Born in Birmingham, AL in 1912, Paul Bascomb was a founding member of the ‘Bama State Collegians, later formed his own band, and is acknowledged among the pioneers of rock and roll music.
Bascomb was a student of the legendary John “Fess” Whatley at Birmingham’s Industrial High School (now Parker High School), where he first learned clarinet, then took up tenor saxophone upon earning a scholarship to Alabama State College (ASU). It was there Bascomb helped create the ‘Bama State Collegians, which became a nationally-renowned touring band. The Collegians were credited with saving the college from financial collapse in the mid-1930s, by sending home the touring proceeds.
After a successful stint at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, Bascomb and the band permanently relocated to New York in 1934, where it would become known as the Erskine Hawkins Band. Bascomb played with the band there until 1944, along with younger brother Wilbur “Dud” Bascomb, a trumpeter. It was then he and Dud founded the Paul Bascomb Septet – and later big band – which played primarily in Chicago and Detroit.
In 1947, Bascomb began backing up a club singer from New Jersey known as “Manhattan Paul,” a name he later adopted for himself, becoming the more popular of the two. Where Paul Bascomb was known as a jazz band leader, “Manhattan Paul” was part of the early evolution of rock and roll – including a hit song in fact called “Rock and Roll.”
Bascomb settled in Chicago in the early 1950s, which would become his final hometown. His band was a regular at the Esquire from 1956 to 1970. By day, Bascomb served as a garbage collector for the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, until his retirement in 1982.
Over his career, Bascomb performed with Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington. In his book World of Swing, jazz historian and author Stanley Dance said Bascomb would have been better known had he been more skilled in the art of self-promotion. ”Although Paul`s solos on `Nona` and `Sweet Georgia Brown` were immensely popular, he has never been granted the prominence in jazz history that is his due.”
Bascomb died in Chicago Dec. 2, 1986 at the age of 74.
- Bham Wiki (https://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Erskine_Hawkins)
- Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1986-12-02-8603310163-story.html)
- Spontaneous Lunacy (https://www.spontaneouslunacy.net/artists-paul-bascomb/)
Instrument: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Got Cool Too Soon – Paul Bascomb and His All-Star Band (1952)
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