Working for my father’s home improvement business during high school taught me to appreciate the hard work supporting our household. It also paid for the music in my earphones, which were usually on full blast as I swept floors and fetched coffee. I listened to a lot of music working the family business, but one job still stands out because it introduced me to Eddie Durham.
I had just purchased the Count Basie collection playing on my Walkman as I stuffed insulation. After a string of bright, up-tempo tunes including “One O’Clock Jump,” “John’s Idea,” “Out the Window” and “Swinging the Blues,” a moodier, minor key piece materialized. It had the same loose Basie beat and spare but powerful ensemble figures. Buck Clayton‘s tart-toned muted trumpet was also recognizable. Yet the chromatic drawl I heard gave the band a more structured, darker persona. All the dusty, scratched cassette case in my pocket told me was that the song was called “Topsy.” A lot of curiosity and a little research told me that this was Eddie Durham:
I also realized that I already knew of Eddie Durham without knowing who Eddie Durham was. He had arranged all those other numbers for the Basie band, and his name would keep coming up in the recordings of Jimmie Lunceford, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller and Jan Savitt. Later on I would discover his electric guitar on the Kansas City Six sides he made with other Basie sidemen for the Commodore label. Eventually I would have to stop counting the number of times I uttered, “Wow, that was Eddie Durham on trombone!” My career responsibilities and knowledge of jazz have changed since first hearing “Topsy,” but more importantly I keep encountering Eddie Durham. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
Durham doesn’t receive the same attention as contemporary arrangers like Don Redman, Sy Oliver or the legendary Duke Ellington. His trombone playing never spurred any followers the way Jack Teagarden did, and Charlie Christian’s pioneering work has overshadowed Durham’s electric guitar as well as his influence on the young Christian. Eddie Durham is easy to appreciate but not always easy to find.
Durham’s children, daughter Marsha “Topsy” Durham and son Eric, are helping to change that. Their website honors their father with fastidious, loving care. From Durham’s beginnings as a musical director for a wild West shows to his post-retirement comeback, visitors can read about Durham’s life, peruse photos, find links to other sources and even enjoy a concise, informative documentary featuring Dan Morgenstern, Loren Schoenberg and Vince Giordano. It’s an incredible resource and tribute to their father’s legacy. In the meantime we’ll all look forward to hearing more of Eddie Durham.
Look, learn and best of all listen at DurhamJazz.com!