FREDDIE MITCHELL (By Dave Penny)
Born 8 April 1918, Tampa, Florida
A shy, retiring and extremely private man, tenor saxophonist Freddie Mitchell's personality was in direct conflict with his on-stage persona. During the hours he appeared onstage nightly he was transformed into a raving wild-man ; mirroring the histrionics of such peers as Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb and Gatortail Jackson, Mitchell would stomp, shuffle and sway to the rhythm of his band while blowing his own white-hot solos.
Born in Orlando, Florida, in 1918, young Freddie Mitchell became a precocious blues pianist in nearby Tampa before moving to New York City with his family at about 13 years of age. As a teenager in The Apple, Freddie began learning to play clarinet and tenor saxophone and started listening to the recordings of heroes such as Coleman Hawkins. Upon leaving high school he turned professional and joined Benny Carter's Orchestra in late 1940, making his first recordings with that band in January 1941 for RCA's Bluebird subsidiary (see Classics 631). By the following month he had joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra for a residency at the Roseland Ballroom and went on to record some fine performances with Henderson's band for Columbia, two of which were chosen for issue on V-Disc (see Classics 648). Mitchell hopped between the Carter and Henderson bands in 1942 and also played briefly with Hot Lips Page and Louis Armstrong before joining Ovie Alston's Orchestra, remaining with Alston from 1942 to 1946 and making some records for the tiny Urban label. By 1949 when Mitchell was ready to go it alone, he was approached by Larry Newton, owner of Derby Records, to be a contracted artist and the in-house bandleader of his new r&b indie. Freddie gathered a collection of NYC-based musicians around him, including Joe Ball or Frank Hollins (trumpet), Slim Moore, Elmer Crumbley or Phatz Morris (trombone), Bill Graham or Pinky Williams (baritone sax), Joe Black/Jerry Blake, Art Sims or Harry Van Walls (piano) and Jerome Darr (guitar). In addition to recording his own stomping r&b instrumentals, Mitchell and his band were employed to excellent effect on recordings by Doc Pomus, Joe Black, Big Sheba, Eunice Davis, Sarah Dean, Honey Brown, Sandman Howard, Bette McLaurin, Sammy Cotton, Joyce Davis and others. Leaving Derby after three years, Mitchell recorded for Mercury (1952), Coral, Brunswick and Gem (1953), Jubilee (1954), Rock 'n' Roll (1955), ABC Paramount (1956-61) and a one-off session for Herb Abramson in 1959. His reason for leaving Derby, in part, was that by 1952 he had become a top New York session musician and can be heard on many hits, particularly those from Atlantic: Joe Turner's "Sweet Sixteen", Ray Charles' "It Should've Been Me", Ruth Brown's "Wild, Wild Young Men" and LaVern Baker's "Soul On Fire" to name a fraction. In 1953 Freddie was even one of the musicians included in a European touring r&b package show that featured LaVern Baker! During the early 1950s, pioneering rock 'n' roll disc-jockey Alan Freed had used Freddie's Derby recording "Moondog Boogie" as one of his theme songs, so when Freed formed his own orchestra in 1956, Mitchell, together with Sam "The Man" Taylor and Big Al Sears, was an obvious choice for a hot tenor man; he even got to re-record "Moondog Boogie" as "Rock 'n' Roll Boogie", which was featured in the 1956 film "Rock, Rock, Rock". The 1960s were sadly unkind to Mitchell and he eventually gave up his professional life as a musician to become a taxi driver, although he occasionally gigged around New York City in the 1960s as "Taxi" Mitchell.
This, the first volume of Freddie's superb jump instrumentals for Derby includes his only two Billboard r&b charters; "Doby's Boogie", which reached # 4 in 1949 and was dedicated to athlete Larry Doby, the first black baseball player in the American League, while "Easter Parade" was a stomping version of Irving Berlin's 1933 standard. First titled "Easter Boogie", the title was changed back to its original form at the request of an outraged Berlin - the publicity generated no doubt contributing to the records increased sales and # 7 chart placing in April 1950.
Dave Penny - January 2001
(Liner notes for Classics CD 5034, The Chronological Freddie Mitchell, 1949-1950. 22 tracks. Released 2002.)
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