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Doug Mettome: A Brief Life in Bop

Richard  J Salvucci By

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Douglas (Doug) Voll Mettome, the son of Nels P Mettome and Leafy Dawn Mettome was born into a prosperous family on March 19, 1925 in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he died on February 17, 1964. He was one of two children (a younger sister attended Northwestern University).

Doug's musical career began early. His first training was on piano, but by the age of 12, he had begun to receive newspaper notice for his trumpet playing: "Doug played some bugle calls and a trumpet solo. When he played "Reveille..."91 year-old Charlie Shields woke up and saluted." (Salt Lake Tribune, February 13, 1937) Doug was also a member of what eventually became a group of three students who bugled at the striking of the colors at the local Veterans' Hospital each night at 5—an activity he had joined in 1933 at the age of eight. "There isn't any special reason for doing this," Mettome was quoted as saying. "we just thought it was a good thing to do." (Salt Lake Tribune April 11, 1939). By 1943, Doug had his own band, "Doug Mettome and his "'Swingout' Rhytmaires"

And he was, by all accounts, a superior athlete. He was involved in competitive ski jumping by the time he was 13. By the age of 16, Doug was a competitive cyclist, winning races and vying for a state championship.

He graduated from East High and was attending the University of Utah when World War II broke out. He enlisted at age 18 and spent World War II (1943-46) in the 745 Army Air Force band. By all accounts he had started to make an impression on other brassmen as a player in the service. I suspect if you had asked anyone in Salt Lake about him when he went into the service, they would have predicted he was bound for great things. The All American Boy as Trumpet Player.

In early 1945, while still in the service, Mettome married Catherine Ransford Wade in Louisville Kentucky, where he was stationed. Mettome had previously been in Detroit, because he was initially to have been married there in December 1944. The first real notice of him to surface as a player was in Detroit in 1946, so he had presumably made contact with a fertile jazz scene there. Barry Ulanov heard him jamming at the River Rouge Show Bar with drummer Art Mardigan and described Mettome as a "talented trumpeter" who had been deeply—Ulanov used the word "slavishly" influenced by Dizzy Gillespie. In 1946-47, Doug joined Billy Eckstine's band. Some maintain that he was recommended by Miles Davis, who was also briefly with Eckstine, while others suggest that Mettome and Davis had become close because Mettome, even as a white musician (and at that point, the only one with Eckstine) was unwilling not to stay with the band on the road because of segregation. Mettome now met drummer Art Blakey, who was to later remark that he thought Doug could have played either jazz or classical trumpet, which was a bit unusual in the late 1940s.

By late 1947, Mettome was recording with Allan Eager in New York, taking solos on "Nightmare Allen" and "Churchmouse." While there are some echoes of Dizzy's licks in them—especially his ubiquitous triplets—, both solos favor the middle register and are built around longish legato lines that never get much ahead of the beat. 1948 found Doug playing with the Buddy Rich big band where he plays an expressive chorus on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that displays a full tone that characterized in his ballad playing. He also took a brash upper-register solo on "Aaron's Axe."

Doug really appears to have come to public notice while with Benny Goodman. Mettome impressed just about everyone while playing with Goodman, including Benny, who was later to name him one of his two favorite trumpet players (Chris Griffin was the other). Doug toured extensively with Goodman and played some of his best-known (and best shaped) choruses in 1948 and 1949. He replaced Fats Navarro in Goodman's Sextet, not surprisingly perhaps, in view of their stylistic similarities. As Ross Firestone put it, "Fats Navarro was hired for the solo trumpet chair, but occupied it only briefly. After he kept showing up late for rehearsal, Benny let him go and brought in Doug Mettome, a brilliant twenty-three year old who had replaced Navarro in the Eckstine band in 1946." Buddy Greco recounted Mettome's role to Firestone: "When I had my Benny Goodman hat on, I played Benny Goodman music. When we turned into a bop band, I tried to play like Bud Powell. Wardell [Gray] and Doug Mettome did the same sort of thing. When Benny was fronting the band, Doug got into a Roy Eldridge bag; then later on in the evening he switched over to Dizzy or Miles. Doug was a genius player, and Benny was very, very hot on him. In fact at one point he wanted to send him out on his own doing a more commercial kind of thing à la Harry James. Unfortunately, Doug had some personal problems, but he was some talent."

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