Red Norvo was one of jazz's early vibraphonists. He helped establish the xylophone and later the vibraphone as viable jazz instruments.
Norvo was born Kenneth Norville in Beardstown, Illinois. The story goes that he sold his pet pony to help pay for his first marimba. Norvo's career began in Chicago with a band called The Collegians, in 1925. He played with many other bands, including an all-marimba band on the vaudeville circuit, and the bands of Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, and Woody Herman. Norvo recorded with Mildred Bailey (his wife), Billie Holiday, Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra, among others. Together, Red and Mildred were known as Mr. and Mrs. Swing. He also appeared in the film Screaming Mimi (1958), playing himself.
In 1933 he recorded two sessions for Brunswick under his own name. The first Knockin' On Wood and Hole In The Wall pleased Brunswick's recording director Jack Kapp and he was booked for another session. This time, Kapp was out of town and Norvo went ahead and recorded two of the earliest, most modern pieces of chamber jazz yet recorded; Bix Beiderbecke's In A Mist and Norvo's own Dance Of The Octopus, accompanied by Benny Goodman in a rare performance playing a bass clarinet, Dick McDonough on guitar and Artie Bernstein on slap bass. Kapp was outraged when he heard them and tore up Norvo's contract and threw him out. (Interestingly, this modern record remained in print all through the 1930's!)