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Happy Birthday, Cat Anderson!

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Jazz trumpeter William “Cat" Anderson (1916-1981) was born in Greenville, South Carolina. His parents died when he was only four years old, so Cat grew up in an orphanage in Charleston. It was here that he learned how to play the trumpet. Fellow orphans gave him the nickname “Cat," not for his trumpet playing but for the way he fought on the playground.

He played with various big bands in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including Claude Hopkins' and Doc Wheeler's groups, and he recorded with Lionel Hampton. In 1944, he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra for the first of several long stays, punctuated by short breaks during which he attempted (unsuccessfully) to start his own bands. He was with Duke from 1944 to 1947, the entire decade of the Fifties, and from 1961 to 1967. After 1971, he settled in Los Angeles and mainly did studio work. He died of a brain tumor in 1981.

Cat was famous for his high-note playing. He had a range of five octaves and could play up to triple C with astonishing power. But he was no mere blaster—he could also play in a swinging and subtle style with the mute, as seen in this video with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1967.

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This story appears courtesy of Riffs on Jazz by John Anderson.
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