Bumps Blackwell, the Seattle years

Mike Lempriere mikel@networx.com
Wed Jun 1 14:03:52 EDT 1994


On Blues Date for May 23, eRIC talked about Bumps Blackwell, focussing
in on LA years (from '53 on).  Here's some info from his earlier years
in Seattle (extracted mostly verbatim from Jackson St. After Hours).

The Bumps Blackwell Junior Band was started by Charlie Taylor in the
fall of 1947.  Taylor recruited his friend Quincy Jones from Bremerton.
They both went to Garfield High School and played in the concert band
directed by Parker Cook.  They both took lessons from Frank Waldron.
Quincey's first instrument was the french horn, but by high school he'd
played most everything.  Taylor played the drums, but led this band.
Oscar Holden Jr. (as), Grace Holden (pno), Eddie Beard (ts), Waymond
Miller (dms) (shortly suceeded by Harold Redman); Billy Johnson (bass).

Their first gig was at the YMCA on 23rd and Madison in '47.  [This
venue is quite formative in Seattle's scene].  They were paid $7 a
piece.  A current Seattle musician, Buddy Catlett replaced Oscar Holden
on alto sax.  [Buddy is now known as a bass player, spent many years
with Count Basie, lots more on him in the book.  He currently has a
weekly gig, Sunday nights at Salute In Cietta, the Vance Hotel bar.]
Grace Holden was supplanted by Van Lear Douglas.  Major Pigford joined
on trombone.

They gigged all over the Puget Sound area, including Garfield and Fort
Lawton.  One night, Bumps heard the band at playing at a dance at Lake
Sammamish.  Bumps had lots of connections, and one of the only
organized sets of written band arrangements in town.  Knowing a good
thing when he heard it, he offered to expand the band's bookings if
the kids would change their name to the Bumps Blackwell Jr Band and
give him a percentage.  Taylor and his friends agreed.

"Everybody that was around Bumps, overall, was a better musician than
Bumps was" comments Ray Charles.  "But that didn't matter, because
Bumps had the gig".

Bumps was the kind of man who always tried to make something dramatic
happen, and often did.  Before he attached himself to Quincy and
friends, Bumps single-handedly mounted an oriiginal musical, Ceremony
In Swing.  He had tremendous energy.  Father figure, promoter, manager,
uncle, counselor, and bandleader, he tirelessly promoted the Junior
Band around the region, particulary at white society gatherings where
black leaders had not ventured before.  A whole generation of
Seattleites grew up listening to Bumps' various bands - at fraternity
and sorority parties, for the cotillion in the exclusive, walled-in
neighhborhood of Broadmoor, for dances in Leschi and Madison Park, at
the Seattle Tennis Club, and at fancy resorts out of town.

"Bumps could talk his way into anything" remembers trumpet player
Floyd Standifer, who arrived on the scene in the late '40s.  [Floyd
is also still active in Seattle, has a weekly gig, Wednesday nights
at the New Orleans Creole restaraunt in Pioneer Square.]  "Sometimes
he talked his way out the other side, but he really was a showman.  He
had an inventive mind.  This guy would never take no for an answer on
anything".

In addition to the Junior Bannd, Bumps led a Senior Band and a group
called the Big Band that combined personnel from each.  Bumps would
send different combinations of musicians out on four or five gigs in
one night, all under the Blackwell aegis, then drive around town to
check up on them like a booking agent.  Elmer Gill, a pianist who
worked for Bumps, didn't think much of his methods.

  He'd call any three things to play together.  I remember one time he
  called me and we werre playing at the Knights of Columbus Hall.  I
  got there -- now, this was a formal dance--and it was me to play the
  piano, Dick Thorlakson to play the trombone, and somebody else
  playing the guitar!  Bumps came in with a white jacket and a great
  long baton.  Man, I went out the back door!  He was standing up
  there with his baton, directing a trombone and a guitar!  No drums,
  no bass!  And all these people in long dresses and tuxedos.

Bumps kept his ad hoc music agency afloat from his butcher shop on
23rd and Madison, within shouting distance of the Savoy Ballroom and
the Washington Social club [previously the YMCA].  Remembers Floyd
Standifer:

  On any given day, you could walk over there and there'd be a whole
  bunch of people, most of them musicians, standing around at the meat
  counter.  You might find young Ernestine Anderson.  Quincy would be
  there.  I was there a few times.  Major Pigford.  All these guys
  standing around waiting to hear about rehearsal plans and things
  like that.  Bumps lived right around the corner, and everyone
  rehearsed at his place.  He was kind of like a magnet.  If you were
  at all any kind of a performer with any kind of pizzazz, Bumps had
  to attract you.  He was really Mr. Show Bussiness, as far as
  Seattle was concerned.

For a time, Bumps had a virtual music monopoly, according to Billy
Tolles "If you wanted to work, you were working in one of Bumps'
bands.  He would come and collect the money off of each gig, and pay
you what he wanted you to have.  He had the thing locked up".

[Bumps also is credited with pushing Ernestine Anderson in local gigs
while under aged, 'til her "discovery", but I have to work now.]




More information about the Blues-l mailing list