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Snooky Young: High Brass

Snooky Young

Lead trumpet players have always been viewed as the macho men of big-band jazz. The demands of soaring over a 17-piece ensemble, routinely scaling the area around high C and above, have busted the chops of more than one tough guy. The image of the big, brawny lead trumpeter has been so common, in fact, that it was memorialized in a routine that Pete Candoli used to do in the ’40s with Woody Herman, in which-in the finale segment of the tune “Apple Honey”-Candoli would leap onstage in a Superman costume, playing stratospheric high notes over the last chorus.

Looking at small, compact Snooky Young, it’s impossible to imagine him in a similar setting. Both his size and the modesty of his manner seem utterly contradictory to the larger-than-life image of lead trumpet playing. Yet he has been universally praised for the clarity and precision of his lead work with ensembles ranging from the Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie bands to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis and Clayton-Hamilton Orchestras. Add to that the fact that he has also been a much-admired soloist, particularly notable for his plunger-style playing, using a cup mute instead of a plunger.

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