Alvin Alcorn

New Orleans jazz trumpeter with a lyrical style
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The Independent Online

Alvin Elmore Alcorn, trumpeter: born New Orleans, Louisiana 7 September 1912; married 1931 Lulsbia Joseph (died 2003; four daughters, and two sons and one daughter deceased); died New Orleans 10 July 2003.

It is probable that as many people saw Alvin Alcorn's appearance in a James Bond film as heard him play his trumpet. At the New Orleans street parade that opens Live and Let Die (1973), a passer-by says "Whose funeral is it?" "Yours," says Alcorn, as he stabs the questioner in the heart.

Otherwise, his long career as a trumpet player was less eventful. Raised in New Orleans, Alcorn became a master of the collective ensemble and his trumpet lead graced many of the best later recordings of New Orleans jazz. He was a lyrical and not an aggressive trumpeter, and in his later career became a fine interpreter of ballads. His improvisations were simple and uncluttered and he had an attractive tone on the instrument.

He was taught music by his brother, a clarinet player. Alvin Alcorn began working professionally in 1930 with the violinist Clarence Desdune and the next year toured Nebraska and Kansas in Desdune's band. He left to join Armand J. Piron's Sunny South Syncopators and then, from 1931 to 1942, toured the southern states with a territory band led by the trumpeter Don Albert. Alcorn recorded with the band as its records became popular across the South, but at that stage he didn't take any solos.

After army service he returned to New Orleans and played with long established locals like Sidney Desvigne, Papa Celestin and Alphonse Picou. However, it has been noted that anyone with any talent in New Orleans got out of the city as quickly as they could. In 1954 Alcorn followed the well-worn musicians' path to Los Angeles to work with Kid Ory, the senior trombonist and bandleader who had left New Orleans in the early Twenties.

Alcorn's best recorded work was in Ory's band. Ory had always had good trumpet players who were masters of the New Orleans style ensembles, and Alcorn was one of the best. In 1955 the band appeared in the film The Benny Goodman Story and Alcorn's fame was assured when he toured Europe with Ory's band the following year. He also visited Europe again with the New Orleans clarinettist George Lewis's band.

Alcorn left Ory and returned to New Orleans in August 1956 to record with Paul Barbarin and worked there regularly, leaving the city for innumerable European tours. He visited England several times to play with Mike Casimir's New Iberia Stompers and, in 1978, with the Chris Barber band. In 1973 he toured in Australia, but always returned to his home city where he played regularly with the clarinettist Louis Cottrell. Eventually he settled down with his own trio at Commander's Palace, a busy restaurant in the tourist area of New Orleans.

Alcorn had the unusual experience of having his death noted as having occurred in 1981 in his entry in Leonard Feather's Encyclopaedia of Jazz. Alcorn's son Sam was a Bebop trumpet player, but in 1998 he predeceased his father.

Alcorn recorded often but, regrettably, his post-Kid Ory recordings were made for small companies and most of them suffer from poor sound quality.

Steve Voce