Monday, June 27, 2011

William Thornton Blue - maverick reedman

A clarinet and saxophone player of incredible eccentricity, William Thornton Blue (born 1902) played with spiky abandon. His best records are those with the Missourians, Cab Calloway's Orchestra, Henry 'Red' Allen and Dewey Jackson.

Blue's characteristically jagged phrases are formed through aggressive tonguing and a fondness for trills, growls and shakes. He achieves that goal of jazz musicians everywhere - a sound that is immediately identifiable. Furthermore, a clarinettist could spend a lifetime imitating him and never achieve a convincing facsimile of his style (not that I haven't given it a go!). He is unique.

Blue's promising career was cut short by illness in the 1930s. He lived, unbelievably, until 1968. In a world where Artie Shaw churlishly threw down his clarinet because he couldn't tolerate his own commercial success, it is cruel that a passionate voice like William Thornton Blue's was silenced for so long without his consent.





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