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Expatriate bop trumpeterby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2005 Todd S. Jenkins
Trumpeter Benny Bailey spent more of his career in Europe than in America, a smart move because it ensured the kind of well-deserved attention and steady work that his homeland could not. American audiences knew him best from either his early work with Lionel Hampton, or two prominent guest appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Bailey was found dead in his apartment in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on April 14, 2005. He was 79 years old.
A strong-toned and creative hornman, Bailey studied the trumpet at the Cleveland Conservatory of Music and took private lessons with pianist/composer George Russell. While still a teenager he worked with tenorman “Bull Moose” Jackson and drummer/singer Scatman Crothers before joining Jay McShann for an American tour. He explored early bebop with tenorist Teddy Edwards and Dizzy Gillespie, with whose big band Bailey toured Europe in 1948. From ’48 to ’53 Bailey was a principal soloist with the Lionel Hampton band, gracing singles like 1951’s “Cool Train”.
Like many of his contemporaries, Bailey saw brighter horizons for jazz over in Europe. In 1953 he packed up and moved to Sweden, where he became a busy and respected performer. From 1957 to ’59 he performed in the Swedish Radio Big Band under Harry Arnold, then worked with Stan Getz and Quincy Jones before coming home to America in 1960. He cut the album Big Brass (Candid) but remained in the U.S. for only a few months before moving off to Germany, where he recorded with Eric Dolphy (In Europe, 1961, Debut). Soon he found himself performing with expatriates and Europeans in the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band (Live at Ronnie Scott’s, 1969, MPS), which was one of his principal gigs until 1973.
Bailey appeared frequently with various groups at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, where he made two of his most lauded appearances as a guest artist. In 1969 he joined pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris onstage for a raucous live set that was captured on Swiss Movement (1969, Atlantic). In 1975 he performed “Take the A Train” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” alongside Gerry Mulligan with the Charles Mingus quintet (seen on the DVD Live in Montreux 1975).
Through the 1970s Bailey was a member of pianist George Gruntz’ Concert Jazz Band as well as some European radio bands. In 1984 he toured the world with the Paris Reunion Band, featured with tenorman Joe Henderson and trombonist Grachan Moncur III. He spent his later years in Amsterdam, gigging around the city’s numerous jazz clubs.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.