The Bunny Hop- The Oett 'Sax' Mallard-'51-Mercury 700002.wmv
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Uploaded on Apr 6, 2011
The Sax Mallard Quartet, around 1953. LeRoy Jackson is on bass and Sleepy Nelson is at the drums. From the Simon Evans / Man in Japan collection.Revision note: We have corrected the personnel for Sax Mallard's session of July 1950. According to his diary, now preserved at Berklee College of Music, Laurdine "Pat" Patrick played baritone sax on this date.
Oett M. Mallard was born on September 2, 1915. We previously gave the location as Chicago, but it appears that he was actually born in Southern Illinois. According to his grandson Conrad L. Henry, Oett Mallard's mother, Lillie Mae Curtis, and his father, Alvin Mallard, were originally from Kentucky. They left the state because the Jim Crow laws were in effect and Alvin Mallard was white. They crossed the Ohio River to Tamms, a few miles up the road from Cairo in the extreme south of Illinois, and were married there. While Oett Mallard was still a boy, Lillie Mae left Tamms and brought him to Chicago.
According to Sax Mallard's obituary in the Chicago Defender, "He was six years old when he created his first job, enterprisingly selling shopping bags; and at 10 he was shining shoes." According to Conrad Henry, he shined shoes on Maxwell Street. While working there, he met "Pops" Hamm, who became his stepfather. Like so many other Chicago musicians, Oett Mallard started young. He got his first saxophone at 16, while still at Wendell Philips High School, where he studied under that redoubtable bandmaster, Captain Walter Dyett; he almost immediately landed a gig playing on the radio with vocalist Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon. Reportedly he completed his high school education at DuSable.
Around 1933 or 1934, Sax Mallard married Anne M. Smith, who was born in 1914. Their daughter, Patricia Rosebud Mallard, was born in 1935; in 1937, she was followed by Lavance Mallard, usually known as Sonny. (Floyd Campbell's recollection, in the same interview quoted below, of Sax Mallard marrying Miller Lyle's daughter, is incorrect. He may have mixed Mallard up with another band member.)
After graduation, Sax Mallard toured the US and Canada for two and a half years with one of his classmates, Nat "King" Cole, in a show called "Shuffle Along." Drummer Floyd Campbell recalled how King Cole's band was taken on the road by impresario Miller Lyle: The Bacon's Casino was the most popular dance hall [in Chicago] back then. Nat Cole's brother, Eddie, put a band in there after I left and Nat was playing piano with him. Nat's brother, Eddie, who had toured Europe with Noble Sissle, played bass. Miller Lyle came along and picked that band up and took them to California. That band consisted of Nat, Sax Mallard, and others. Lyle took a big band out there. They revived Shuffle Along... Miller Lyle didn't half pay the band and some of the guys had to almost walk back to Chicago. Nat was not able to get back.
(Charles Walton's article "Floyd Campbell, drummer, vocalist, bandleader," from which we drew these quotations, is one of his Bronzeville Conversations. The stay in Los Angeles did Nat "King" Cole no harm, of course. His trio became wildly popular there.)
Jack Ellis, in his "Orchestras" column from the Chicago Defender, February 27, 1937, gives a slightly different story. Ellis describes the band as being Nat Cole's, saying that his "cats" headed West on February 24, hitting the RKO houses; they were scheduled to arrive in Hollywood on April 5. According to Ellis, the band consisted of Bill Wright, George Skinner, Sax Mallard, Otis Hicks on reeds; Fostelle [Rostelle] Reese, Kenneth Johnson, Russell Gillom on trumpets; John Thomas and Nat Atkins on trombones; Hurley Ramey on guitar, Henry Fort on bass, Jimmy Adams on drums, and Nat Cole on piano. Various sources on Nat King Cole indicate that this was indeed the orchestra for Shuffle Along and that King Cole was the arranger and musical director for the revue.
While working his way back to Chicago, Mallard joined the Kenny McVey band, which for a time made two half-hour radio broadcasts daily from the Tivoli Terrace in Denver. At age 21, he sold his first arragement (for six pieces) to Lionel Hampton. Arriving back in Chicago, he joined Local 208 of the American Federation of Musicians on August 5, 1937 (according to his union card). Between this time and the beginning of World War II, Sax Mallard also worked with Fats Waller, the Deep River Boys, the Original Ink Spots, the Andy Kirk Band, the Mary Lou Williams Quartet, and others. Sax Mallard may have briefly subbed for Johnny Hodges in the Duke Ellington band during the late 1930s (the obituaries are somewhat unclear about this).
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