Roy Eldridge

Roy Eldridge


Roy David Eldridge (January 30, 1911February 26, 1989), nicknamed "Little Jazz" was an American jazz trumpet player. His sophisticated use of harmony, including the use of tritone substitutions, his virtuosic solos and his strong influence on Dizzy Gillespie mark him as one of the most exciting musicians of the Swing Era and a precursor of bebop.


Eldridge was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and originally played drums, trumpet and tuba. He led bands from his early years, moving to St. Louis, and then to New York. He absorbed the influence of saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins, setting himself the task of learning Hawkins 1926 solo on "The Stampede" in developing an equivalent trumpet style.

Eldridge played in various bands in New York in the early 1930s, as well as making records and radio broadcasts under his own name. His rhythmic power to swing a band was a dynamic trademark of the jazz of the time. It has been said that "from the mid-Thirties onwards, he had superseded Louis Armstrong as the exemplar of modern 'hot' trumpet playing".

Eldridge was very versatile on his horn, not only quick and articulate with the low to middle registers, but the high registers as well. The high register lines that Eldridge employed were one of many prominent features of his playing, another being blasts of rapid double time notes followed by a return to standard time. These stylistic points were heavy influences on Dizzy Gillespie, who, along with Charlie Parker, brought bebop into existence. Eldridge participated in some of the early jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse. A careful listening to BeBop standards, such as the song BeBop, will reveal how much Eldridge influenced this genre of Jazz.

In May 1941 Eldridge joined Gene Krupa's Orchestra, and was successfully featured with rookie singer Anita O'Day on a series of recordings including the novelty hit "Let Me Off Uptown". However, Eldridge complained that O'Day was upstaging him and the band broke up after Krupa was jailed for marijuana possession in July 1943. Eldridge then joined Artie Shaw's band.

In the postwar years, he became part of the group which toured under the Jazz at the Philharmonic banner. He moved to Paris for a time, before returning to New York, where he worked with Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald and Earl "Fatha" Hines among others. In 1971, Eldridge was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. After a stroke in 1980, he continued performing on other instruments for the remainder of his life.


  • John Chilton: Roy Eldridge, Little Jazz Giant (Continuum: 2002) ISBN 0-8264-5692-8

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