Born on September 30, 1922, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, jazz artist Oscar Pettiford played in his father's family touring band based in Oklahoma and Minnesota until 1941. In 1943 he joined Charlie Barnet's band in New York as a double bass player. After a brief stint with the Roy Eldridge quintet, he became a bebop movement pioneer on Forty-second Street in New York. Pettiford and Dizzy Gillespie led a combo at the famed Onyx Club in 1943-44. From 1944 to 1948 Pettiford played in several bebop combos as well as with Duke Ellington's and Woody Herman's big bands. During the 1950s he formed his own sextet and thirteen-piece band that were known for their innovative arrangements and instrumentation. In 1958 he emigrated to Europe and lived in Copenhagen until his death on September 8, 1960, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Pettiford brought new dimensions in establishing the double bass and cello as solo instruments and was honored by numerous jazz polls, including Esquire Gold Award (1944-45), Metronome poll (1945), and Down Beat Critics Poll (1953, 1955-57). In addition to his instrumental accomplishments, his compositions include "Blues in the Closet," "Bohemia After Dark," "Tricrotism," "Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens," and "Swingin' 'til the Girls Come Home." Jazz scholars describe Pettiford as one of the "most melodically inventive and technically agile bassists in jazz."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ira Gitler, Jazz Masters of the Forties (New York: Macmillan, 1966). Nat Hentoff, "An Oscar," Down Beat 24 (21 March 1957). George Hoefer, "The First Bop Combo," Down Beat 30 (20 June1963).
George O. Carney
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