Primarily known as Charlie Parker’s trumpet player in 1949, Red Rodney went on to become a legend himself and made several dramatic comebacks during his career to solidify his reputation as a bebop trumpeter and keeper of the flame.
Born Robert Rodney Chudnick, on September 27, 1927, in Philadelphia, and within a few years of taking up the trumpet (first presented to him by a great aunt at his bar mitzvah), Rodney was hired by dance band leader Jerry Wald. While still in his teens he also played with Jimmy Dorsey, Elliot Lawrence and Benny Goodman. By 1946, when he joined Gene Krupa, Rodney was a highly experienced big band trumpeter but was already experimenting with bebop. These inclinations were encouraged by Krupa, Claude Thornhill and Woody Herman, with whom he also played in the late 40s. In 1949, with his reputation as a rising bop star fast gaining ground, he joined the Charlie Parker quintet (via an introduction from Dizzy Gillespie). For the next two years he was acclaimed as one of the best bebop trumpeters around and was certainly among the first white players to gain credibility and acceptance in the field (he would go on to help to record the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood's movie tribute to Parker, “Bird”).
Among the anecdotes to emerge from this time was the tale of Parker telling his agent that Rodney was in fact an albino, in order to ensure he was not barred from a tour of the south. Ill health and drug addiction nevertheless damaged his career and the 50s and 60s were bleak periods both artistically and health wise.