Jimmie Lunceford

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jimmie Lunceford, circa August 1946.
Photograph by William P. Gottlieb .

James Melvin "Jimmie" Lunceford (born June 6, 1902 in Fulton , Missouri , † July 12, 1947 in Seaside , Oregon ) was an American jazz musician (alto saxophone ) and band leader .


Lunceford went to school in Denver , studied with Wilberforce Whiteman (the father of Paul Whiteman ) and then at Fisk University (Master of Arts degree in 1926) and at City College in New York music. Between 1924 and 1926 he played with Elmer Snowden and Wilbur Sweatman . In 1927, while he was teaching sports at high school in Memphis , Tennessee , he formed a student band, the Chickasaw Syncopators, which later became the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. The orchestra made its first recording in 1927 and toured for several years. It celebrated its first successes in Buffalo in the early 1930s and then appeared in the New York area; The first recordings were made for Victor during this time , but they did not sell well. He had his first successes in the charts in 1934/35 with the Ellington numbers " Mood Indigo " (# 19) and " Black and Tan Fantasy " (# 19) recorded for Decca . His only number 1 hit was Lunceford's composition "Rhythm Is Our Business" in May 1935, which from then on became one of the orchestra's signature tunes.

In 1934 the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra , after they had already performed successfully there in 1933, replaced Cab Calloway's band as the house band of the famous Cotton Club , which brought Lunceford's breakthrough. From 1934 onwards, his arranger was the trumpeter Sy Oliver ; in the autumn the orchestra recorded for Decca ; these records made it popular in the United States. Her “Lunceford two beat” swing at a moderate pace later became a model for other bands like Tommy Dorsey's . The band included u. a. tenor saxophonist Joe Thomas , trombonist Trummy Young (from 1937), alto saxophonist Willie Smith , drummer Jimmy Crawford and Eddie Durham (trombone and electric guitar). Several band members also sang, alongside lead vocalist (and saxophonist) Dan Grissom . The band's manager, Harold Oxley, also contributed to the great popularity of the band; he announced every important tour with postcards to the dance promoters.

In 1937 Lunceford undertook an extensive European tour. In 1940 Sy Oliver left the band to work for Tommy Dorsey (who made him $ 5,000 a year more) and was replaced by Gerald Wilson . Lunceford relied less on radio appearances than the other swing bands, but toured an average of 40,000 miles a year, which brought many band members to the limit. Since he was also not paying very well, other members left the band; Lunceford received a fee of $ 500 for a one-nighter in 1940 . Jimmie Lunceford died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest during an autograph signing in Seaside , Oregon in 1947 . For a while Joe Thomas and the pianist Eddie Wilcox (who was the arranger of the band) tried unsuccessfully to continue the band.

Lunceford himself not only played the saxophone, clarinet, flute and trombone, but also guitar. He is rarely heard on recordings by the band (for example on a recording of “Liza” (1939) on the flute).

Jimmie Lunceford was an avid pilot. According to Willie Smith , that was one reason he paid his musicians relatively poorly as he kept buying new planes (after wrecking his old plane).


Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra - My Blue Heaven

The band, led by Jimmie Lunceford, was one of the most outstanding of the swing era. Big band historian George T. Simon calls them the most exciting big band of all time, less because of their music than their showmanship , in which they were far ahead of the other swing top bands after Simon. The band was known for their perfect shows and humorous lyrics. The arrangements by Sy Oliver and a legendary discipline and precision that characterized the interaction of the musicians, and for which the former teacher Lunceford was mainly responsible , also played a decisive role in the success .



  • Eddie Determeyer Rhythm is our business- Jimmie Lunceford and the Harlem Express , Jazz Perspectives Series , University of Michigan Press 2006
  • George T. Simon : The Golden Era of Big Bands. Hannibal, Höfen 2004, ISBN 3-854-45243-8 .
  • Leo Walker: The Big Band Almanac. Ward Ritchie Press, Pasadena 1978.

Web links

Commons : Jimmie Lunceford  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files


  1. ^ McCarthy: Big Band Jazz. 1977, p. 252
  2. ^ Gerhard Klußmeier : Jazz in the Charts. Another view on jazz history. Liner notes and booklet for the 100 CD edition. Membrane International GmbH. ISBN 978-3-86735-062-4
  3. See Walker, p. 289.
  4. McCarthy, loc. Cit. P. 250, also cites an interview with Wilcox, in which he claims a major part for the style of the band for himself. Other influences on the Lunceford style are attributed to Eddie Durham and the band of Alphonse Trent , whom Lunceford admired and for which Sy Oliver worked intermittently.
  5. ^ Stanley Dance, World of Swing, Scribners 1974, p. 103.
  6. ^ McCarthy, p. 250: In its peak years, the Lunceford band was the most brilliant orchestral unit that jazz has produced .
  7. Simon: The Big Bands. Schirmer Books, 1981, p. 328
  8. Sy Oliver: "He was a strict disciplinarian, like a teacher in a schoolroom, but he was consistent in everything he did, and that gave the fellows in the band a feeling of security". Quoted from Simon, p. 329