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Reed Player With Duke and Othersby Russ Dantzler
Copyright © 2001 Russ Dantzler
Norris Turney was a multi-reed player specializing on alto sax. He was one of the remaining dozen or so musicians that Duke Ellington had personally hired into his orchestra. Norris was the first that Duke ever wrote flute parts for. In New York, he performed and recorded with Billy Eckstine and played lead-alto with the bands of Frank Foster and Clark Terry.
He played tenor with bands that included those of Erskine Hawkins and Machito. In 1967 he toured with Ray Charles' band for a year. He joined Duke Ellington as a two-week replacement for an ailing Johnny Hodges in 1969, and stayed on for four years. He received worldwide recognition for his work in the Ellington orchestra.
He was winner of the flute division for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, in the Downbeat Critics Polls for the years 1970 and 1971. His best known composition is Checkered Hat, dedicated to his friend Hodges. After Ellington, he spent ten years playing the Broadway theatre in the orchestras of Raisin, the black edition of Guys and Dolls, Ain't Misbehavin' and Sophisticated Ladies. He worked with George Wein's Newport All Stars for eight years. He toured repeatedly with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under the leadership of Wynton Marsalis.
The 1994 Jazz Master Award from Arts Midwest was presented to Norris. Big, Sweet n' Blue, is his highly acclaimed 1995 Mapleshade release featuring Larry Willis, Walter Booker and Jimmy Cobb. He is featured on Chicago pianist Jodie Christian's late 1996 CD on Delmark, titled Front Line.
Norris played jazz festivals all over the world and began 1997 touring northern Europe with Red Richards, Claude Fiddler Williams, Dave Green and Joe Ascione. A Sackville CD entitled Echoes of Spring was recorded live on that tour. The Ellington '97 Conference in England in May featured Norris with Duke alumnus Willie Cook, Bill Berry, Kay Davis and Jimmy Woode.
Norris passed away due to complications of kidney disease. His wife Marilee was at his side. He had been taken off dialysis a few days prior, as he body could no longer tolerate that. He began and ended his life in the area of Dayton, Ohio, where he had moved from New York about a decade ago. His New York City career spanned thirty years.
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