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Turney, Norris , 1973 September 11

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Scope and Contents

Norris Turney lectured on 9/11/1973 (2015-0002/RR290). Hale Smith introduces Norris Turney who plays reed instruments as well as the flute. Mr. Turney tells a story about a man nobody ever heard about who had a beautiful soul and loved music. Turney, primarily known as a saxophonist also played flute and clarinet, was an active performer in Ohio, Chicago, and New York City for 50 years. After playing with A.B. Townsend in Ohio, Turney toured with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra before relocating to Chicago to play with Tiny Bradshaw in 1945. Turney spent time recording in New York with Billy Eckstine in 1945-1946 and worked in Philadelphia with Elmer Snowden in 1951. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Turney played and toured with Ray Charles and Duke Ellington.

Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Turney worked in pit orchestras in New York City until he resumed his jazz career in the 1980s and toured internationally with a number of jazz groups such as the Panama Francis’s Savoy Sultans and the George Wein’s Newport All Stars. In 1990 Tureny moved to Dayton, Ohio, but continued to be involved with a number of East Coast bands.


  • Creation: 1973 September 11

Conditions Governing Access

Links to digitized content are included in the finding aid.

Biographical / Historical

Norris Turney was born September 8, 1921, in Wilmington, Ohio. Turney began his career in the Midwest, playing in territory bands such as the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra. He played with Tiny Bradshaw in Chicago before moving to New York City, where he performed with the Billy Eckstine Orchestra in 1945-1946. Turney had little luck in New York, however, and returned to Ohio to play in local ensembles through the 1950s. He toured with Ray Charles in 1967 traveling to the Far East and Australia, then was hired by Duke Ellington, in whose orchestra he played from 1969 to 1973. He was hired to play alto saxophone as an "insurance policy" due to the declining health of Johnny Hodges. He was the first flute soloist to ever play in Ellington's orchestra. He also played tenor saxophone in the band. Amongst his own compositions was "Chequered Hat", written in tribute to Hodges.

During his four-year stint with Duke, Turney's big sound - like Hodges', but with a harder edge - attracted considerable critical appreciation, as did his flute virtuosity. He went on to win the 1970 and 1971 Down Beat critics' poll, and created an exciting solo identity on Ellington albums and in concert appearances around the world. He persuaded Duke to allow him to contribute original compositions to the orchestra's repertoire, including Checkered Hat, a tribute to Hodges. Oddly, Ellington rewarded Turney's versatility by making him uncomfortable on the bandstand, doubling up the tempo on a solo feature so that Turney found it impossible to play. Turney packed up his instruments and walked off the stand in mid-number.

He then spent a decade of show work on Broadway before returning to jazz as a freelance. He became a fixture with George Wein's Newport All Stars, playing the European summer festival circuit regularly, alongside top soloists like Clark Terry and Scott Hamilton. He was also in demand for the new wave of repertory orchestras, most notably trumpeter Wynton Marsalis's Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra. In the 1980s, he toured and recorded as a member of the Oliver Jackson Quintet, with Ali Jackson, Irvin Stokes, and Claude Black.

Turney recorded as a leader between 1975 and 1978, and released the CD, Big, Sweet 'n Blue in 1993. Turney died January 17, 2001, in Kettering, Ohio, at the age of 79.

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1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recording) : RR 290 1 reel, 1:06:66; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Language of Materials

From the Series: English