Frankie Trumbauer (1901-1956), like the ‘C melody’ saxophone he mastered, isn’t as well remembered as he or his music deserve. An early virtuoso of the saxophone, Trumbauer’s forward-looking solos were highly influential on the development of jazz in the late 1920s and early ’30s, especially on players such as Benny Carter, Lester Young and Art Pepper. Young is reputed to have carried Trumbauer’s recordings in his suitcase
Born of part Cherokee ancestry, in Carbondale Illinois, Trumbauer grew up in St Louis, the son of a musical mother who directed saxophone and theatre orchestras.
Often referred to as ‘Tram’, he was playing with the Benson Orchestra in Chicago when noticed by Bix Beiderbecke and recruited to join the legendary cornetist in Jean Goldkette’s Orchestra. Soon Tram climbed to the position of Goldkette’s musical director, earning equal recognition for his effortless and inventive sax solos. He cut some of the definitive records of the era with Beiderbecke, Eddie Lang and others, including ‘Singin the Blues’ (1927). In that same year, Bix and Tram joined Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra.
Trumbauer remained with Whiteman on and off until 1936. He then led the Three Ts, featuring the Teagarden brothers. With the onset of World War II, Tram was assigned to the US Civil Aeronautics Authority and then North American Aviation, as a test pilot and instructor for B52 bomber crews; but he continued to pursue music in his spare time, playing with Russ Case and cutting a number of records in NY in the late 1950s. With the arrival of modern jazz, Tram’s musical heyday ended, and so he pursued his career in aviation instead, until an early death at the age of 55.
In this series, I’ll explore Frankie Trumbauer’s life and music, including a look at his Saxophone Studies publication of 1935.