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Booker Little
Written by Dan Miller

(1938-1961) Booker Little was part of an incredibly talented generation of musicians from Memphis that included Phineas Newborn, George Coleman, Louis Smith and Frank Strozier. A young man of 18 when he first recorded, Little possessed an incredible level of maturity when he sounded the clarion call signifying his presence. A brilliant, sophisticated improviser and composer, Booker's trademarks were his huge, burnished tone and his blistering intensity.

In 1954, Booker went on to Chicago and in four years, he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in trumpet. He also studied theory, composition and orchestration. In those four years he gigged around Chicago and played with Johnny Griffin and the MJT. During his sophomore year at Chicago Conservatory, Booker roomed for some nine months with Sonny Rollins at the YMCA. Rollins introduced Booker to Clifford Brown and Max Roach in 1955 while the band was in Chicago.

In June 1958, Roach called and asked Booker to join his band. Over the next nine months Booker would record five albums as a member of Max's group: Max Roach plus Four on the Chicago Scene (Listen: My Old Flame and Blues), Max Roach plus Four at Newport (Listen: A Night In Tunisia and Minor Mode), Deeds Not Words, Award Winning Drummer and The Many Sides of Max Roach. During his first tenure with Max, Booker led his first date in October 1958 for United Artists (Booker Little Four: The Defiant Ones) featuring George Coleman (Listen: Milestones).

After leaving Max Roach's group in February 1959, Booker began free-lancing around New York, recording frequently as a sideman with the likes of Phineas Newborn (Down Home Reunion: Young Men from Memphis), Slide Hampton (Slide!), Bill Henderson (Bill Henderson Sings) and Frank Strozier (The Fantastic Frank Strozier).

Little's own projects were highly personal statements that featured his sophisticated writing and his stunning improvisations. His last three solo projects were: Booker Little Quartet (Listen: Opening Statement), Out Front and his masterpeice Victory and Sorrow. He returned to Max's group making two dates (We Insist, Freedom Now and Percussion Bitter Sweet).

In Eric Dolphy, Little found a perfect partner to explore the outer boundaries of music with. They were both interested in freedom, dissonance, variations in form and the emotional aspects of music. They explored those themes in their recordings together: Far Cry (Listen: Miss Ann) and Live at the Five Spot Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (Listen: Aggression, The Prophet and Bee Vamp).

Booker Little died on October 5, 1961 of uraemic poisoning (a blood disorder) at the age of 23.

See Article: Booker Little: His Life and Music by Dan Miller


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