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Jazz History Quiz #105


The correct answer is Bob Burnet!



In The Jazz Years: Earwitness to an Era, Leonard Feather writes that just before accepting a job as an assistant to Ivan Black, the publicist of the famed night club Cafe Society Uptown, he was involved with Cafe Society on a different level. “Bobby Burnet, the excellent trumpeter who had just left Charlie Barnet’s orchestra, wanted to start his own group.  I suggested hiring such sidemen as Charlie Holmes on alto and Albert Nicholas on clarinet, both Armstrong alumni.  We then put together a rhythm section with a promising eighteen-year-old pianist, Sammy Benskin; the bassist Hayes Alvis (ex-Ellington and Carter) and Manzie Johnson, the superb drummer whom I had heard often with Don Redman’s band. 

“This made Burnet the first white leader in history to organize an all-black group; it also made front-page news in Down Beat, with an encouraging story headlined, ‘Barnet Horn Man Fronts Colored Band’ and displaying a picture of Burnet captioned, ‘He’s Leading a Sepia Band.’

“In an interview for a new magazine, Music and Rhythm, headlined ‘Can a White Man Successfully Lead a Negro Band?’, Burnet was quoted as saying, ‘I never learned a thing from white musicians.  Every white musician can learn something from a Negro musician.’  This was somehow considered more newsworthy since Burnet, who had studied at a private school in Switzerland, was a member of a socially prominent family.’

“Our first requirement, of course, was a library.  Burnet was a first-class arranger, and since the instrumentation was that of the John Kirby sextet, I had little difficulty writing several charts to round out the repertoire.  Functioning as arranger, publicist and de facto booker without pay, I persuaded Barney Josephson to put the group in Cafe Society Uptown.

“The two-week engagement at the club, during which time I began officially with Ivan Black, was well received, but Barney Josephson already had John Kirby booked in to follow, and very soon the Burnet group was out of a job.  I could do no more than recommend Bobby for a few gigs at the Famous Door and a series of off-nights (Mondays) at Nick’s.  The band never secured a record date; within a couple of months it was defunct, leaving only a very satisfying memory for those of us who heard it.  Burnet rejoined Barnet briefly, then faded from the scene, eventually moving to Mexico, where he died some years ago.”



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