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Jerome Richardson: 1920-2000
Jerome Richardson
Saxophones, flute

Born: December 25, 1920 in Oakland, California
Died: June 23, 2000 in Englewood, New Jersey


Versatile and In Demand Reeds Player

Copyright © 2000 

The Scotsman, 2000


Jerome Richardson was a gifted jazz soloist on a variety of reed and wind instruments. While his most familiar horns were soprano saxophone, alto saxophone and flute, he also played tenor and baritone saxophones regularly. He was one of the first jazz soloists to establish the flute as a viable addition to the jazz saxophonist’s armoury, and was even known to deliver solos on the piccolo, the smallest of the flute family.

Richardson’s birth date has long been given as 15 November, in Sealy, Texas, but a statement from his manager announcing his death placed the event in 1920, in California, where he was brought up. He took up saxophone at the age of eight, and made his professional debut at fourteen, playing with the Lionel Hampton Band.

He studied music at San Francisco State College, acquiring excellent reading skills and a technical and theoretical foundation which he put to good use in a long career as both a jazz soloist and much in demand session musician.

He worked briefly with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, then spent three years in the Navy as a member of a band led by saxophonist Marshall Royal. He joined the Lionel Hampton band again in 1949, with whom he recorded what is widely regarded as the first modern jazz solo played on flute on ‘Kingfish’, and was also a member of the Earl Hines big band.

Richardson settled in New York in 1954, where he began a very active session career, but continued to make his mark in a purely jazz context. He worked with bands led by Lucky Millinder and Cootie Williams, and led his own quartet at the famous Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem in 1955. He worked regularly with band leader and arranger Quincy Jones, including a European tour with Harold Arlen’s blues opera Free and Easy in 1959, and was also involved in many of Jones’s more pop-oriented projects.

He was a founder member of the great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, where his soprano saxophone played a leading role in creating the band’s distinctive sound. He played with a number of other notable big bands during his long career, including bands led by Jimmy Lunceford, Gerald Wilson, Gil Evans and Charles Mingus.

His standing as a superbly accomplished soloist on a range of reed and wind instruments was complemented by an equally strong reputation as an accompanist of singers, including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne, and most recently the late Teri Thornton. Richardson was a good singer in his own right, especially of ballads.

He moved to Los Angeles for a time in the mid-1970s, working mainly in the studios, but returned to New York in the late 1980s, where he worked on Broadway musicals, and performed with artists like trumpeter Art Farmer, saxophonist Clifford Jordan and trombonist Slide Hampton, as well as leading his own group, in which he played mainly alto saxophone, his instrument of choice in recent years.

Richardson performed with practically every significant post-war jazz artist, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Lionel Hampton, Herbie Hancock, Milt Jackson, Oliver Nelson, Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as a whole range of blues, soul and pop artists, from B.B. King to The Bee Gees.

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Jazz Legend Succumbs To Heart Failure

by Russ Dantzler
Copyright © 2000 Russ Dantzler


Jerome Richardson suffered heart failure and passed away at 6:45 a.m. friday at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey. Richardson started professionally at age 14. Early work included stints with Jimmy Lunceford and Lionel Hampton. He became a regular band member with Hampton, Earl Hines and the Quincy Jones Orchestra, with whom he toured and recorded into the 1980s.

Associations with Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne sealed his reputation as a consummate accompanist. Richardson contracted and performed in the Broadway shows Ain't Misbehavin’, Black & Blue, Jelly's Last Jam and Play On.

Richardson pioneered the use of flute in modern jazz. His soprano saxophone lead was an important component in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, of which he was a founding member. This versatile multi-instrumentalist can be heard on over 4,000 recordings, as well as countless television studio appearances in L.A. and New York.

Recently he favored the alto saxophone, led his own group, composed, arranged and sang. He toured with the Harlem Nutcracker and made his final tour in Israel as featured soloist and leader. His latest critically acclaimed CD as a leader, Jazz Station Runaway on TCB, was produced by his manager and loving friend Suzi Reynolds.

He is survived by his wife Rowena, daughters Denise Wilson and Kim Richardson, and grandchildren Spring and Sean. Per his wishes, a memorial service at Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan is being planned in lieu of a funeral.

At the family's request, donations may be made in his name to the Dizzy Gillespie Foundation, which has helped countless jazz musicians in need, such as the late jazz vocalist Teri Thornton. Tax-deductible donations noted "in memory of Jerome Richardson" can be written to EMHC, and sent to: The Dizzy Gillespie Foundation, 350 Engle St., Englewood, NJ 07631.

Russ Dantzler
Russ Dantzler is a New York-based writer and JJA member.


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With 1 reader comment, posted February 21, 2008