Buddy Morrow: Trombonist and bandleader who shot to fame with the Fifties hit 'Night Train'

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:02

What do you call a beautiful girl on the arm of a trombone player? A tattoo.

The trombone and trombonists have been largely out of favour with American audiences for many years – since the days of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, in fact. But Buddy Morrow came after them, and he made the last great trombone hit record. It was "Night Train", done on 12 April 1952, and it swept across the world. I heard it daily for weeks over the tannoy in my National Service barrack hut. It was a brassy, raucous, blasting record, characterised by great smears from Morrow's trombone and propelled by a bumpy, repetitive rhythm theme which foreshadowed the impending rock'n'roll. Morrow became a star on the back of it. Almost everybody loved it.

But not Duke Ellington. The tune had a tawdry background. Ellington had played his own tune "Happy Go Lucky Local" in 1947 when the tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest was briefly in his band. "Night Train", allegedly composed by Forrest, proved to be a note-for-note borrowing from the tenor part sheet music of "Happy Go Lucky Local". In public Ellington was gracious about Morrow's recording. "It must have been a good tune if someone wanted to steal it. We must be flattered and just go on to write something better." But in private he was enraged.

"It hurts and it's offensive. You threaten to sue and then you postpone until it's too late and then you get realmad," Ellington confided to Stanley Dance. "But you do nothing but spoil your disposition."

"Night Train" made Buddy Morrow's name and raised him to a different level as an instrumentalist. But he had already had a thoroughly worthy career in top-line bands stretching back to when he joined Artie Shaw's band in 1936. Before that, when he was 17, he had moved to New York to study at the Juilliard school of music. In 1937, he joined Bunny Berigan's band, leaving Bunny after a year to play for Tommy Dorsey, where he earned $125 a week. By now used to good wages, he became a member of Paul Whiteman's colossal orchestra in 1939. Whiteman paid him $375 for three days work a week or fewer.

For the last few years he'd been appearing under his real name, Moe Zudekoff, and also under his assumed name as Buddy Morrow. In 1940 he decided to stick to the latter and ditched Zudekoff. In the summer of 1941 he joined Bob Crosby's band and stayed for a year, soloing on three of Crosby's records, playing in the smooth style of Tommy Dorsey.

He was called up for the US Navy in 1942 and when he was discharged in 1945 he joined Jimmy Dorsey, leading the band for some time when Dorsey was ill. Morrow next formed his own band, but it wasn't a success and he went to work as a studio musician in 1946. He remained in quiet obscurity until 1950, when RCA Victor suddenly decided to promote him as a bandleader. He became almost the only big bandleader except Ellington who was able to mount tours and concerts at a time when nearly all the big bands had gone under. Some of his numbers from the time are included in the film Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra (1952). His big band was made up of obscure studio musicians, but they served him well and on the back of the success of "Night Train" they had hits with "One Mint Julep" and "Rose, Rose I Love You".

Work for the band eventually slowed down and Morrow returned to the studios, playing as a sideman in the Tonight show and continuing to tour occasionally with his own band. He also led a quartet in Las Vegas but he broke it up in 1973 and went to live in Florida.

However, a new career was to open up for him. He had been noted for his ability to copy the trombone style of Tommy Dorsey and in 1976, 20 years after Dorsey's death, Morrow played all Dorsey's solos again when he took over the leadership of the Tommy Dorsey ghost band. Amazingly, he was latterly able to lead the band from a wheelchair on stage. His last appearance with the band at the age of 91, was last Friday.

Steve Voce

Muni "Moe" Zudekoff (Buddy Morrow), trombonist, bandleader: born New Haven, Connecticut 8 February 1919; died c. 27 September 2010.

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