Obscure Trumpet Masters #10 – Tommy Turrentine

Tommy Turrentine (1928 –1997)

As a trumpet soloist Turrentine had all the qualities necessary for greatness. He had a full, warm tone throughout the range of the instrument and possessed the ability to create solos using long unbroken lines. His flair for melodic improvisation using long climaxes often contrasted sharply with the more disjointed creations of younger men who seemed anxious to brush aside convention. – Alun Morgan

He was the older brother of one of the most famous jazz musicians of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. His kid brother recorded dozens of albums, including a few that are fondly remembered as classics. He was every bit the musician that baby brother was. Yet Stanley Turrentine is a bona fide jazz legend, while Tommy Turrentine, who recorded only one album as a leader in his entire career, is unknown to all but ardent jazz fans and the many musicians who still marvel at his gifts, both as a trumpet player and as a composer.

Thomas Walter Turrentine, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, six years before Stanley.  He joined Benny Carter’s Big Band at eighteen. In his early twenties, he played with Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie and briefly with Count Basie.  He and Stanley then joined Earl Bostic in 1952 for a three-year bid. 

In 1959, the Turrentine brothers received their first major exposure when they joined Max Roach’s quintet. There, Tom and Stan took part in some enduring works, including Quiet as it’s Kept; Abbey Lincoln’s Abbey is Blue  and the drum battle Rich vs. Roach.  In 1960, while with Roach, he also recorded his first (and last) album, the eponymous Tommy Turrentine.  He was backed by his Roach bandmates plus pianist Horace Parlan.  Tommy Turrentine’s compositions took center stage, as he wrote five of the seven tracks on this solid and swinging date, which went unnoticed for the most part.

(Tommy Turrentine plays “Time’s Up”,  from Tommy Turrentine)

Ironically, Tommy Turrentine drew more attention for his work as a sideman, subsequent to his own album.  Stanley signed with Blue Note in 1961.  Tommy came along as a sideman on Stan’s first Blue Note album Comin’ Your Way.  Tommy also wrote the track “Thomasville” for that record; one of his most enduring compositions.  Tommy was not done yet for Blue Note; that year as he also played on and/or contributed tunes to  Parlan’s On the Spur of the Moment and Up & Down;  Jackie McLean’s A Fickle Sonance and Sonny Clark’s classic Leapin’ and Lopin’ .  In 1962-63, he added Stanley’s Jubilee Shout!!!, That’s Where it’s At and Never Let Me Go; Big John Patton’s Blue John and Lou Donaldson’s The Natural Soul to his performing and writing credits. 

(“Sow Belly Blues” from Lou Donaldson’s The Natural Soul. Tommy Turrentine – trumpet)

Though he was the technical equal of Blue Note’s rising trumpet stars Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, he wasn’t as personally brash as those two. Perhaps that intangible was the missing element that kept Tommy Turrentine from greater prominence. He was also said to suffer from some health problems that curtailed his work. Whatever the reason, Tommy Turrentine pretty much faded into obscurity by the mid ‘60’s; around the same time that Stanley was rising towards the pinnacle. 

(From Sonny Clark’s Leapin’ and Lopin’ – “Midnight Mambo” – Tommy Turrentine; composer and trumpet)

He would appear on a few albums (including interestingly enough, one with Sun Ra in 1988) and at a few club dates here and there, but by the ‘70’s, Tommy Turrentine, the musician, was in semi-retirement, with his wife, in his New York City brownstone.  Tommy Turrentine, the composer, the teacher and the mentor, never stopped working however, until his passing in 1997.  Like Idrees Sulieman (Obscure Trumpet Master #9) he wrote many compositions that went unperformed and were published by Don Sickler’s Second Floor music.  The four that are included in Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes series, are all memorable. 

(From Unsung Heroes; Vol.2 – Brian Lynch Sextet debuting Tommy Turrentine’s “It Could Be”)

His knowledge of jazz and the people who played it is one of the reasons why, though the public’s favorite Turrentine was Stanley, many musicians still remember Tommy with great respect and fondness.

(Tommy Turrentine from the NYPL’s Jazz Oral History Series (1993))

Recommended Recordings:

This is the final post in the Obscure Trumpet Masters Series. I’m humbled to know that so many jazz fans and musicians have taken the time to read all or part of this labor of love.  Special thanks to Brian Lynch, Dave Douglas and Jason Parker (three modern-day trumpet masters who deserve to be heard more often) for their words and tweets of encouragement.

I also appreciate the suggestions from everyone, for other fine artists who should be on this list. Since this was never intended to be an exhaustive study, I knew that there would be many great, underappreciated players who would not be mentioned. But I say to fans of trumpet masters such as Dupree Bolton, Richard Williams, Guido Basso, Tomasz Stanko, Howard McGhee and many others; y’all have given me some food for thought and additional study. Hmmm…perhaps there will be a second series.

Thanks again to all of you!

4 Responses to “Obscure Trumpet Masters #10 – Tommy Turrentine”

  1. wonderful series. Through out it, I often heard of the folk these trumpeters played with but not of them. Brian Lynch is still on our short list, maybe even more so now. I woke this morning with an e-mail from Jason Parker containing the info to download his brand new project. We supported it at Kickstarter and I am so glad that we did. After only the first 5 tracks, I am awed.

  2. Just came across this series & enjoyed immensely, thanks! As it happens I was familiar with all these players & even saw a few of them live. Constructive criticism: surely the greatest but most obscure was Dupree Bolton, surprised not to see him included!

    • Thanks for your kind words Paul. Glad that you enjoyed the series. As for Mr. Bolton, it took me longer than expected, but we have finally added him to the list. Hope that you dig that one as well.

  3. Tommy Turrentine went to junior high school in Pittsburg w/ the great trumpet teacher Jerome Callet, who lives and teaches in Staten Island. Jerome has many incredible stories about Tommy from those days, who was a musical prodigy and already playing on a professional level at the time.

    …& Thanks for the great post and great site – !

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