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date: 21 September 2019

Kirby, John locked

  • J. Bradford Robinson

Extract

(b Baltimore, MD, Dec 31, 1908; d Hollywood, CA, June 14, 1952). American jazz double bass player and bandleader. Originally a trombonist, he played tuba and double bass with Fletcher Henderson (1930–34, 1935–6) and Chick Webb (1934–5), attracting attention with his strong pulse and walking bass lines. In 1937 he established his own small group at the Onyx Club, New York, with the trumpeter Frankie Newton and the alto saxophonist Pete Brown. The following year the band’s personnel stabilized into a sextet: Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Russell Procope (alto saxophone), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Billy Kyle (piano), O’Neill Spencer (drums), and Kirby, with the frequent addition of the singer Maxine Sullivan (Kirby’s wife). From 1938 to 1942 this group was perhaps the leading small jazz ensemble in the swing style and gained a nationwide from its many recordings and network radio broadcasts. The group concentrated on a chamber jazz style with intricate arrangements (many of them by Shavers), a subdued dynamic level, light swing, and extremely precise ensemble playing. In this way they presaged many cool jazz groups of the late 1940s and early 1950s, particularly those of Lennie Tristano. From ...

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The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2/2002)
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