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Jazz Guitarist Al Casey Dies

Al Casey, best known as the main guitarist for Fats Waller’s band in the early 1930s and 1940s, died at the age of 89 on Sunday in Manhattan.

According to Albert Vollmer, leader of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band with which Casey had played with until 2001, the cause of his death was colon cancer. Casey had been hospitalized at the Dewitt Rehabilitation center for about a year.

Born Sept. 15, 1915, in Louisville, Ky., Casey’s successful musical career began in the early 1930s when he joined Waller’s group and remained his guitarist until Waller died in 1943. In 1939 and 1940, Casey worked with Teddy Wilson’s big band and recorded with Billie Holliday, Frankie Newton and Chu Berry.

In 1944, Casey played and recorded with Louis Armstrong when both were recognized as leading jazz musicians in an Esquire magazine readers’ poll. Over the next decades, Casey made the switch from acoustic to electric guitar and freelanced in various blues and swing venues. From 1957 to 1961, Casey played rhythm and blues with saxophonist King Curtis.

Vollmer was able to coax Mr. Casey out of retirement in 1981 when he joined the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, which was founded by Vollmer.

Casey is survived by his wife, Althea, and son, Al Casey Jr.

A 90th birthday celebration for Casey, scheduled for Thursday evening at St. Peter’s Church, 54th St. and Lexington Ave., will now be a memorial service open to the public.

Originally Published