Obituary: Richard Boone

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THE TROMBONIST Richard Boone had a voluble way of jazz singing. One always thought one understood the words, but didn't quite.

Count Basie, for whom Boone worked as trombonist and vocalist, was, on the other hand, taciturn to the point of barely communicating. Basie would not be interviewed and barely spoke on stage. Consequently it was a contradiction when he used to introduce the garrulous Boone as "a man of very few words".

The ugly word for Boone's method was "vocalese". The trumpeter Clark Terry had originally invented the style and it became known descriptively as "mumbles". Terry can indulge in 10-minute sermons of nonsense, and Boone delivered his athletic monologues with an even clearer enunciation. As with Terry, the subject matter of that about which he sang was impenetrable. Boone added hysterical bouts of yodelling to Terry's original recipe.

When he was five, as so many jazz musicians from the American South had done as children, Boone began singing in the local Baptist church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Until he was 11 he went from church to church to sing solos. When he was 12 he joined a high school that had a music department. "If you wanted to take up music, there was a particular day to go to the band room. When I got there, everybody had been before me and all they had was a trumpet with keys that wouldn't work - and a trombone." Abandoning his ambition to be a tenor saxophone player, Boone took the trombone.

By the time he was 15 he had learned enough to go out on the road with Grover Lofton's band. The following year he won a talent contest as a singer with his version of "Embraceable You". His singing was influenced by Nat "King" Cole and his prize was to tour with the eminent Lucky Millinder Orchestra for a month. When he was 18, Boone volunteered for the army and for six years played in Special Service Orchestras. He travelled to Europe with one of these orchestras. "We played no marches or anything like that. It was a crazy band. As far as the army was concerned, all the cats were like deadbeats. Good musicians, you know, but cats that wouldn't be soldiers!"

Released by the army in 1953, Boone returned to Little Rock to continue his music studies at Philander College. With no musical outlet in Little Rock, he moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and worked as a postal clerk. It took him a year to become established as a musician, and eventually he began to get recording dates and studio work. He played with jazz legends like Dexter Gordon and Sonny Criss and toured with the singer Della Reese from 1961 until 1966.

While in Los Angeles, he got to know Count Basie's tenor player and band manager Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Davis called him the next time Basie's band needed a trombone player, and Boone joined and stayed for three years. One night in a California club, after Boone had been in the band a couple of months, Basie began improvising a blues number that the rest of the band didn't recognise. Egged on by Davis, Boone went to the microphone and began singing a few words. Running out of lyrics he mumbled wordless syllables. Basie was impressed and called for the same routine the following night. It soon became a showcase for Boone and was so successful that Basie called for it every night. The band featured the number for the next 18 months, and Boone expanded his repertoire to murder standards like "I Got Rhythm", "Some of These Days" and "Bye Bye Blackbird".

By now Boone was featured more as a vocalist than a trombonist, although he continued to play fiery solos on the instrument on such numbers as "Hittin' Twelve" and "In a Mellotone". When he left Basie in 1968, he recorded an album, The Singer, under his own name with a big band in Los Angeles. But his time in Europe with the army band and work there with Basie had given him a taste for what he felt was a more relaxed way of life. He returned there often and like many black jazz musicians he was particularly attracted to Denmark.

He settled in Copenhagen in 1970. Two years later he joined the Danish Radio Band, an outstanding orchestra that was to become one of the finest in the world under shaping by its resident leader Bob Brookmeyer. Boone stayed with the band until 1985.

His lucrative job in the trombone section still left him plenty of time to tour Europe, and he played and recorded in many countries, often with American colleagues like Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Benny Carter. Another expatriate in Denmark was the ex-Basie arranger Ernie Wilkins. Boone joined him when he formed his Almost Big Band there in 1986.

Last year Boone recorded his last album, Tribute To Love, under his own name, with a band of Danish musicians.

Richard Boone, trombonist and vocalist: born Little Rock, Arkansas 24 February 1930; married; died Copenhagen 8 February 1999.

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