Oran “Hot Lips” Page was one of the great jazz soloists to emerge from the Kansas City scene at the end of the nineteen thirties. He was originally from Texas where he started to play professionally at a very early age. He traveled with circuses and minstrel shows and backed a variety of female blues singers including Ida Cox and Ma Rainey. His idol was Louis Armstrong.
Around 1928 Walter Page recruited him to join the Oklahoma City Blue Devils. He’s well featured on the two Blue Devils recordings from 1929. In 1930 he went to Kansas City to join Bennie Moten. He made numerous records with Moten and established himself on the Kansas City scene as the outstanding trumpet soloist. In 1935 when Basie went into the Reno Club, Page was there as an added featured performer. He acted as emcee, sang the blues and played the trumpet.
As word began to spread beyond Kansas City about the Basie band, outside promoters and record executives started to become curious about what was going on there. When John Hammond came to town in 1936 to hear Basie in person, Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser, just happened to be there too.
Glaser thought Page was the potential star and approached him about becoming his manager. He agreed to take on the whole band as long as Page was the front man. Basie declined the offer and wished Hot Lips luck. Glaser convinced Lips that he would be the next Louis Armstrong with or without Basie.
Before long Hammond arranged for Basie to sign with Willard Alexander and head east. Lips stayed in Kansas City and continued on at the Reno Club. By the end of the year, Glaser kept good on his promise and sent Lips to New York as a single where he began a long engagement at Small’s Paradise in Harlem.
Although he never became a major name he was one of the most outstanding trumpet soloists during the swing era. He led his own groups on 52nd St. and was in high demand as a sideman with a variety of bands, most notably that great Artie Shaw band of the early 1940s.
During his New York years he brought a little of that Kansas City tradition with him as he continued to be a major force at the late night jam sessions in Harlem where he was happy to take on all challengers.