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Roy Eldridge On Piano Jazz

Roy Eldridge in 1946.
William P. Gottlieb
The Library of Congress
Roy Eldridge in 1946.

On this week's Piano Jazz: a 1986 session with trumpeter, singer and pianist Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge.

Host Marian McPartland first met Eldridge in 1950, when she invited him to play with her and Coleman Hawkins at The Embers one night. By the time he joined her for this episode, Eldridge had laid aside the trumpet due to illness, but was still swinging on vocals, drums and piano.

"He was so funny and always energetic," McPartland says. "Everything he did had such a wonderful rhythmic feeling. He was always busy, and kept going right until the end."

Eldridge performs two of his own tunes with McPartland: "Ball of Fire," written with Gene Krupa, and "Fast Boogie." He also accompanies himself in a sly version of his song, "Une Petite Laitue."

"Laitue means 'milk,'" he tells McPartland. "The rest of the lyrics I don't know, but they're all nice and clean."

"What a shame," McPartland replies.

McPartland offers a tribute with an elegant solo version of "Rockin' Chair," the Hoagy Carmichael tune that was a hit for Eldridge with Gene Krupa's band. She accompanies Eldridge as he sings "I Want a Little Girl" in his colorful, inimitable style. McPartland also performs a gently swinging version of "Indian Summer," before they wrap up the session improvising on a fast boogie, "M & R Blues."

More About 'Little Jazz'

Trumpeter, composer and singer Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge was born on Jan. 30, 1911, in Pittsburgh, Penn. He began playing drums at age 6, and by 16 he'd joined a touring carnival performing on drums, tuba and trumpet. Eldridge was enamored of saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins, and Louis Armstrong inspired him to begin developing his own virtuoso style on trumpet.

In 1930, Eldridge made his way to New York, where he joined Teddy Hill's band and later moved to first trumpet with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. By the mid-1930s, Eldridge was considered the heir to Armstrong's "hot" trumpet technique. He also had a major influence on Dizzy Gillespie and the birth of bebop.

Through the 1940s, Eldridge played with big bands led by Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw, and was a pivotal member of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic group. In 1950, he moved to Paris — where he made some of his most successful recordings — but returned to New York a year later. There, he continued to pick up work in small bands with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Hodges. A stroke in 1980 ended Eldridge's trumpet playing, but he continued to perform as a singer and pianist until his death in 1989.

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Grant Jackson