Artist Details

Jabbo Smith

Jabbo Smith had one of the oddest careers in jazz history. A brilliant trumpeter, Smith had accomplished virtually all of his most significant work by the time he turned 21, yet lived to be 82. He learned to play trumpet at the legendary Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, and by the time he was 16, Smith showed great promise. During 1925-1928 he was with Charlie Johnson's Paradise Ten, a top New York jazz group that made some classic recordings. Smith was on a recording session with Duke Ellington in 1927 (resulting in a memorable version of "Black and Tan Fantasy") and played in the show Keep Shufflin' with James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. The high points of Smith's career were his 1929 recordings with his Rhythm Aces. These superb performances feature Smith playing with daring, creativity, and a bit of recklessness, displaying an exciting style that hints at Roy Eldridge (who would not burst upon the scene for another six years). But, although Jabbo Smith at the time was considered a close competitor of Louis Armstrong, he had hit his peak. His unreliability, excessive drinking, and unprofessional attitude resulted in lost jobs, missed opportunities, and a steep decline. After playing with one of Claude Hopkins' lesser orchestras during 1936-1938, Smith settled in Milwaukee and became a part-time player. Decades passed, and when he was rediscovered in the 1970s (when he was picked to perform in the musical show One Mo' Time), he was a weak player, a mere shadow of what he could have been.
Scott Yanow, Rovi