Friday, February 4, 2011

TODAY IN BLACK HISTORY: Charleston Jazz Drummer's 60+ Year Career.

Born in the Appalachians, drummer Tommy Benford (April 19, 1905 – March 24, 1994) and his brother, tuba player Bill Benford, unfortunately wound up as orphans. Both boys ended up in the Jenkins Orphanage (Charleston, SC) and greatly benefited from the extensive musical training offered there. By 1914, Tommy Benford was traveling with the Jenkins Band up and down the East Coast. He also accompanied the Jenkins Band to perform at the London Expo. The Expo came to an abrupt end due to the outbreak of the First World War.

Benford began studying drums privately with Steve and Herbert Wright (both from the Jenkins Band) shortly thereafter and his performances with the Green River Minstrel Show circa 1920 are considered to be his first professional engagements.

Soon thereafter, Benford began drumming with the Marie Lucas Orchestra, and was based out of Washington, D.C. The capitol city was a hotbed of new jazz developments in the '20s, and the drummer began playing with Elmer Snowden, Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington.

Audio clip of Tommy Benford playing drums with Jelly Roll Morton, performing the "Shreveport Stomp."

During the 1930s Benford recorded prolifically with many jazz greats of the genre, including guitarist Django Reinhardt, Sidney Bechet, and Coleman Hawkins.

"Honeysuckle Rose" by the Coleman Hawkins All Star Jam Band (Benford, drums; Hawkins, sax; Reinhardt, guitar; Stephane Grappelly, piano.)

During the 1960s, Benford was still working as a professional drummer, the epitome of straight-ahead swing, for bandleaders Joe Thomas and Ed Hall. Students of drumming still study Benford's technique, in which he accents the second and fourth beats of a measure on recordings with Morton from the late '20s. . As he got older, Benford worked with the Saints & Sinners band. As late as the 1970s Benford was playing lengthy tours with the Clyde Bernhardt Orchestra, indicating great health for a man who had been playing drums since before World War I.

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