MAX KAMINSKY was probably better at leading an improvising small band than any trumpeter in the whole of jazz. He blew in a clear and direct manner, eschewing the aggression of many of his peers like Wild Bill Davison. His pithy lines left plenty of room for the other horns to improvise, and because of this he was responsible for the success of the various classic ensembles he played in between 1933 and 1945. His playing was based on the New Orleans style of Louis Armstrong and on that of the white New York-styled Bix Beiderbecke, both of whom Kaminsky worshipped.
'People criticise Louis for playing the same solos each time he plays a number,' he told me when I interviewed him in 1957. 'That's like calling Tchaikovsky a bum because his piano concerto sounds the same way each time you hear it. And there isn't anyone else who could sound like Louis does anyway. I was lucky enough to be around when Bix was at his greatest, too, and he really was as great as they say.'
Known as a hot trumpeter in Boston by the time he was 14, Kaminsky subsequently worked with Red Nichols, the Eddie Condon mob, and, after he turned down an offer from Benny Goodman in 1934, for Tommy Dorsey. He did work briefly for Goodman later but refused to stay and, turning down blandishments from Glenn Miller, eventually joined Artie Shaw in 1938.
Some of Kaminsky's greatest recorded work was done with Bud Freeman's Summa Cum Laude Orchestra and with Freeman's Famous Chicagoans in 1939-40 - both bands also included Eddie Condon and Pee Wee Russell. The trumpeter's greatest solo playing on record came a couple of years later with bands led by the pianist Art Hodes.
'I went into the Navy in 1941 striking for Admiral First Class,' he told me, 'and wound up Seaman Second Class.' He joined the Navy Band led by Artie Shaw, and toured the South Pacific. 'With Artie around, you can bet there was only one Admiral First Class.' Released from the service, he played with all the best New York musicians in clubs and at Eddie Condon's celebrated Town Hall concerts before forming his own excellent band in 1944. This included the trombonist Frank Orchard, the clarinettist Rod Cless and Fats Waller's old tutor, the pianist James P. Johnson.
Kaminsky continued to lead bands in New York for the next 40 years. He toured Britain and the Far East with Jack Teagarden in the late Fifties and as late as the middle Eighties Kaminsky still led the band at Jimmy Ryan's club, the only survivor of the jazz night-club business of the legendary New York 52nd Street era of the Forties. Although not a Chicagoan, he was the last living exponent of the original Chicago style school of jazz.Reuse content