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July 16, 2008

Jazz Drummer Bobby Durham Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz news, Canada

Bobby Durham

Jazz Legend
Bobby Durham
1937-2008

Master Musician Known for Work With Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz drummer and vocalist Bobby Durham has died of lung cancer on Monday in Genoa, Italy. Durham, who was 71, owned homes in both Genoa and Basel, Switzerland.

In demand for his understated style, Bobby Durham worked with numerous jazz legends but was likely best known for his work in Oscar Peterson’s classic trio with Ray Brown (1966 to 1971) and with Ella Fitzgerald (1973-1980). The master musician was considered an expert in brush technique and renowned for his outstanding scat singing, making him a sensitive accompanist for vocalists.

With a career spanning over four decades, Durham worked with jazz greats such as Lionel Hampton (1962) and Duke Ellington (1966) and recorded with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge, pianist Tommy Flanagan, guitarist Joe Pass and alto saxophonist Benny Carter, to name a few.

Born Robert Joseph Durham in Philadelphia on Feb. 3, 1937, Durham’s father was a professional tap dancer who taught his son the art at the tender age of 2. Bobby started singing well before his teens, when he began playing drums with his junior high school band at age 16, going on to play professionally with the group the Orioles. He was also part of a Marine Corps band from 1956 to 1959.

Upon moving to New York in 1960, his career took off, working with mainstream jazz greats including Lloyd Price, Wild Bill Davis, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Slide Hampton, Grant Green, Hary Edison, Tommy Flanagan, and Jimmy Rowles. He met trombonist Al Grey in the Basie band and was later a part of Grey’s own combos.

Settling in Europe after touring the region numerous times, Durham formed trios with Italian and Scanadanivian musicians including Aldo Zunino, Andrea Zonzaterra, and Massimo Farao.

Bobby Durham was predeceased by his wife, the former Betsy Perkins, in 1996. He is survived by two daughters and four grandchildren.

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