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Truck Parham Dies at 91

Bassist Truck Parham, a longtime fixture in the Chicago trad-jazz scene, died on June 5 at his home (in Chicago), at the age of 91.

Born as Charles Valdez Parham on Jan. 25, 1911, Parham had a long and distinguished career in music that spanned several eras, playing and recording with many jazz legends. A successful athlete in his early days, Parham doubled as a professional football player with the Chicago Negro All Stars and as a boxer before turning to music. Although he began his musical career as a drummer, Parham switched to tuba and then was one of the first to make the transition from tuba to string bass in the 1930s, studying with legendary Count Basie bass player Walter Page.

In the mid-’30s, Parham became a mainstay on the Chicago jazz scene, playing with groups led by Art Tatum and Roy Eldridge, and became known nationally when he was hired by Earl Hines in 1940. After two years with Hines, Parham joined the big band of Jimmy Lunceford, with whom he remained until Lunceford’s death in 1947. Parham then returned to Chicago for the remainder of his career, and began an association with local traditional jazz pianist Art Hodes that would last for two decades. In the ’50s he was part of Muggsy Spanier’s Dixieland band, and played with Louie Bellson, Zutty Singleton and Gigi Gryce as well.

Parham acquired his nickname while working with the Zack Whyte band in the early 1930s. The bassist doubled as a singer and valet in this band, helping the musicians transport their instruments, which earned him the nickname “Truck.” He can be heard on recordings by Lunceford, Eldridge, Bellson and Hines, including the Hines record “Jelly Jelly,” featuring a vocal by Billy Eckstine, which was a moderate hit in the 1940s.

Parham is survived by two daughters and three granddaughters.

Originally Published