‘Little Jazz’: remembering Roy Eldridge

January 30, 2016 at 5:03 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, good people, history, jazz, Jim D, Racism, song, United States)

Above: Roy in 1942 with Anita O’Day in the Gene Krupa Orchestra

Jazz trumpeter Roy ‘Little Jazz’ Eldridge was born this day (Jan 30) in 1911

Roy was a tremendously exciting player, generally regarded as the link between Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. He died (Feb 26 1989) a well-respected jazz elder statesman, but he never achieved much public recognition or made much money. Also, as a black musician coming up in the 1930’s he knew all about segregation and was sometimes refused service in joints that had his name up in lights outside …

Roy was a sensitive guy and had to put up (or not) with a lot of racist shit, especially during his stints with the otherwise all-white big bands of Gene Krupa and then Artie Shaw. In fact, on leaving Shaw in 1944 he vowed “As long as I’m in America I’ll never in my life work with a white band again.”

However, Roy always spoke well of Krupa, and the following contemporary press report may explain why:

Krupa Fined After Fight Over Eldridge

York, Pa – Gene Krupa used his fists two weeks ago to subdue the operator of a restaurant here who refused to allow Roy Eldridge admittance. Gene and his band were playing a one-nighter at the Valencia Ballroom … It was reported that the restaurant man made “unfair” and ungentlemanly remarks regarding Eldridge, and then asked Roy to leave the place. Krupa took offense. Words tumbled forth. Finally, Krupa and the restaurant man “mixed” with fists flying. Police were called, Krupa was arrested, taken to jail and fined $10. Then he was released.

It maked the first time the color line had been drawn on Roy since he joined Krupa’s crew … Musicians in the Krupa band applauded their boss for his action, although both Roy and Gene said they were “sorry as hell” the occasion arose where force was necessary to maintain right – Dec 15, 1941.


  1. Robert said,

    I still remember well seeing and hearing Roy in Glasgow nearly fifty years ago, in the JAZZ FROM A SWINGING ERA package with Buck Clayton and Earl Hines et cetera, in the converted theatre and sometime cinema which served as substitute for the St Andrew’s Halls until the reopening of the low level railway disturbed the foundations and the building came down with so much more of Anderston — I gather that by the end of the tour Roy was at odds with Earl Hines, who left the piano stool to Sir Charles Thompson and did a sort of conducting thing. “It’s not his… band!” Roy was quoted as complaining.
    I missed what was as I recall a Downbeat magazine blindfold test in which Roy was brought up against charges he made about the shortcomings of white performers — but he was a victim of racism for a painful long time, being asked by people running studios whom I’d have hit for him — he was a very small man, physically — for having asked whether he could sight read. Et cetera. Hackwork and mediocre music, just to earn a living, a stunning performer who in later times talked of having shocked Rex Stewart when they were both in Fletcher Henderson’s band, by hitting notes above what Rex, till then the high note specialist, had studied hard to establish — as music not just freakery.
    The reviews of his recordings with Dizzy Gillespie went on about his competitive streak, trying to compete with Dizzy on the fast stuff and making his sometime disciple seem the older and wiser man. Somewhere downstairs I have the Willie Bryant title which used to be played to people who knew Roy’s very distinctive playing, before saying that this was the very young Dizzy….
    A last unusual and interesting thing about Roy is that he reported that as a young man he was no Louis Armstrong fan, He said it took him some time to get used to Louis’ approach, his own being founded not on (I would say) Bechet and Caruso, but taking a multinoted approach more on the lines of Jabbo Smith, or Dewey Jackson, whose very hairy recording issued under his own name on Delmark showed how different that approach was from the New Orleans lead (Jackson playing in Don Ewell’s band as substitute for the very Louis-like Lee Collins). Quite remarkable the achievement to re-time and re-phrase and indeed inspire.
    He was phenomenal even in his twenties, a radio broadcast recording can be found and downloaded on dumb.com

    Vive le Roy! (Royist not Royalist)

    • Jim Denham said,

      Thanks for those fascinating reminiscences and observations, Robert. I’m not familiar with Dewey Jackson, but will check him out.

      I seem to remember reading somewhere that Roy said his early influences were sax players not trumpeters – which figures.

      The story about the Downbeat blindfold test, as I understand it, is that Roy claimed he could always tell, just by listening, whether a player was black or white – and then was proved wrong on the majority of records they played him …

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