Tune in Wednesday, April 26th beginning at 8pm for The Night Beat’s final program of the month-long celebration of the trombone! To give the trombone its due, I have been featuring my favorite trombonists every Wednesday evening throughout April on the Night Beat. For Week Four on April 26th, we’ll feature trombonist Bennie Green.
The trombone has always been regarded as a second-class citizen in the world of jazz. Even jazz magazines that regularly dedicate an entire month’s issue to saxophones, pianos, drums, etc. rarely, if ever, do the same from the trombone.
April of course is Jazz Appreciation Month. And the week of April 16th through the 23rd (yes, I know that’s eight days) is International Trombone Week.
Bennie was born on April 16th, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Chicago’s DuSable High School where the legendary music educator Walter Dyett served as its music director from 1935 until 1962. An incomplete list of musicians who passed through DuSable during Dyett’s tenure include Dinah Washington, Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Wilbur Ware, Richard Davis, Dorothy Donegan, Johnny Hartman, Eddie Harris, John Gilmore and Nat Cole.
Bennie joined the Earl Hines band in the summer of 1942 just as the American Federations of Musicians (AFM) and its president James Petrillo banned and prevented its members from recording. For jazz fans and historians alike this was especially tragic at least two reasons. Firstly swing music was quickly transitioning and evolving into BeBop. And secondly the Hines band featured many of the musicians leading the charge including Dizzy Gillespie, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan.
Bennie was drafted by the US military in 1943 and was part of a US Army band based in Illinois for the next two years. In 1946 he returned to the Earl Hines band and also spent a short time working with saxophonist Gene Ammons.
In 1948 Bennie became a member of saxophonist Charlie Ventura’s “Bop for the People” band, an ensemble that included pianist/vocalist Roy Kral, his wife Jackie Cain (also on vocals), drummer Ed Shaughnessy and trumpet player Conte Candoli. Ed Shaughnessy called Bennie “Mr. Rhythm” as Green would sometimes play nothing but the tonic (root tone) when playing a blues tune relying on rhythmic variations throughout a chorus or more. His tenure with the Ventura band would prove to be his most commercially successful as a musician. Among the five dozen titles recorded by Ventura during this time was “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” with Jackie Cain and Roy Kral providing the vocals.
After returning to the Hines band in the early 1950s, Bennie began performing and recording as a leader of his own ensembles for record labels including Prestige, JazzLand and Blue Note. He would place fifth in the DownBeat poll for “Best Trombone” in 1954.
He continued to record as a leader and sideman throughout the 1960s and was an occasional member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1968 and 1969. His last significant live performance as a jazz musician occurred at the Newport Jazz Festival held in New York City in the summer of 1972.
By the 1970s, Bennie had moved to Las Vegas where he would find steady work in hotel bands. After a long illness, he passed away in 1977 due to cancer in San Diego.
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