Obituary: Urbie Green

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Urbie Green, the “trombonist’s trombonist”, was born in Mobile, Alabama, 8 August 1926. He studied piano and began on trombone at the age of 12. He toured the south with Tommy Reynolds and his Band of Tomorrow while he was still in high school. He was then recommended by the union to Bob Strong who took him to New York to play at the Roseland Ballroom.

He worked with Jan Savitt and Frankie Carle before receiving a telegram from Gene Krupa asking him to join the band in 1947. He stayed with Krupa until 1950 initially playing lead and when Dick Taylor left, he took over the solo responsibilities too.

Green left Krupa to join Woody Herman as a replacement for Bill Harris who was working with Charlie Ventura. Harris was one of Green’s favourite trombonists and others on that list would include Jack Teagarden, Jack Jenney, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Tommy Dorsey, Trummy Young and Earl Swope.

In the three years he was with Woody he can be heard soloing on Leo the Lion, More Moon, Sonny Speaks and a live version of Laura. One of his last solos with the band took place in September 1953 when the entire section – Kai Winding, Frank Rehak and Vern Friley – were featured with him on Jimmy Giuffre’s cute Four Others. For about a year Carl Fontana sat next to him, prompting Nat Pierce to say the band had “Two monsters”.

After 11 years on the road Green decided to settle in New York and while waiting for his union card he worked extensively with Lester Lanin’s Society Orchestra.

He took part in a well-received series of recorded jam sessions led by Buck Clayton along with Joe Newman, Benny Powell, Al Cohn, Coleman Hawkins and Jo Jones. In 1954 Downbeat nominated him the new star on trombone and he quickly became established as the premier trombonist in the hectic New York recording scene.

Green appeared on no less than 650 albums over the years, with Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Benny Carter, Manny Albam, Dinah Washington and Erroll Garner – the list goes on and on. Interviewed for the AFM Local 802 magazine he once said he didn’t practise because he was playing all the time.

He appeared in the Benny Goodman Story in 1956 and then fronted the band on a three-month tour. A little later Goodman was to say that Green was his favourite trombone player. He led the Tommy Dorsey band in 1966/67 and in 1969 he was one of the all-stars invited by president Nixon to perform at the White House to celebrate Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday. He was featured on I Got It Bad. Over the years, in addition to working as a clinician, he did several tours with Benny Goodman.

Urban Clifford “Urbie” Green died 31 December 2018 at Saucon Valley Manor, Hellertown, Pennsylvania.