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Catlett, Sid(ney) (aka “Big Sid”)

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early jazz drummer, composer; b. Evansville, Ind., b. Jan. 17, 1910; d. Chicago, III., March 25, 1951. After a brief spell on piano, he played drums in school band. His family moved to Chicago, where he attended the Tilden H.S., receiving drum tuition from Joe Russek. He played with local musicians, then came to N.Y. in 1931 to join Elmer Snowden. He worked with Snowden until 1932, when he joined Benny Carter (through 1933) and Rex Stewart (1933–34). He moved back to Chicago in summer 1934, worked with various leaders and briefly led his own band. He played with Fletcher Henderson out of St. Louis from February-September 1936, then joined Don Redman, staying with him through 1938. He was with Louis Armstrong from late 1938 until early 1941, briefly with Roy Eldridge, then worked on and off with Benny Goodman from June until October 1941. He rejoined Louis Armstrong from late 1941 until summer 1942, then was with Teddy Wilson from c.August 1942 until early 1944. Led own quartet from spring 1944 until 1947 for residencies in N.Y., Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A.; he also toured with “Concert Varieties” and subbed for Sonny Greer with Duke Ellington (1945). He briefly led own big band in late 1946. He was with Louis Armstrong All Stars from August 1947; was forced to quit touring through illness (spring 1949). He became resident drummer at Jazz Ltd., Chicago, from spring 1949; worked with Muggsy Spanier, Sidney Bechet, and others there. He also worked in N.Y. with Eddie Condon in 1949 and took part in Carnegie Hall concert with John Kirby (December 1950). He was ill with pneumonia early in 1951, returning to play at Jazz Ltd. He attended an Easter weekend jazz concert at the Chicago Opera House, and while talking to Slam Stewart in the wings, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He appeared on screen in the short film Jammin’ the Blues (1944), but as was the practice then, no sound was recorded during filming. His drum work was dubbed in at a post-synchronization session by Jo Jones; where Catlett appears on screen, Jones’s playing is heard!

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