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Wed, 07.12.1899

Roy Butler, a steady jazz saxophonist

Roy Butler

Roy Butler, an African American jazz musician, was born on this date in 1899.

He was born in Richmond, IN, the son of George Butler and Amanda Wylie. Roy Grant Butler learned how to play the tenor saxophone and began playing music in carnivals, minstrel shows, and small bands during his early years in Columbus, Ohio. He joined Sammy Stewart's Orchestra and went to Chicago in 1922, playing local clubs. It was with this band that he made his first recordings and began clarinet and oboe lessons. Among his influences were Barney Bigard and Fletcher Henderson.

In 1925, he joined Jimmy Wade's band, which was fronted by the famed jazz violinist, Eddie South. Butler was with the band when it went to play the Club Alabam in New York. In 1928, Butler was invited to join Levi Wine's revue, which was then touring Europe. He performed in Berlin, Zurich, and Copenhagen before joining another revue in 1932. This revue was led by trombonist Herb Flemming, who reorganized the group, which included Butler, and called them the International Rhythm Aces. In 1933, while touring South America with the Aces, Butler made a few recordings on the Brunswick label. Eventually, Butler left, in mid 1942, to lead a band in Bombay, rejoining Teddy in 1943.

During the war, he was invited to play with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. Butler returned to the United States in 1944 and got a day job. While he worked for 20 years at the U. S. Post Office, he remained active in bands and orchestras. He took further studies on the oboe at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and played with the Chicago City Symphony, the Hyde Park Woodwind Quintet and in the pit of the Schubert Theater for the revival of “No, No, Nanette.”

In 1956, he married Elizabeth P. Mitcham.

The following words were written about Butler in Storyville 71, "Roy epitomizes the steady, absolutely reliable sideman, without whom no orchestra would ever be able to function.”

Roy Butler died March 28, 1997 in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 97.

Reference:
A Century of Jazz by Roy Carr
Da Capo Press, New York
Copyright 1997
ISBN 0-306-80778-5

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