[Dixielandjazz] On Grover Mitchell

JimDBB at aol.com JimDBB at aol.com
Sun Aug 24 01:23:49 PDT 2003

Memories of Grover Mitchell

I was quite shocked to see Steve Barbone's posting of the NY Times obit on Grover Mitchell.  I knew that he had cancer but that was about all that I knew. Grover Mitchell was leading the Count Basie Band and had played lead trombone with him for a number of years.

50 years ago Grover and I were young trombonists serving in the Dept. of Pacific Marine Corps Band. We were
stationed on Treasure Island, a Navy base off of San Francisco.  The Korean war was on and we were just several years out of High school. Grover had recently returned from Korea where he was with the 1st Marine division Band.  A marine division band is also a machine gun Co. The First Marine Division was involved in heavy action in the Korean war.

Grover was rotated back to the states with time left and he was put in the Dept. of Pacific Band.  I had just come in this band straight out of boot camp in San Deigo.  We hit it off right away as we were both in love with jazz. I was a traditionalist and Grover was a modernist-bebopper and even though the dixieland-bebop wars were in full heat we became good friends. He encouraged me by telling me that he know that I would be a 'gypsy'...a full time professional jazz musician. He said that he knew that he would be a 'gypsy.'

The modern jazz guys in this band often had jam sessions in the rehearsal hall at night and Grover became one of the top players in this group.  He and I would practice together in the shower room because of the good accoustics.
I carried a few 78 recordings around with me and one of them was from Louis Armstrong's landmark 'Town' Hall concert.  Some of Jack Teagarden's finest solo work was on this concert and Grover was the only young jazz guy that I could get to listen to him.  He in turn had some Dizzy Gillespie recordings with Trummy Young on and he made me listen to them. 

I felt then that Grover would become prominent in the jazz scene somehow.  I didn't hear anything of him for years until one day I picked up a Downbeat magazine and read that he had joined Basie's band. I went to see him when Basie came to Chicago and I was surprised to find that he was not playing any solos. He was easily a better soloist than the guy who was soloing.  We had a good talk and tipped a few.  He seemed disgruntled and I asked him why no solos. Grover said that if you come on the Basie's band and have a decent tone, Basie will put you on lead and  you won't get any solos. ( This play lead-no solos syndrome was come practice in big bands though it never made any sense to me.)

I saw Grover several times when he took over leading the band and he was doing a great job of it. We talked about those wonderful times so many years ago and we talked about what trombone players talk about...trombones and mouthpieces. I told him how much I liked the CD he had out with the Basie band doing Ellington classics. He did some fine solo work on that album.

Thanks, Grover, for the great memories and for contributing so much to the American music scene.

Jim Beebe

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