Born Urban Clifford Green on August 8, 1926, in Mobile, AL; married Kathy Preston (a singer); children: Jesse.
Urbie Green was among the first musicians to recognize the versatility of the trombone and expand its uses as a lead and solo instrument in jazz music. Beginning as a teenager in the 1940s, Green appeared with a variety of jazz bands and orchestras, playing swing and bebop with such artists as Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Charles Mingus, and Coleman Hawkins, and supporting such singers as Billie Holiday, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Jimmy Rushing, and Frank Sinatra. Discussing Green's groundbreaking trombone contributions to jazz, Paul Berliner noted in Thinking in Jazz: Infinite Art of Improvisation: "Just as string bass players faced challenges adapting Charlie Parker's fluent melodic lines to their instrument, many trombonists initially found learning bebop patterns discouraging. When artists like J.J. Johnson and Urbie Green, through the use of such techniques as alternate slide positions, demonstrated the possibility of performing pitches rapidly with minimal movement of the right arm and wrist, trombonists began to feel at home with the new idiom."
Born Urban Clifford Green on August 8, 1926, in Mobile, Alabama, Green's life as a musician began when he took piano lessons from his mother. "She didn't know a lot about music--she played by ear--but she knew a few fundamental things about reading...," Green told Down Beatmagazine's Herb Nolan. "We practiced by playing the sheet music for the popular songs of the day because we didn't have practice books. That's probably why I never got to be very good on the piano. But it did develop my harmonic sense, I guess." He switched to the trombone--the same instrument his two older brothers played--when he was 12. One of five children, Green was 15 when his father died. In order to help support his mother and younger sister, he began playing professionally with Mobile bands and moved to California the following year. Among his main influences were trombone players Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Lawrence Brown, J. C. Higginbotham, Jack Jenning, and Tommy Young. But Green has also stated that he considered musicians of instruments other than the trombone to be even more influential, including cornet player Bill Lagman, trumpet player Dizzie Gillespie, and saxophone player Lester Young.
After stints playing in West Coast bands led by Tommy Reynolds, Bob Strong, and Frankie Carle, Green played with legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa from 1947 to 1950. In 1950, he joined Woody Herman's Third Herd. Discussing his experiences with Krupa and Herman, Green told Nolan: "I enjoyed both those bands in different ways. Gene's band was more arranged, while Woody had a lot of head arrangements going." With the former band, Green's featured number was "Skylark," and with the latter band, he soloed on "My Silent Love." Nolan described Green in the Third Herd as "one of the most influential trombone players around, combining articulate speed--fast clusters of notes--with a beautiful, full warm sound. It was a sound that became a classic model for young players learning the instrument. It still is."
Throughout the 1950s, Green furthered his reputation as a versatile and virtuoso jazz trombonist who led his own recording band and performed with some of the most renowned jazz and popular musicians of the decade. In the mid-1950s, he played on the Buck Clayton jam sessions that were released as Buck Clayton Jam Session and The Hucklebuck and Robbin's Nest. He also played with Clayton on a recording of songs popularized by Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton Jams Benny Goodman. Coincidentally, Green later played sporadically with Goodman, appearing both on screen and on the soundtrack for the 1955 film The Benny Goodman Story.
During this period, Green lived in New York City, where he was close to the city's jazz clubs and recording studios, and, according to essayist Gunther Schuller in The Oxford Companion to Jazz, "became, even more than [trombonist Jimmy] Knepper, the central figure in that city's freelance jazz recording scene. Gifted with a truly spectacular, dead-sure technique, incredible speed, and a rich, perfectly centered warm tone, his playing could encompass the complete range of musical expression, from the suave elegance to the most exuberantly lusty drama." In demand as a recording studio musician, Green played on sessions for Perry Como, Mel Torme, Betty Carter, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, LaVern Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Quincy Jones, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Rushing, and Charlie Parker. He also released several highly regarded albums as a bandleader in the 1950s, including Blues & Other Shades of Green and Urbie Green Octet: Slidin' Swing.
The 1960s were no less hectic for Green's recording and performing career. Among his accomplishments, he played with Count Basie's orchestra and fronted Tommy Dorsey's orchestra from 1966-67. He guested on recordings by Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Jimmy Smith, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gil Evans, Astrud Gilberto, Johnny Griffin, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Oliver Nelson, Pee Wee Russell, Lalo Schifrin, Doc Severinson, Jimmy Smith, and Cal Tjader. He also collaborated on a series of albums with jazz producer Enoch Light, including The Persuasive Trombone of Urbie Green, The Persuasive Trombone of Urbie Green, Volume Two, Urbie Green and His 6-Tet, 21 Trombones, and 21 Trombones, Volume Two. He also played at the White House to commemorate Duke Ellington's seventieth birthday and receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon. Reviewing the evening, critic Whitney Balliett wrote in Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954-2000: "The music, which lasted an hour and a half, was exceptional. Some two dozen numbers were played, almost all were by Ellington and/or Billy Strayhorn. The high points included ... a gorgeous Urbie Green solo in 'I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good.'"
In the 1970s, Green moved to a farm in Pennsylvania, but continued to do session recording and releasing albums as a band leader into the 1990s. He told Nolan in 1976: "I enjoy different kinds of settings instead of just one thing; I like tunes with good chord progressions to them and I also like just plain old basic blues. I think variety is nice; to play straightahead jazz all night could get a little tiresome, like playing bossa novas all night might get a little boring, or jazz/rock all night." He also worked with musical equipment manufacturers Jet Tone and Martin, respectively, on the designs for the Urbie Green Mouthpiece and the Martin Urbie Green Model trombone. He also began experimenting with devices such as an electronic pickup in the trombone mouthpiece connected with an octave double and reverberation unit that he dubbed the "Green Monster." Among the albums he released in the 1970s are Green Power, Bein' Green, Urbie Green's Big Beautiful Band, The Fox, and Senor Blues. He subsequently released live recordings, including 1995's Sea Jam Blues.
by Bruce Walker
Urbie Green's Career
Began playing trombone, age 12; played with Tommy Reynolds Band, age 16; played with Bob Strong Band, age 16; played with Gene Krupa, 1947-50; gained national recognition playing with Woody Herman's Third Herd, 1950-53; recorded jazz sessions with Buck Clayton, 1953-54; played with Benny Goodman Orchestra, 1956; appeared in film The Benny Goodman Story, 1956; played with Count Basie Orchestra, 1963; played with Elliot Lawrence Band on Les Crane's Nightlife television show, 1965; fronted Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, 1966-67; performed at White House in honor of Duke Ellington's seventieth birthday, 1969; performed with Frank Sinatra on televised Main Event, 1970s.
Urbie Green's Awards
Down Beat Critics New Star, 1954.
- Selected discography
- New Faces, New Sounds , Blue Note, 1953.
- Blues and Other Shades of Green , Paramount, 1955.
- East Coast Jazz, Volume Six , Bethlehem, 1955.
- The Lyrical Language of Urbie Green , Bethlehem, 1955.
- The Melodic Tones of Urbie Green , Bethlehem, 1955.
- Urbie Green and His Band , Vanguard, 1955.
- All About Urbie Green , Paramount, 1956.
- Let's Face the Music and Dance , RCA, 1957.
- Urbie Green Octet: Slidin' Swing , Jazztone, 1957.
- Urbie Green , RCA Camden, 1958.
- Best of the New Broadway Show Hits , RCA Camden, 1959.
- The Persuasive Trombone of Urbie Green , Command, 1960.
- The Persuasive Trombone of Urbie Green, Volume Two , Command, 1961.
- Urbie Green and his 6-Tet , Command, 1963.
- 21 Trombones , Project 3, 1967; reissued, 1987.
- 21 Trombones, Volume Two , Project 3, 1967.
- Comin' Home Baby/Lumps , Project 3, 1970.
- Green Power , Project 3, 1971.
- Bein' Green , Project 3, 1972.
- Urbie Green's Big Beautiful Band , Project 3, 1974.
- The Fox , CTI, 1976.
- Senor Blues , CTI, 1977.
- (With Red Norvo)Live at Rick's Café American , Flying Fish, 1978.
- Sea Jam Blues , Chiaroscuro, 1995.
- Just Friends , E.J., 1997.
- Balliett, Whitney, Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954-2000,St. Martin's Press, New York, 2000.
- Berliner, Paul, Thinking in Jazz: Infinite Art of Improvisation,University of Chicago Press, 1994.
- Feather, Leonard, and Ira Gitler, Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz,Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Kernfeld, Barry, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Volume One, A-K,Macmillan Press, 1988.
- Kirchner, Bill, editor, The Oxford Companion to Jazz,Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Down Beat, October 1976, p. 14-15.
- "Green, Urbie," Trombone Page of the World, http://www.trombone-usa.com/tromb_g.html (January 2, 2002).
- "Urbie Green," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 2, 2002).
- "Urbie Green," Jazz Valley, http://www.jazzvalley.com/musician/urbie.green (January 2, 2002).
- "Urbie Green Biography," A Tribute to Urbie Green, http://www.applink.net/meesee/bio.htm (January 2, 2002).