February 26, 2020- Today's BHM topic is: Buddy Collette- The Early Years
Buddy Collette was one of the most influential musicians on the Los Angeles Jazz scene going back to the early 1940s. He attended Jordan High School where he met several other
musicians who would play an integral role in his career. Most notably Charles Mingus and the Woodman Brothers.
The Woodman’s were professional musicians even at that young age and were inspirational to Buddy, especially the fact that they all played multiple instruments. Britt Woodman was closest to Buddy in age and the two were lifelong friends and associates.
In addition to Buddy’s musical studies in school he also began taking lessons from the legendary Lloyd Reese. Buddy and Mingus practiced together constantly and started working
around the Watts area. Buddy worked professionally with the Al Adams band and the Cee Pee Johnson’s band.
Just as his career was beginning to take off he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and was put in charge of one of the musical units. After the war Buddy was able to use the GI Bill to attend both the California Academy of Music and the American Operatic Laboratory. He also continued his private studies and worked on mastering multiple reed instruments.
At the same time he and Mingus formed a short-lived but forward looking group called "The Stars of Swing." In addition to Collette and Mingus the group included Lucky Thompson, Britt Woodman and Chico Hamilton. They worked the Downbeat Club on Central Ave. but never recorded.
Los Angeles was home to the film studios which provided high paying jobs to musicians working on the soundtracks. These jobs historically had been off limits to African American musicians with a few exceptions.
Both Collette and Mingus were concerned with the segregation and inequality that went along with being a black musician on the west coast at that time. It came to the forefront when Mingus became enraged after being hired to work in a band backing Billy Eckstine at the million dollar theater and finding he was the only black musician in the band. They decided to do something about it.
At that time Los Angeles had two musicians unions..a white local and a black local. There was much inequality between the two so Buddy, Mingus, Red Callendar and Marl Young decided to try to merge the unions into one. Concerned musicians both black and white formed “The Interracial Symphony” which performed at The Humanist Hall on 23rd and Union. The group got a lot of publicity and support from the likes of Nat King Cole, Harry Sweets Edison and Frank Sinatra.
The success of the Interracial Symphony helped lead to the amalgamation of the two unions. In the early fifties, Jerry Fielding hired Buddy Collette to play in the studio orchestra for The Groucho Marx You Bet Your Life TV show. It was the first time an African American was hired as a full-time studio musician and opened the door for others to follow. From that point forward Buddy was in-demand as a musician in many different settings. During the 1950s he was one of the key figures of the west coast jazz movement both as a leader and as a member of the ground breaking Chico Hamilton Quintet.
He was a beloved musician, teacher and catalyst for change. Buddy Collette passed away in 2010 but his legacy is still felt heavily throughout Southern California and beyond.