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John Clayton Remembers Snooky Young

A leading bassist on one of the great trumpeters

John Clayton
Snooky Young performing with the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at the 2010 Playboy Jazz Festival

People lucky enough to have sat next to Snooky Young consistently say he was the best lead player ever. I have heard this from Jon Faddis, Sweets Edison, Marvin Stamm, Clay Jenkins, Oscar Brashear, Bobby Bryant-the list is endless. Everyone has different things to say about what made him such an icon. I always noticed two things: the vocal quality in his playing and his energy. He performed his lead parts as if he were singing. Listen to where and how he would use vibrato, shakes, falls, dynamics and articulation-he’s singing! And the energy behind it would make his song go through your bones: the tone, the force and the intensity. I enjoyed listening to the tips he would give other lead players, like, “Don’t play so loud! You’re the lead player. Let them come to you!”

He remained a classy but downhome kind of guy. His clothes were always neat, dignified and fashionable; his ego was balanced. He led a band in the ’40s that featured his good friend Lester Young and Lady Day. As Snooky would joke, “Who was that singer? I can’t remember her name. You know her! Who was she? Oh, yeah-Billie Holiday!” Not only did Billie sing in his band, she would prepare pigs’ feet for Snooky and Prez.

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