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Big Sid Catlett in 5 Clips


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Sidney “Big Sid" Catlett was an extraordinary drummer who immediately grasped and advanced nearly all jazz styles—New Orleans, Chicago, Swing and bebop—to widen his playing and recording opportunities. As a result, he played with masters of the forms: Louis Armstrong; Eddie Condon and Muggsy Spanier; Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington; and Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. With bebop, he helped establish the drumming approach almost from the jazz style's start in 1945.

Born in Evansville, Ind., Catlett spent the 1930s recording in small groups led by Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge and Teddy Wilson, among others, He also appeared in Fletcher Henderson's big band. Then in 1938, he began playing and recording steadily with Louis Armstrong, and performed with Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington in the 1940s.

In May 1945, he recorded bebop for Guild Records in Dizzy Gillespie's All-Star Quintet and performed behind Gillespie and Charlie Parker at Town Hall in June. His strong, versatile and poly-rhythmic style allowed him to grasp the new seemingly haphazard technique, playing bop with authority from the start.

In the late 1940s, Catlett rejoined Armstrong and recorded with Eddie Condon, with whom he had recorded in the 1930s. On March 25, 1951, Catlett collapsed and died while visiting friends backstage at a “Hot Lips" Page benefit concert at the Chicago Opera House. He was 41.

Here are clips of Big Sid Catlett in action, the first being a reminiscence by eminent jazz historian Dan Morgenstern:

Here's Dan on Catlett...

Here's Catlett in the early 1940s...

Here's Catlett with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Town Hall in June 1945...

Here's Catlett's output between 1944 and '46...

And here's one of Catlett's final recordings in March 1950 with cornetist Muggsy Spanier and his band playing Dixie Flyer (the first track)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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