He knew Mingus from childhood, but first worked with Phil Moore and Les Hite. After service in World War II he played with Boyd Raeburn before joining with Lionel Hampton in 1946. In the 1950s he would work with Ellington. As a member of Ellington's band he can be heard on The Complete Porgy and Bess, Such Sweet Thunder, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, the Black, Brown, and Beige (album) and Indigos (album).
In 1960 he moved on from Ellington to work in a pit orchestra. Later he worked with Mingus and can be heard on the 1963 album Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus. In the 1970s he led his own octet and worked with Toshiko Akiyoshi. In 1989 he was in the personnel for the album Epitaph (Mingus).
Steve Turre, among others, have cited him as an influence.