For more than seven decades, Texas-bred George Buddy Tate graced the American jazz scene with his hard-blowing tenor saxophone style. A resilient tone with high register inflections in the so-called Texas tenor sound distinguished Tate among his swing era colleagues. He was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra during the late 1930s and 1940s and later became a bandleader in his own right
By most accounts, Tate was born George Holmes Tate on February 22, 1913, in Sherman, Texas. He began performing in 1925 while still in his teens when his brother handed him an instrument and asked him to play tenor saxophone with the family quartet called McCloud's Night Owls. Tate and the Night Owls learned to play largely by listening to recordings by Louis Armstrong and mimicking the sound. The band toured professionally for the next four years, after which Tate continued to play the horn, performing with a series of territory bands and with circus bands until the early 1930s when he toured the south-western United States with Nathan Towles' band. During those early years, Tate spent time with Terrence Holder's band from 1930-33 and toured with Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy in 1934-35.
In 1934 Tate filled in briefly with Count Basie's Orchestra as a replacement for Lester Young. Young eventually returned to the band, and Tate joined up with Towles for another four years beginning in 1935. Tate worked with Towles until 1939 when Herschel Evans, who was Basie's tenor saxophone player, died. Basie then brought Tate back into the orchestra as a permanent fixture for nearly a decade. Perhaps nowhere was the contention for attention between saxophone players of that era more pronounced than among Basie's sidemen. Among the notables were Illinois Jacquet also one of the so-called Texas tenors, Lucky Thompson, and Young, all of whom along with Tate transformed moments of the orchestra's performances into full-scale dueling sets between horns. Tate was heard on many recordings by the Basie orchestra during that era, including selected recordings where Tate performed on alto saxophone as well as tenor. He emerged from Basie's band as a seasoned professional. After Tate parted ways with Basie in 1949, Tate appeared with Hot Lips Page, Lucky Millinder, and Jimmy Rushing until 1952. He then assembled his own house band at Harlem's Celebrity Club in 1953, marking the start of a gig that lasted for 21 years, until the early 1970s.