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Mon, 03.17.1930

Grover Mitchell, Trombonist born

Grover Mitchell

*The birth of Grover Mitchell in 1930 is marked on this date. He was a Black musician, lead trombonist, and the third leader of the Count Basie Orchestra.

Mitchell was a lifelong brass-section player born in Whatley, Ala., and raised in Pittsburgh.  His experience began with Pittsburgh school bands (one of which also included the pianist Ahmad Jamal), military groups, and Chicago-based jump-blues bands. After leaving the Marines in the 1950s, he played with Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.  He joined the Basie band in 1962 and stayed until 1970 when jazz musicians at his level could make more money in the television studios. Mitchell worked for NBC's "Flip Wilson Show" and stayed at the network for a decade; he also worked on films, including "Lady Sings the Blues." His job gave him enough flexibility to run his own big band on the side, beginning in 1978.

During a Los Angeles musician’s union strike in 1980, Basie again called Mitchell, who was ready to rejoin. Mitchell strengthened the sound of the trombone section and became one of Basie's most dependable lieutenants. In 1995, he became the bandleader of the Count Basie Orchestra, following Thad Jones and Frank Foster.  As a leader, he emphasized musicianship, teamwork, and accuracy and won the band-renewed popularity by increasing its repertory beyond its greatest hits and current pop tunes. He revived many traditional arrangements and distinguished outside arrangers like Benny Carter and Neal Hefti.

His goal was to separate the Basie band from other "ghost bands" by hiring ambitious beginners and experienced soloists willing to submerge their own sound and honor the Basie tradition. His own sound was clean, with an attractive, mellow tone; he was best known as a ballad player. The band made several successful recordings under his leadership, including two Grammy winners for best recording by a large jazz ensemble, "Live at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild" (1996) and "Count Plays Duke" (1998).

Grover Mitchell died in August 2003 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan. He was 73.

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