Don Fagerquist was the first focus of our attention in this series about lesser-known brilliant trumpet players of the 1950's. If Fagerquist's playing was pretty much down-the-middle, Booker Little set up musical camp farther out on the edge. Fagerquist was anchored in jazz developments of the 40's and early 50's, while Booker looked ahead to the 60's.
Booker Little was born in 1938 in Memphis, a city where Phineas Newborn, Jr. was elder to a number of future jazz artists, such as Frank Strozier, trumpeter Louis Smith (Booker's cousin) and George Coleman, who got Booker moving seriously toward jazz.
In 1954, after high school, Booker moved to Chicago and got a Bachelors degree in music at the Chicago Conservatory. For nine months of his stay, he roomed with Sonny Rollins, who was in Chicago preparing to join the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet. Sonny introduced Booker to Max Roach, with whom Booker made his first recording and eventually gigged. The musicians in Roach's circle and those he knew from early Memphis days became many of the people he ran with during the short span of his career. His first recording was in June, 1956 and he died on October 5, 1961 of uraemic poisoning/kidney failure at the age of 23.
Booker articulated his views on music in a valuable Metronome magazine article by Robert Levin, an article used as the basis of this piece by Dan Miller. One way to introduce Booker's music is to quote his own words from that interview:
"Most of the guys who are thinking completely conventionally--they'd say 'Well maybe you've got a wrong note in there.' But I can't think in terms of wrong notes--in fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong I think you're thinking conventionally-technically, and forgetting about emotion.