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"Buck" Clayton

trumpet player who led one of the first jazz bands to play in the Orient

Buck Clayton

Wilbur Dorsey Clayton was born into a musical family in Parsons, Kansas, on November 12, 1911. His father, a minister, taught him the basics of music. Learning the trumpet as a teenager, he performed with the church band, which featured his mother on organ. He heard his first jazz music when the George E. Lee Band played in Parsons. After high school, Clayton went to California, where he began his professional career.

In Los Angeles, Clayton joined Charlie Echols' band, playing taxi dances and ballrooms. Clayton and other band members later joined forces with Broadway producer Earl Dancer to work in movies. When Dancer disappeared with the payroll, Clayton took over leadership of the band; he was all of 23 years old.

Clayton took the band to Shanghai, China, where it performed at the Canidrome Ballroom. One of the first jazz bands to play in the Orient, Clayton's band attracted Madame Chiang Kai-shek and other celebrities. The Clayton Band spent two years at the Canidrome, with a short stint in Japan thrown in. A free-for-all fight during one of the band's concerts cost it the job at the Canidrome, and Clayton brought the band back to the United States.

Returning to Los Angeles, Clayton and his band played several seasons at Sebastian's Cotton Club and Club Araby. In the summer of 1936, he left for New York to join Willie Bryant's band at the original Cotton Club. On his way east, however, he stopped off in Kansas City and joined Count Basie's band at the Reno Club, replacing Lips Page as star soloist. Clayton's solo excellence, arrangements and compositions helped Count Basie's band achieve national fame. Clayton remained with Count Basie until he was drafted in 1943.

After his discharge in 1946, Clayton joined Norman Granz's newly formed Jazz at the Philharmonic. Returning to New York in 1947 and 1948, he played the Savoy Ballroom with Jimmy Rushing's band. During the 1950's and 1960's, he toured Europe with his own group and freelanced with a host of other notable band leaders including Joe Bushkin, Jimmy Rushing, and Frank Sinatra. He also recorded as a sideman and a leader, including a series of jam sessions for the Columbia label.

In 1969, Clayton discovered he had some lip problems and was forced to cut back on his playing. By the late 1970's, however, the problem had become so serious that he began focusing more on directing, composing and arranging, while teaching at Hunter College in New York City.

In 1987, Clayton formed a big band to perform his compositions, and continued creating music for and leading his "Swinging Dream Band" until his death, on December 11, 1991.

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This page was last updated on 09/24/2017.