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Snooky Young, a Big Band Trumpeter

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Snooky Young Snooky Young, who led the trumpet sections of some of the world's most famous big bands—including, for some 30 years, Doc Severinsen's “Tonight Show" orchestra—died on May 11 in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 92. The cause was complications of a lung disorder, said William Selditz, a family friend.

As lead trumpeter in the ensembles of Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and many others, Mr. Young had one of the more challenging tasks in jazz. The lead trumpeter is in effect the concertmaster of a big band, establishing the way an arrangement is phrased and interpreted not just by the trumpet section but by the entire ensemble. He must also be comfortable in all registers, especially the highest ones. Mr. Young was widely regarded by his peers as one of the great lead trumpeters.

Eugene Edward Young (he acquired the nickname Snooky in childhood) was born on Feb. 3, 1919, in Dayton, Ohio. He began playing trumpet at the age of 6 and was soon touring the South in a family band with his parents and four siblings. He joined the Jimmie Lunceford band as lead and solo trumpeter in 1939.

He was later part of many other big bands, notably Basie's, with which he played on and off in the 1940s and from 1957 to 1962. In 1966 he became a charter member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, one of the few successful big bands formed after the 1940s, which performed every Monday night at the Village Vanguard in New York and continues to do so as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

His longest lasting, most high profile and most secure job was with the “Tonight Show" band, a position he held from the early 1960s until Johnny Carson retired as the show's host in 1992. A skilled soloist as well as a section leader, he was occasionally featured on camera.

Defying the conventional wisdom that trumpeters lose their lip strength as they age, Mr. Young continued to perform into the 21st century, most recently with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The bassist John Clayton, co-leader of that band, called him “the trumpet player's trumpet player."

Mr. Young was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2009.


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