Roy David Eldridge was born on January 30, 1911 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eldridge began playing drums at the age of six and soon after learned bugle and trumpet, receiving some musical help from his brother Joe. Roy’s early influences included trumpet players Rex Stuart, Red Nichols and Louis Armstrong but Roy was also heavily influenced throughout his career by saxophone players, most notably Coleman Hawkins. Eldridge received his first gig at the age of sixteen at a carnival because he could play Hawkins solo on the recording “Stampede” with Fletcher Henderson’s band. In the 1920s Roy developed his style more playing with Horace Henderson’s Dixie Stompers and Zach White’s band before moving to New York City in 1930. In New York Eldridge began making a name for himself playing with Cecil Scott, Charlie Johnson and Teddy Hill’s band where he made his first recordings. In the mid 1930s Roy hit it big by becoming the featured soloist in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra which led a two year gig at the Three Deuces Club in Chicago with his own band including his brother Joe on alto sax.
In the 1940s Eldridge began playing with two of the most famous white band leaders, Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw. In Krupa’s band Roy was often paired with vocalist Anita O’Day and would sing and dance with her including the famous duo ‘Let Me Off Uptown’. Eldridge left Krupa’s band in 1943 to join with Artie Shaw. For Roy to be in these bands was a big step forward as integration on the bandstand was a hot issue to say the least. It was not easy for Roy and once in San Francisco he lost his cool when he was not even allowed to enter through the front door of a club where his name was on the marquee. He was so heated back stage he was told not to play that evening. In his own words, “I threw my mutes and things around; I began to cry. I knew it wasn't my fault. Finally I was told to take the evening off. And all I wanted to do was play my horn!”
Eldridge toured Europe in the 1950s with Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims and Dick Hyman and loved the freedom and appreciation from the audiences so much he stayed in Paris for several years. Roy returned to America and began playing with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic which included a group backing up Ella Fitzgerald. Roy also played with Oscar Peterson and with Count Basie in the mid 1960s. In the 1970s Eldridge began a ten year gig at Jimmy Ryan’s club until suffering from a heart attack in 1980. This ended his trumpet playing career but Eldridge continued to play and perform on his drums, piano and as a vocalist. Roy passed away in 1989. Eldridge leaves an important and impressive legacy on trumpet helping jazz move from dixieland to swing and setting up Dizzy Gillespie nicely to move the music into bebop. Jazz writer Gary Giddon’s describes Roy’s sound as “an urgent, human roughness that gave his music an immediacy of its own. You felt you could hear the sound start in the viscera and work its way through his small body, carving a path in his throat, and bursting forth in breathtaking release”.
Eldridge earned the Jazz Master award from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1982.
"God gives it to some and not others. He's got more soul in one note than a lot of people could get into the whole song." –Ella Fitzgerald on Roy Eldridge