Obituary: Tommy Turrentine
Wednesday 28 May 1997
He was born in 1928, in Pittsburgh. By the time he was 18 he was a good enough musician to join Benny Carter's big band and two years later he was touring with George Hudson's orchestra in a line-up which included the future Count Basie arranger Ernie Wilkins and the pianist Fritz Jones, who later changed his name to Ahmad Jamal.
Turrentine worked with the big bands of Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie and in 1951 he was briefly with Count Basie. The following year he joined a small group led by the saxophonist and vocalist Gay Crosse which also included a young John Coltrane. Then in 1953 both Turrentine brothers were employed by Earl Bostic. They were given no solos but were present on some of Bostic's major selling records such as Off Shore.
Turrentine's highest profile was in the 1960s. After working as a member of the drummer Max Roach's sextet in 1959 and 1960 he became a busy freelance musician based in New York. He was called upon to play on several important sessions for the Blue Note company following appearances on record with Roach and the singer Abbey Lincoln.
His work on the pianist Sonny Clark's Leapin' and Lopin' (1961) drew critical praise and Blue Note were quick to employ his talents on further LPs under the leadership of the pianist Horace Parlan, the organist John Patton, the alto-saxophonist Jackie McLean and Lou Donaldson, as well as pairing him off with his brother Stanley on Jubilee Shout. But, apart from one occasion when he fronted the Max Roach Sextet under his own name for the Time Label (later re-issued by the Bainbridge company), he was not called upon to act as a leader himself.
Early in 1964 he worked briefly in the "Five Spot" club in New York with an ephemeral Charlie Mingus group but his appearances on record were sparse. The avant-garde saxophonist Archie Shepp chose him as a partner for his Mama Too Tight album made for the Impulse label in 1966, but such engagements were few and far between. As his brother's popularity increased, by way of records with the organist Shirley Scott and programmes of tunes slanted at a wider audience, so Tommy Turrentine's public image faded. One of his last-known recording sessions was with the orchestra pianist Sun Ra in the Eighties.
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.
For a man of his stature he is not well represented on record today, but that does not lessen the impact of his passing.
Thomas Walter Turrentine, trumpeter: born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 22 April 1928; died New York 13 May 1997.
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