A reliable and invaluable mainstay in the best black bands of the swing era, Hilton Jefferson raised the standard of every horn section he played in.
His first gigs were playing banjo for the Julian Arthur Orchestra at the Hay Theater in Philadelphia in 1925. He then switched to the alto sax and by the ‘30s he was playing with many bands in New York City, including Claude Hopkins, Chick Webb and King Oliver.
Later he played with McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Benny Carter and Fletcher Henderson. In the 40s he played with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway, with whom he spent the greater part of the decade. He then rejoined Ellington in the ‘50’s and moved on with the bands of Harry Dial, Noble Sissle, Rex Stewart, Buster Bailey, the Fletcher Henderson Reunion Band of 1957, Wally Edwards' Uptown Concert Band and Mercer Ellington's Orchestra.