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This date in 1902 marks the birth of Jimmie Lunceford, an African American musician and arranger, and one of the great band leaders of the swing era.
Jimmie Lunceford was born in Fultom, Mississippi, where he enhanced his talents with formal study. He may be best known for his orchestra's consistently refined performances. Even though Duke Ellington and Count Basie may have a larger role in the jazz pantheon and popular imagination, it would be hard to imagine today's mass of polished inventory and university bands existing without Lunceford's blueprint.
He played alto saxophone in violinist George Morrison's band and then attended Fisk University, where he received a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology in 1926. After further coursework at New York's City College, Lunceford taught high school and began recruiting band members in Memphis. During the 1930s, Lunceford's orchestra toured constantly and followed Ellington's stint at Harlem's Cotton Club in 1934. Basie marveled that the Lunceford band would "start to rock and they'd just rock all night long." Audiences were also amazed at the band's tight execution.
On record, their unique arrangements are still notable. Trumpeter Sy Oliver reinvented the interplay between brass and reed sections, usually in a medium tempo. Saxophonist Willie Smith also reconfigured Ellington's compositions for Lunceford's orchestra. Lunceford himself wrote such hit tunes as "Rhythm Is Our Business." By the early 1940s, Oliver and Smith had left the band, and Lunceford's orchestra was unable to achieve its former glory. Lunceford died in Oregon on July 12, 1947.
A Century of Jazz by Roy Carr
Da Capo Press, New York
"Rhythm is our Business:
Jimmie Lunceford and the Harlem Express"
by Eddy Determeyer