John Kirby (musician)john kirby (musician)
John Kirby December 31, 1908 – June 14, 1952, was a jazz double-bassist who also played trombone and tuba In addition to sideman work prominently with Benny Goodman, Kirby is remembered for leading a successful chamber jazz sextet in the late 1930s and early 1940s, which scored several hit songs including "Loch Lomond" and the debut recording of "Undecided", a jazz standard
- 1 Background
- 2 Bands and recording
- 3 Legacy
- 4 Radio
- 5 Discography
- 6 References
- 7 External links
John Kirby was born John Kirk in Winchester, Virginia on 31 December 1908 His mother, Dolly Kirk died October 1925 gave him up for adoption and he was raised at 442 North Kent Street by Reverend Washington Johnson and his wife, Nancy Kirby was a student at the Winchester Colored School renamed Douglass School in 1916 and started trombone lessons around 1917 under the guidance of Professor Powell Gibson principal, math, drama and music teacher Kirby after success in New York, stated that Bach's work fascinated him as a kid and that he learned to play music just as it was written
Kirby's formal education ended around 1923 That same year, he met Mary Moten of Airmont, Virginia, and they married on 25 August 1925 On 14 December 1925, Mary gave birth to Yvonne Constance Kirk Based on known affiliations Yvonne, Powell Gibson, Mary Moten and former schoolmate, Anna Bertha, Kirby's father lived in Baltimore and was a frequent visitor to the Winchester area By 1936, Kirby was a successful sideman on the New York City jazz scene, and his eleven-year-old daughter, Yvonne a student at Douglass heard stories about her successful father from Powell Gibson
Bands and recording
In 1927, Kirby arrived in Baltimore, where he met trombonist Jimmy Harrison, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and composer Duke Ellington Harrison persuaded Kirby to switch from trombone to tuba Shortly after his arrival in New York, Kirby played tuba with Bill Brown and His Brownies at the Star Ballroom on Forty-Second Street Later, he performed with pianist Charlie Sheets at the Bedford Ballroom in Brooklyn and then with John C Smith's Society Band at Harlem's Alhambra Ballroom
Kirby joined Fletcher Henderson's orchestra as a tuba player in 1929 In the early 1930s, he performed some complicated tuba work on a number of Henderson's recordings, but switched to double-bass when tuba fell out of favor In the early 1930s, Kirby took bass lessons from Pops Foster and Wellman Braud bassist with Duke Ellington About 1933 Kirby left Henderson to play two stints with drummer Chick Webb, before returning to Henderson, and then join Lucky Millinder; he briefly led a quartet in 1935, but was usually employed as bassist in others' groups
Jazz enthusiast John Hammond assembled what he felt was the greatest jazz band ever to record with Billie Holiday and pianist Teddy Wilson This band included Roy Eldridge trumpet, Ben Webster tenor sax, John Truehart guitar, Cozy Cole drums and Kirby on bass Hammond said, "He is by far the best bass player around It had to be Kirby on the first Teddy Wilson-Billie Holiday recording date"
Securing a gig at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in 1937 confirmed Kirby's status as a bandleader, although in the first Onyx Club lineup, it was singer-drummer Leo Watson who got featured billing Kirby's sextet was soon known as the Onyx Club Boys, and took the shape it would basically hold until World War II, usually with Charlie Shavers trumpet, Buster Bailey clarinet, Russell Procope alto saxophone, Billy Kyle piano, O'Neill Spencer drums "The Biggest Little Band in the Land," as it was called it began recording in August 1937 with a swing version of "Loch Lomond" The group's name would vary with time and depending on who was credited as session leader: John Kirby and His Onyx Club Boys, John Kirby and His Orchestra, Buster Bailey and His Rhythm Busters, Buster Bailey and His Sextet The band would become one of the more significant "small groups" in the Big Band era and was also notable for making the first recording of Shavers's song "Undecided" Vocals were often performed by Maxine Sullivan, who became Kirby's second wife in 1938 divorced 1941 In 1938 four members of the group Shavers, Bailey, Kyle and Kirby participated in two recording sessions for Vocalion Records 11 May and 23 June accompanying singer Billie Holiday as Billie Holiday and her Orchestra
Kirby tended toward a lighter, classically influenced style of jazz, often referred to as chamber jazz, which has both strong defenders and ardent critics He was prolific and popular from 1938–1941, but World War II took away Kyle and Procope; bad health claimed Spencer, who died from tuberculosis in 1944 Nevertheless, Kirby kept trying to lead a group in clubs and in the studio, occasionally managing to attract such talents as Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Clyde Hart, Budd Johnson, and Zutty Singleton
As Kirby's career declined, he drank heavily and was beset by diabetes After the war, Kirby got the surviving sextet members back together, with Sarah Vaughan as vocalist, but the reunion did not last A concert at Carnegie Hall in December 1950, with Bailey plus drummer Sid Catlett, attracted only a small audience, which "crushed Kirby's spirit and badly damaged what little was left of his career Kirby moved to Hollywood, California, where he died just before a planned comeback
In 1961, saxophonist Dave Pell recorded the tribute album I Remember John Kirby Featuring the same instrumental lineup as Kirby's classic groups, Pell recording songs associated with Kirby -- sometimes in note-for-note transcriptions
Clarinetist Don Byron recorded the album Bug Music in 1996, a tribute to Kirby and several other musicians of the same era
In 1993 Kirby was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame Unlike other then-popular "novelty" jazz groups like Raymond Scott, the Kirby sextet is not well remembered today, although in New York the Wayne Roberts Sextet formerly the Onyx Club Sextet pays tribute, while in France the sextet is commemorated by the band Kirby Memory, with vocals by Flora Sicot In the UK, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso played John Kirby arrangements with his Swing Six at the Naturist Foundation Jazz Festival in 2010, following success at a concert at the Cadogan Hall, London, with a group led by Richard Pite
Kirby and his orchestra had a 30-minute radio program, Flow Gently, Sweet Rhythm also known as The John Kirby Show on CBS April 7, 1940 - January 12, 1941 The program also featured Sullivan and the Golden Gate Quartet Kirby and Sullivan have been cited as "the first black artists to host a jazz-oriented series"
|This section needs expansion You can help by adding to it February 2014|
With Benny Goodman
- The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings RCA Victor, 1935–39
- John Kirby - The Biggest Little Band In The Land 1938-19411994 Jazz Portraits - CD14572
- ^ 1920 Frederick County Census list
- ^ Williams, Alan 1993 Fall From Grace-The John Kirby Story Pensacola, Fl: Alcoral Books p 11 thru 28 ISBN 0-9647441-0-4mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-right
- ^ a b c Williams, Alan 1993 Fall From Grace-The John Kirby Story Pensacola, Fl: Alcoral Books p 50 ISBN 0-9647441-0-4
- ^ a b "Sunday's Highlights-On the Air Today page 27" PDF Radio Television Mirror December 1940 Retrieved 14 July 2010
- ^ See Scott Yannow's retrospective review for Allmusiccom: "The opening 'Rose Room' is a note-for-note recreation of the original Kirby recording including the solos, while other tunes from Kirby's repertoire were either transcribed from records but having new solos or new arrangements"
- ^ Video on YouTube
- ^ Dunning, John 1998 On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3
- ^ Young, William H; Young, Nancy Y 2005 Music of the Great Depression ABC-CLIO, Incorporated p 220 ISBN 9780313332302 Retrieved 15 March 2015
- BBC radio 2
- Columbia University
- John Kirby at AllMusic
John Kirby 78rpm jukebox on Internet Archive
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