MILT BUCKNER (By Dave Penny)Born Milton Brent Buckner, 10 July 1915, St Louis, Missouri
Died 27 July 1977, Chicago, Illinois
The St Louis Fireball , Milt Buckner was a roly-poly bundle of dynamite whose short legs couldn't quite reach his piano pedals, but his intensely animated bouncing while he played his solos and his great sense of humour won the hearts of all but the most irascible jazz music critics. He is best remembered for his years with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, where his recorded arrangements included Tempo's Birthday, Slide Hamp Slide, Overtime, Rockin' In Rhythm and the perennial Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop and Hamp's Boogie Woogie. Milt Buckner lost both his parents while still a child, and grew up in Detroit playing piano in local bands - such as The Harlem Aristocrats and The Dixie Whangdoodles - by the late 1920s. After joining drummer Don Cox's band in 1932, Buckner began experimenting with patterned parallel chords, becoming famous as the earliest purveyor of what came to be known as "block chords" or "locked hands" style; a discipline that was eagerly pursued the following decade by younger disciples such as George Shearing and Oscar Peterson. Milt's older brother, saxophonist Ted Buckner, got Milt the job as Staff Arranger with McKinney's Cotton Pickers in 1934, but he continued working with the local Detroit groups of Don Cox and Jimmy Raschel, until he joined Lionel Hampton's big band as pianist and arranger in November 1941. Hamp's free-wheeling orchestra suited Milt admirably; the on-stage histrionics, the jump and swing repertoire and the musical and visual appeal of the band fit his charact er like a glove. Like Hamp and many of his fellow musicians, Buckner was not averse to a bit of self-derision and would set his piano stool deliberately high so that his feet did not touch the ground, or he would play the piano with his large belly! While with Hampton, Milt broke away sporadically to pursue his own career on Savoy Records from 1946 to 1948, after getting an early taste recording a lone side under his own name for Hamp's Hamp-Tone label. Recording with a small quartet or quintet, he achieved sufficient success to quit Hamp's band in 1948 at which time Milt quickly formed his own orchestra which recorded for MGM Records, but the timing was wrong and it foundered after just a few months of existence. Milt returned to Hampton in 1950 for another two years during which time he switched from piano to organ - after being influenced by Wild Bill Davis' playing on Louis Jordan's Tamburitza Boogie - an instrument he was largely to stick with for the rest of his life. As a jazz organist he recorded for Regent (1952), Scooter (1952-53), Brunswick (1953), Capitol (1955-57), Argo (1959-61) and Bethlehem (1962-63) before recording extensively in Europe throughout the 1960s and 1970s for the likes of Black & Blue, MPS and Jazz Odyssey. With the rise of the international jazz festival scene in the 1960s, he began to tour extensively. He died in 1977 shortly after setting up his organ for a live performance with his old buddy Illinois Jacquet at Jazz Showcase. He was just 62. Recommended listening: The Chronological Milt Buckner 1946-1951 (2002, Classics CD 5032) - 20 tracks featuring all the issued recordings he made as a pianist with his own band for Savoy, Regent and MGM, in both big band and small jump combo formats, prior to his switch to hammond organ. The Lionel Hampton Story (2000, PROPERBOX 12) - 4CD box set featuring many recordings spotlighting Buckner as pianist and arranger with the high-flying Hampton band.
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