Hailing out of Omaha, Nebraska, Preston Love started on the sax at age 15, and by 22 was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra during the 1940's. He went on to form his own group, the Preston Love Orchestra, and acquired quite a reputation as leader of the West Coast Motown Orchestra where he played with, among others, Ray Charles, the Supremes, the Temptations, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
The flutist-saxophonist grew up the youngest of nine children, in a predominantly black North Omaha neighborhood. He listened to his idols (especially Earle Warren) on the family radio and phonograph, taught himself to play the sax his brother had brought home, and learned Warren's solos note for note, laying recordings over and over again.
With Warren as his inspiration, Love made himself an accomplished player. "I had the natural gift for sound--a good tone, which is important. Some people never have it. I was self-motivated. No one had to make me practice. And being good at mathematics, I was able to read music with the very least instruction." His first paying gig came in 1936, at age 15, as a last-minute fill-in on drums with Warren Webb and His Spiders at the Airplane Inn in Honey Creek, Iowa. Soon, he was touring with prewar territory bands.
During the 1930s and 40s, Omaha was a booming regional center of jazz. In an era in which every small town had its own dance hall, countless bands toured incessantly to bring live music to every corner of the nation. In the vast territory of the upper plains from Wyoming to Minnesota, those bands were likely to come from Omaha.
“We were centrally located,” Love says. “This was the hub, the booking center for the biggest dance territory in the world ... we played all the dance pavilions and ballrooms in the Midwest. Minnesota had thousands. Nebraska had hundreds ... all the bands were working six or seven nights a week. So therefore, to service these bands, we brought musicians from all over the country to Omaha because the employment was here."
“There were some other cities like Kansas City, or Oklahoma City, where they had some bands, but Omaha was the hub because we were centrally located. So hundreds of black musicians came here. From these were some great players. The proof of it is, where did they go, those who were good, Ellington, Basie, every band of any note had several ex-Omahans. They might not have been born in Omaha, but they lived here for several years while they played.”