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Big Sid Catlett
(1910 - 1951)

"Big Sid" Catlett was one of the most flexible drummers in the history of jazz. On one hand,
Catlett was skilled enough in the pre-modern styles to be Louis Armstrong's favorite
percussionist; on the other, Catlett's powerful swing and generous adaptability allowed him to
play commendably on the early Parker/Gillespie bop sides. Catlett excelled particularly as a
combo drummer in the swing era. A sensitive player possessing great drive and spirit, he was
every bit the equal of such better-known contemporaries as Jo Jones or Gene Krupa.

As a child in Chicago, Catlett played the piano and learned the rudiments of drumming. His first
professional gig was with Darnell Howard in 1928. Catlett played with other undistinguished
Chicago bands before moving to New York in 1930. There he became a hired gun, working
and recording with Benny Carter (1932), McKinney's Cotton Pickers (1934-1935), Fletcher
Henderson (1936), and Don Redman (1936-1938). In the late '30s and early '40s Catlett
worked and played endlessly, appearing on countless recording sessions with a staggeringly
wide variety of musicians. Catlett became Louis Armstrong's drummer of choice, from 1938 -
1942 he was featured with Pops' big band. In 1941, he played with a particularly excellent
Benny Goodman big band that also included trumpeters Billy Butterfield and Cootie Williams.

The advent of bebop appeared not to trouble him and if he never fully adapted his style he
certainly gave his front-line colleagues few problems. Though Catlett was not a bebop
drummer per se, he made an effort to accommodate the new music. He played on one of the
first bop recording dates in 1945, a session that produced the classic early Gillespie/Parker
sides. In the early '40s Catlett was a member of the superb Teddy Wilson Sextet. He also
joined Duke Ellington briefly in 1945. Catlett led his own bands throughout the '40s, until he
joined Louis Armstrong's All Stars in 1947. He remained with Armstrong until 1949 when the
years of all-night jam sessions began to catch up with him.

Catlett was forced to quit touring in 1949 due to ill health, but he continued to play, becoming
the house drummer at a Chicago club, Jazz, Ltd. He also worked with Eddie Condon and John
Kirby in New York in his final years. In early 1951 Catlett suffered from a bout of pneumonia
and in March he collapsed and died of a heart attack while visiting friends backstage at a Oran
‘Hot Lips’ Page benefit concert at the Chicago Opera House.

Although a brilliant technician, Catlett chose to play in a deceptively simple style. With the fleet,
smoothly-swinging Wilson sextet he was discreet and self-effacing; with Goodman he rolled the
band remorselessly onward, with Armstrong he gave each of his fellow musicians an
individualized accompaniment that defied them not to swing. Instantly identifiable, especially
through his thundercrack rimshots, Catlett always swung mightily. On stage, he was a
spectacular showman, clothing his massive frame in green plaid suits, tossing his sticks high in
the air during solos and generally enjoying himself.
Source: Chris Kelsey; All Music Guide

Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Big Sid Catlett, Louis Armstrong

Freddy Webster, Sidney Catlett, Scoops Carry, Trummy Young, Leonard Gaskin,
Budd Johnson, Snags Allen, Dizzy Gillespie, Doc West

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