Nicknamed "Little Jazz,” trumpeter Roy Eldridge (1911-1988) was one of the most competitive and combative of all jazz musicians. A major swing stylist, Eldridge was at his best in freewheeling jam-session settings.
Eldridge had his earliest musical experiences playing trumpet and drums in circus and carnival bands. He worked with such territory bands as the Nighthawk Syncopators, Zach Whyte, and Speed Webb. After arriving in New York in 1931, Eldridge played with Elmer Snowden, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, and in 1935 with Teddy Hill, with whom he made his recording debut. Eldridge’s exciting chance-taking style was very much on display on recordings with Hill, Billie Holiday, and Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. His own recordings of 1937-1939 established Eldridge as the most important new trumpet soloist in jazz.
Little Jazz was a star with Gene Krupa’s orchestra during 1941-1942 and Artie Shaw’s big band in 1945. He toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic and was at his playing prime but suffered a bit from an identity crisis when bebop rose to prominence. Used to being considered the most modern soloist, Eldridge was not sure how to handle Dizzy Gillespie. However a period spent in Europe in 1950-1951, where he played before enthusiastic crowds, convinced Eldridge that there was no reason for him to change his style for he played it better than anyone else.
In the 1950s, Eldridge recorded frequently and occasionally played with Coleman Hawkins. In the ’60s he had a lower profile but, when Norman Granz formed Pablo in the early 1970s, Roy Eldridge was one of the first artists he signed.
The 1970s were a renaissance period for Eldridge. Among his best recordings for Granz were Little Jazz and The Jimmy Ryan All-Stars, Happy Time, What It’s All About, a duet album with Oscar Peterson, and the exciting Montreux 1977 plus several appearances as a sideman. Still able to generate a great deal of excitement and filled with the competitive spirit, Roy Eldridge enjoyed this final outburst of activity before a heart attack in 1988 ended his playing career.