to hear the great black jazzmen play. It’s ineffably sad that black patrons weren’t allowed to hear that music in places like The Cotton Club—those places were segregated! The words and visuals in this film are kind of corny, but the song is so forties; and Roy’s playing near the end, though very brief, is superb—he was great in the high registers. What a noise that man could coax out of a piece of metal!
O’Day, a sometime heroin addict, was also great when she was on. Her 1941 recording of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s beautiful ballad “Skylark,” with Eldridge’s fantastic introduction, is a classic. After laborious searching, I finally found it on the internet: you can listen to it here (press the “play” button).