Jimmie Lunceford rivaled Duke and Basie on record; and he exceeded them in person. With band members singing and dancing and leg kicking and horns swinging, a brotha kicked it like the wicked Wilson Picket but jazz style, making people stay on the floor til they just had to go home, though some wanted to stay out on the dance floor all night. And they did!
Lunceford was born in Fulton, Mississippi, where he was exposed at an early age to the blues. But he left Mississippi to travel great distances to get formal training. He attended Fisk University, where he obtained a degree in sociology. He did advance study at New York City College and then came back South, to Memphis, to teach high school.
During his travels, Lunceford picked up talented musicians along the way. They eventually became the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. In trumpeter Sy Oliver and saxophonist Willie Smith Lunceford had two especially talented musicians; and Lunceford composed complex arrangements around them. The complex interplay between the reed and brass section was a crowd-soother; and it was all performed with such tight execution.
But when Smith and Oliver left, the orchestra could not reclaim its former glory. Maybe it had nothing to do with their leaving. Maybe America was ready for a new style of music (something called Rock & Roll) which could arise out of an old music form (the blues). Or maybe America just took for granted the beautiful music it already had. Whatever, Lunceford's music lost most of its shine with America. But it was great music nonetheless. It was elegance and genius in medium-tempo; and some Americans remember Lunceford fondly. They remember sitting in their living room as daddy and mom held court, talking about the fun they had doing the lindy as "hot bands" like Lunceford's kept the out on the floor til their hearts and theri feet just couldn't stand it anymore. And they spoke of how the music of that era helped eased their tension from a war that seemed to rest on the survival of civilization itself. It was a time when no one knew what would happen tomorrow and people did their best to live life to the fullest. That's where the Benny Goodman's, The Dukes, the Basie's, and the Luncefords came in: they provided a little happiness in troubled times.
Lunceford died on July 12, 1947.
Hey, wanna have some fun this weekend? Try something different. Pick up one of Lunceford's "Best of" CDs. And make sure the CD includes his rendition of "Stardust." The tightness of the arrangement and the sweetness in the sound will make you say "Wow!" and..."Happy birthday!"
Ever heard of Jimmie Lunceford?