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Artist Profiles

Doug Mettome: A Brief Life in Bop

By Published: August 23, 2013
Usually, Mettome was not well-recorded, so it is something of a revelation to hear what he could do under the right circumstances and explains why so many musicians described his sound as "fat" and "warm," qualities that don't always come through in surviving live broadcasts. Overall, he sticks pretty close to the melody and ends up resolving to a concert D# after playing the D# min 7 chord in accented eighths to get there. Mettome had the ability, so to speak, to make the "near" upper register on a trumpet sound higher—and hence, more dramatic—than it really is. This, too, was a characteristic of Berigan's playing that Mettome shared.

From 1953 through 1955, Mettome gigged mostly around New York, and was variously associated with The Dorsey Brothers, Med Flory, and Urbie Green. I have yet to hear anything recorded with the Dorseys, although examples of the Dorsey band from that period do exist. Mettome also recorded with Urbie Green
Urbie Green
Urbie Green
b.1926
trombone
as a Member of the Urbie Green Septet, recording not only on trumpet, but also on mellophone and baritone horn. These were not necessarily good solo vehicles and his choruses on "Incubator," especially on the baritone horn, are tentative and uncertain, while even his trumpet playing is marred by problems with the rhythm section.



On the other hand, while his up-tempo playing was a little less confident or certain than during his stint with Goodman or Herman (the issue surfaces a little in his work with Med Flory
Med Flory
Med Flory
1926 - 2014
sax, tenor
as well), Mettome's ballad playing—always lovely—really blossomed. His 1955 recording with Green, "When Your Lover Has Gone," is rarely if ever mentioned, but is one of his most passionately lyrical, amply decorated with color tones, and featuring not only Doug, but also an exchange with Urbie Green in the final chorus that more than compensates for their uncomfortable interaction on "Incubator."

There doesn't seem to have been much activity in 1956, or for that matter, after 1958. In July 1957, Doug recorded some highly regarded solos for Johnny Richards on "Wide Range," which is, interestingly, the session most frequently mentioned by people who have any familiarity with Mettome's work at all. His solo on "Walkin" recalls some of the assertiveness of his work from a decade earlier, and the rest of Mettome's performance is admirable as well. Richards had taken the band into a live performance at Town Hall in May, and an unnamed reviewer singled out Mettome, as well as Frank Rehak, Nat Pierce, Gene Quill, and Frankie Socolow, among others as "aggressive" and "top flight," so one assumes the band was well rehearsed and familiar with the charts. The recording sounds it. It's probably significant that Doug was heard to best effect when professional arrangers (like Rugolo and Richards) employed him in the studio for work on their own material. Blowing sessions, on the other hand, had clearly come to suit him less well by the late 1950s. His work with the Nat Pierce Orchestra in late 1958, basically a recording of "Stomping at the Savoy" featuring Buck Clayton, is not impressive.

Ira Gitler writes that Doug worked around New York in the early 1960s. Gitler reports hearing "an eclectic style away from Gillespie's," after a period of "inactivity" caused by "illness." What he meant by this one can only imagine, but for trumpet players, infirmity (and ageing) almost inevitably force modifications of style: aggressive upper register playing around jagged bop lines is practically the definition of "demanding." He was also spotted in a quartet with Ralph Flanagan at the Embers. Clark Terry
Clark Terry
Clark Terry
b.1920
trumpet
probably saw Doug about now—near the end of his time in New York—and his assessment is depressing.

"He was a beautiful trumpeter. I'll never forget one day he and his wife [his second wife, Elaine Bertha Hanna, known as Sis, or Cissy] came to the Apollo Theater not long before he died. Doug was very sick at the time, had no money, and they wouldn't let him in backstage. I gave him and Cissy a little money to go around front and see the show...I always respected him as an all-around trumpet player, great lead, great soloist. Anybody who can get along with Benny Goodman can't be all bad." (quoted in Doug Ramsey, Jazz Matters (1989), pp. 41-42)

Whatever the case, Mettome was back in Salt Lake by early 1962, where he was reported, perhaps improbably, skiing again. "Utah's skiing and music scene are glad to have him back." ( Salt Lake Tribune, February 22, 1962). It would not be for long. Doug Mettome died in the hospital at 10:00 AM, February 17, 1964, "after a brief illness." He was 38 years old. Funeral services were private, and he was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake. Virtually all the stories of his death involve alcoholism in some form. He had outlived Bunny Berigan by five years, but like Bunny, alcohol eventually affected his playing and ultimately killed him.



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