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Early bebop tenormanby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
Warren Luckey, a nearly forgotten pioneer of bebop who most prominently worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, died of kidney failure on July 11, 2005. He was 85 years old.
Luckey began his musical studies on piano but, inspired by the examples of Lester Young and Leon “Chu” Berry, switched to the tenor sax at the age of 14. After high school he gigged locally while studying music at Sam Houston College and Alabama State Teachers College. But in 1944 Luckey put his studies on hold when a friend recommended him to Louis Armstrong, who was seeking a tenorist for his touring band. Beginning with a stop in Chicago, Luckey toured the nation with Armstrong’s band for the next two years.
In 1946, the same year that he married his wife, vocalist Myrtle Mae Medley, Luckey left Armstrong’s group to join the fledgling bebop big band of Dizzy Gillespie. Among the records that Luckey made with Gillespie’s band were “Groovin’ High” and “Things To Come” (both on the Musicraft label). His tenure with Dizzy Gillespie lasted barely a year; Luckey opted to remain in New York instead of touring Europe with the band in 1947. Around that time, the tenorman famously lent his horn to Charlie Parker so he could use it on a record session with young Miles Davis.
Having quit the Gillespie band, Luckey led the house bands at the Manhattan and Brooklyn Baby Grand. He also supported comedians like Redd Foxx and Nipsey Russell on the New York circuit. The tenorman was also employed by Cab Calloway, West Coast drummer Shelly Manne, Budd Johnson, Thelonious Monk, Little Jimmy Scott, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke and Kenny Burrell, among others. In the 1960s Luckey became a studio musician, employed by large labels like Capitol, RCA Victor and Columbia. One of his more unusual sessions was The Great Aretha Franklin, released by Columbia in 1961.
Luckey continued to play at clubs around Long Island into the 1980s, but in ’83 a neuromuscular illness began to affect his playing. He continued to gig now and then into the 90s, sometimes in support of his daughter, vocalist Paulette Luckey Silver.
Warren Luckey was preceded in death by his wife, Myrtle. He is survived by two daughters, Patricia Luckey Kennedy of North Port, FL, and Paulette Luckey Silver of Huntington, NY; three sons, David of Uniondale, NY; Warren Martin of Long Beach, CA; and Charles of Dallas, TX; ten grandchildren and and three great-grandchildren.
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.