Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Willie Humphrey! (1900-1994)

Born on this day in 1900, Willie Humphrey was a singular performer who lent his unique blend of clarinet and charisma to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for many, many years. Together with his brother Percy on trumpet, his playing is still held as representative of the New Orleans sound and can be heard on the seminal 1964 live recording of Sweet Emma and Her Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Here's a brief biography from Allmusic.com:

Willie Humphrey, Jr.
by Scott Yanow for Allmusic.com
Since he was the grandson of trumpeter and music teacher Jim Humphrey, the son of clarinetist Willie Humphrey, Sr., and the brother of both trumpeter Percy and trombonist Earl Humphrey, it is not surprising that Willie Humphrey, Jr. became a musician. After some violin lessons, he switched to clarinet when he was 14 and started working locally. Humphrey spent part of 1919-1920 in Chicago, where he played with King Oliver and Freddie Keppard, but then returned home, missing his chance to be recorded early in his career. Humphrey spent 1925-1932 in St. Louis, playing with Fate Marable and Dewey Jackson, and toured with Lucky Millinder (1935-1936), but otherwise lived in New Orleans the remainder of his life. He worked as a music teacher and in a Navy band during World War II, and in the 1950s, he spent a period working with Paul Barbarin. Willie Humphrey and his brother Percy came to fame performing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band starting in the 1960s, touring and spreading the joy of New Orleans jazz around the world. Although far from a virtuoso, Willie Humphrey played his simple ensemble-oriented style with spirit; he recorded as a leader for Smoky Mary and late in his career for GHB.

Check out Willie with this all-star lineup in 1973!

No comments: