Born: November 24, 1923 Primary Instrument: Sax, baritone
The baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff was born in Boston on November 24th 1923 to two classical pianists. His father was the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s pianist and his mother was a famous piano teacher at the Boston conservatory whose students include such musicians as Keith Jarrett and Dick Twardzik. Serge himself learned to play the piano first then the clarinet in his teens but switched to the baritone sax as an adult. His two major influences were Harry Carney and Charlie Parker. The former on his choice of instrument and the latter on his choice of genre: he was the first bop baritonist. He started his professional career in the big bands of the era first with Boyd Raeburn followed by Georgie Auld and Jimmy Dorsey. In 1946 he joined Woody Herman’s orchestra and became famous as one of the “Four Brothers” playing on Jimmy Giuffre’s immortal composition with Stan Getz Zoot Sims, and Herbie Stewart. Heroin addiction and his apparent disrespect for his boss caused him to leave the herd shortly after and join Count Basie’s band for a while. In 1947 he made his recording debut for Savoy backed by a group of Basie alumni. By 1949, however, he was heavily addicted to heroin and his drug-induced behavior had alienated most of his colleagues in the jazz community. He moved to New York and played with Bud Powell for a while. He returned to Boston in 1952 and recorded with Dick Twardzik a session that remains unreleased. He also started appearing on TV and leading the house band at a local club. He also started working on quitting his heroin habit, which succeeded in doing by 1954. He recorded two more sessions in Boston Fable for Mable and Boston Blow-Up! before relocating to Los Angeles in 1956. There he recorded his masterpiece Blue Serge but sadly around that time he was diagnosed with cancer of the spine which led to his demise on July 16th 1957 at the tragically young age of 33.