Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Callender Date

Gone Garner: One of Erroll's classic trios, with Doc West on drums and the great George
"Red" Callender on bass, in a studio in Los Angeles around 1947.

One of the musicians whose records I have been especially looking for over the years is Red Callender. An early modernist on the bass, Red not only was a teacher and jazz pedagogist, but also a fine composer and arranger, a fact that is all but forgotten today. He was also one of the first contemporary players to take the tuba seriously as a solo vehicle.

Red Callender in the studio with
Shelly Manne, recording on tuba
for Contemporary Records.
Red was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1918 and grew up in New Jersey. In his teens, he hooked up with Louis Armstrong's big band and traveled west to L.A. There he put down roots, formed his own small band and went to work for the movie studios. In 1946, he had a small part in the "jazz" film, "New Orleans," with Armstrong, and then was in the rhythm section for "Jammin' the Blues." He made good money working for Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic and then joined Stan Kenton's orchestra in the early '60s. Along the way, he had many students, the most prominent being the formidable Charles Mingus. Mingus honored his mentor by giving him a spot in his big band at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival. Red's last recordings were done with clarinetist John Carter and the great flute player and composer, James Newton.

By my count, Red made three long-playing albums – two for Crown, and this one for Metrojazz. I have all three, but this one has the best sound, so it's the one I'll post here. I had it out because I did a birthday broadcast a week back for his 97th (he was born on March 6). The original compositions and arrangements are quite nice, and the playing is solid. But it's Red's tuba that is the real kick. He features it heavily (pun intended), and plays with real verve and style. It's hard to believe he was seriously blowing that behemoth way back in 1958 when these sides were recorded.

I can't remember where I got this LP, only that it was a long time ago. Its cover was in sorry shape, but the vinyl was clean, so was delighted to find it. I've played it many times on the radio, and now you can play it whenever you wish, too. As always, this rip comes directly from the original LP with only a minimal cleaning of the sound. A caveat, though: there are a few bleebles here and there on several tunes.


The Lowest 
The Music of Red Callender
Metrojazz E1007

Collective personnel (see cover for individual listings)
Gerald Wilson, tp; John Ewing, tbn; Buddy Collete, cl, ts, fl; Hymie Gunkler, as; Marty Berman, bar; Gerald Wiggins, Eddie Beal, p; Billy Bean, Bill Pittman, g; Red Callender, b, tuba; Red Mitchell, b; Bill Douglas, d.
Los Angeles, CA; 1958-59

1. Autumn in New York
2. Pickin', Pluckin', Whistlin' and Walkin'
3. The Lowest
4. Of Thee I sSing
5. Dedicated to the Blues
6. They Can't Take That Away from me
7. Five-Four Blues
8. Tea for Two
9. Another Blues
10. Volume, Too
11. I'll Be Around

Find it here:

Red as the junior member of the house band in "New Orleans." From left, Sid Catlett,
Mr. Callender, Charlie Beal, Louis Armstrong, Bud Scott, Kid Ory and Barney Bigard.


  1. This looks like an enjoyable listen. Thank you for sharing. I had no idea Red played the tuba. That will be great to hear. Thank you again for so much good stuff.

    1. Hope you like it, JC. Not too adventurous, but tasty. Sorry for the occasional distort -- the LP wasn't as clean as I originally thought it was.