Eugene “Snooky” Young was one of the baddest jazz and studio trumpet players who ever lived. He passed away last week at the age of 93.
I had the privilege of seeing him perform live several times with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Gerald Wilson’s Big Band. He was still performing on the trumpet at 92 years-old!
Back in May 2006, when Snooky was a spry 88, I caught him at UCLA playing with his 89 year-old friend, Gerald Wilson‘s big band and snapped the first two photos on this page.
I was so pleased with the photo of I snapped of Mr. Young looking so dapper backstage that I emailed it to my friend, the brilliant professional photographer, Nick Ruechel. (check out some of his remarkable jazz portraits here, here and here) A few months later, Nick was hired by Jazz Times Magazine to photograph Snooky Young for this article. He surprised Mr. Young by asking him to wear the shoes, hat and clothes Nick had seen in my amateur photo. I am quite humbled by the result below.
Young was lead trumpeter of the Jimmie Lunceford band from 1939 to 1942. He played with Count Basie (three stints totalling eight years) and Lionel Hampton, among others, and was an original member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band.
His longest engagement was with NBC, where, as a studio trumpeter, he joined the Tonight Show Band in 1967 and stayed with them until 1992, when the band was replaced by a new, smaller group.
He was also part of the touring ensemble that traveled with Doc Severinsen, performing live concert dates, corporate events, and headling shows in the main rooms of Las Vegas. The one nighters usually occurred on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays, as Doc was committed to the Tonight Show weeknights.
For the Las Vegas gigs, the nucleus of Doc’s touring band (Snooky, Conductor Steve Thoma, and drummer Paul Line) would commute to Vegas nightly, leaving Van Nuys airport around 6:00pm via Lear Jet, arriving in Las Vegas by 7:00. A limousine would transport the musicians directly backstage, where they would dress & prepare for an 8:00 pm & midnight show. Then back to the airport for the ride back to Los Angeles, where Doc & Snooky had their NBC gig, and Steve & Paul where doing studio sessions daily.
(Snooky solos about 2 1/2 minutes in)
(Snooky on left at 3:44)
Snooky Young tearing it up with Doc Severinsen on the Tonight Show
Snooky with a killer edition of Count Basie’s Big Band (fabulous solo by Thad Jones)
See and hear Snooky Young play at last year’s Playboy Jazz Festival (bootleg) at the age of 92!
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.