Jazz Professional               

JIMMY MAXWELL

Every trumpet player's ideal

In memory of the great lead trumpet player

Jimmy Maxwell played cornet as a boy and studied for two years with Herbert L. Clarke. At the age of fifteen he began playing trumpet with Gil Evans. In 1936 he worked with the Jimmy Dorsey band; later with Skinnay Ennis and Maxine Sullivan. He spent four years, from 1939 to 1943, with Benny Goodman, sitting next to Billy Butterfield and Cootie Williams in the Goodman trumpet section. Williams was one of the first black musicians to be employed by a white band leader. It was Jimmy who played the haunting growl obbligato behind Peggy Lee on her big hit with the band Why Don't You Do Right.

It was while he was at NBC later on that Goodman approached Maxwell to be one of the star musicians in the band for the Russian tour. Maxwell didn't want to go to Russia, but Goodman kept raising his offer. He also applied pressure and Maxwell had a call from one of the NBC bosses to tell him that it would be all right to take the six weeks off. Someone called from the State Department and suggested that it was Maxwell's duty as a patriot to make the trip. "I already take care of my patriotic duty by paying my income tax," said Jimmy. The man from the State Department said, "Yes, and we can look into that, too."

Goodman suggested that Maxwell's son David could travel as the band boy and showed him the duties involved in setting up music stands and so on. Maxwell relented and agreed to travel. In Leningrad, five weeks into the tour, Goodman's secretary gave Maxwell a bill for David's living costs at $32 a day. Maxwell confronted Goodman with the bill and reminded him of the agreement they had made. Goodman denied that he had ever agreed to David being the band boy. Defeated, Maxwell told Goodman, "Have the Russians give me a bill. I'll pay them, not you." The Soviet travel agency charged Maxwell $10 a day, not $32.

To get away from Russia, and Goodman, Jimmy phoned his wife in desperation, asking her to send him a telegram saying that there was an emergency at home and he was needed there urgently. Her cable read, Come home at once. The cat died, the dog died, everybody died.

After leaving Goodman in 1943 Maxwell took a job as a regular studio musician with CBS, working on The Perry Como Show and Johnny Carsonís Tonight Show. He later recalled, "Benny had me so buffaloed I didn't think anybody would hire me. Within a week of quitting the band it seemed like everyone in the country offered me a job. Count Basie offered me a job. I asked him why he hadn't ever asked him before. He said, "I couldn't afford to pay you." And I said, "You've offered me $100 a week more than Benny was paying me!" Woody Herman, everybody, offered me jobs, but I was determined to stay in town."

He was responsible for the haunting trumpet solo that plays right through the soundtrack of The Godfather. Starting in 1950 he added teaching to his activities. Together with his studio work Jimmy was much in demand, playing with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and, occasionally, over the years, the bands of Woody Herman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oliver Nelson, Gerry Mulligan, the New York Jazz Repertory Company and Chuck Israel's National Jazz Ensemble. Maxwell also appeared, later in life, with many Dixieland and swing bands, including Dick Sudhalter's New California Ramblers.

Maxwell was every trumpet player's ideal and probably summed himself up in an incident when he was leading the trumpet section at a recording date. One of the other trumpeters had a question about the phrasing on one of the passages. "How are you going to play this?" he asked. Maxwell smiled at the man. "Beautifully," he said.

Photo: Music Rebellion