Born: February 12, 1926 | Died: May 24, 2007 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
Marion Buddy Childers, jazz trumpeter and bandleader was born St Louis, Missouri. Playing lead trumpet for a big band is like being a carthorse. It's one of the most demanding jobs in music requiring not only great musical skill and timing, but also stamina beyond man's normal allotment. Buddy Childers was, for half a century, one of the best. He played the role in the most demanding band in the world, that of the progressive leader Stan Kenton.
Another trumpeter with Kenton, Jack Sheldon, famously recalled that Stan stood in front of the band wanting louder, louder. It didn't matter whether you played the music as written because it was so loud that nobody could tell whether you were actually playing or not. It was not unknown for Kenton's lead trumpeters to pass out on the stand from over-extending themselves. It happened to Al Porcino, the iron man of the horn, and also to Childers, as he recalled:
It was at the beginning of the job during the band's theme Artistry in Rhythm. I was playing a high D, which isn't that high as trumpet parts go, but I had to hold it for four incredibly slow bars and the next thing I knew I was on the floor on my back with my horn still at my mouth and Stan was leaning over the sax section peering at me.
The Kenton band book was so demanding that Childers and Porcino were among several of his trumpet players who wore abdominal supports. The need for these was an indication that the musicians weren't blowing correctly.
Buddy Childers first joined the Kenton band in 1942 when he was 16. It was rare for one so young to join a name band. Self-taught, he had taken up the trumpet when he was 12 and had joined the musicians' union in his home city of St Louis, Missouri and become a working professional at 14. Soon after joining the Kenton band he became its lead trumpet player.
Guys in the trumpet section were always laying out while waiting to play a high note on the end of a song. One night three guys laid out and I was the only one playing the part. Stan got livid. He had told us not to do that, but they'd done it anyway. Stan turned purple with rage.
You, you and you, he said, you're fired! He turned to me and said You, you're my new first trumpet player. He thought better of that later, but it was too late and he kept his word. The Kenton band worked for a year backing Bob Hope's radio show.
Childers worked with Kenton off and on from 1942 to 1954. In between he joined the bands led by Benny Carter, André Previn, Les Brown and Vido Musso. In 1951 he joined Tommy Dorsey, where he partnered the remarkable virtuoso Charlie Shavers in the trumpet section. Dorsey was a monster to work for, indifferent to the suffering of his musicians. On a long tour of Brazil Childers almost came to blows with him but stood up to the bandleader and afterwards they became good friends.
Leaving Dorsey he played for Georgie Auld and then rejoined the Charlie Barnet Band - he had been with Barnet in 1950. He worked as a freelance in Los Angeles and then spent seven years in Las Vegas from 1959 to 1966. He then returned to Los Angeles where he worked as a studio musician until the 1980s, working and recording under all the well-known leaders in the city.
In the late Seventies he joined the big band led by the pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and her saxophone- playing husband Lew Tabackin, recording and touring Europe with them. From 1983 he worked as music director for Frank Sinatra Jr's backing band.
He proved what an emotional man he was at a Stan Kenton Convention at Egham, Surrey in 1996, when he broke down and cried whilst explaining the enormous difficulties the trumpet section had had to overcome when he led it through a complex passage in Kenton's Concerto to End All Concertos.
Childers also had a successful career as a photographer. He led his own big band at various times in Los Angeles and proved himself a worthy soloist on many occasions over the years. He battled with cancer for almost a decade but as recently as a year before he died he was playing from his wheelchair at jam sessions in LA.