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Collette, Buddy

mingus band jazz angeles

Collette, Buddy, American musician; b. Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 6, 1921. A pillar of the Los Angeles jazz scene since the early 1940s, he is a fine improvisor on alto and tenor sax, clarinet and especially flute, an instrument on which he was an early innovator. Though best known for his long-time friendship and musical association with Charles Mingus, he also played an important role breaking down the color barrier in L.A. studios in the early 1950s. He took piano lessons as a youth before moving on to various wind instruments. He played with a number of bands, including Les Hite, in the early 1940s, and then led a dance band in the Navy. He founded the short-lived Stars of Swing with Lucky Thompson, Britt Woodman, and Mingus in 1946, then became a busy freelancer, working for such leading West Coast bandleaders as Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, Johnny Otis, Louis Jordan, and Edgar Hayes. He became the first black musician to hold a staff position in a Los Angeles studio band, playing on Groucho Marx’s TV and radio shows (1951–55), among others. He gained widespread exposure with the original edition of drummer Chico Hamilton’s popular “cello” quintet (the group was featured in the 1958 film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, about the Newport Jazz Festival) and made a number of strong recordings of his own for Contemporary in the late 1950s. In 1964 he gained attention for organizing the band Mingus triumphed with at Monterey, and two years later he assembled a big band for Dizzy Gillespie’s Monterey appearance. He continues to work and teach around L.A., and though he has never achieved national attention commensurate with his talents, a number of his students—including flutist James Newton, who can be heard with Collette on Flute Talk —have gone on to become major figures. In 1994 Issues Records released a two-CD “audio biography” a fascinating, episodic oral history covering his career and his relationships with Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Groucho, and the racial and Cold War politics of the 1950s.

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