Snooky Young, 1919-2011

Intial reports that Snooky Young died on May 5 were in error. He died on Wednesday, May 11, at home in Newport Beach, California. He was 92. The cause of death was a lung disease that developed recently.

Young was that rare combination, a great lead trumpeter who was also a soloist of exceptional imagination, taste and humor. He began as a professional musician when he was a teenager in Dayton, Ohio. At 20, he joined the Jimmie Lunceford band and in the course of his career played key roles in virtually every big jazz band of importance except Duke Ellington’s. He was with Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland and the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut.

A wizard of high notes and the plunger mute, Young was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2008. His widest exposure came during 20 years in the brass section of Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show band. Loved by his fellow musicians, viewers and Tonight’s host Johnny Carson, Young was occasionally featured on the program. In this clip, he sings and plays one of the Lunceford band’s signature tunes from the days when jazz often led the hit parade.

Young was the consummate sideman but he had a moment of glory as co-leader with the stalwart alto saxophonist Marshall Royal on a 1989 album called Snooky & Marshall’s Album. It had the remarkable rhythm section of Ross Tompkins, Freddie Green, Ray Brown and Louie Bellson—and Young at the top of his game.

Services are scheduled for May 25 at noon at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Snooky Young, RIP.

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  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this clip, Doug.

    Snooky, of course, was a major ingredient in the sound of the early Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band as lead trumpet player. His phrasing on the ensemble passages still knocks me out. It’s crystal-clear, shaped beautifully, always tinged with the Blues, and completely unpretentious.

    What a gift it has been to have Snooky as part of the music for so long.

  2. Denis Ouellet says

    Again I learn with sadness of another great one leaving us. I can hear him on so many recording sessions.
    At least we have the music. Thank you.


  3. Charlton Price says

    There’s a bit more of Snooky to savor (on YouTube) with the Basie-ites — the awesome 1960 band. After the mint version of Ll” Darlin’ (featuring Sonny Cohn), Snooky does a chorus down front on “Who, Me?” a tune by Frank Foster.

  4. O'Sullivan, "Red" says

    Snooky Young, muted, on “Central Park West” with Thad and Mel is simply one of the high points of the history of trumpet in jazz…………. (I think especially in the Danish TV show of the band, in black and white).
    There’s another real great small-group record he made for Concord too – also Ross Tompkins, Ray Brown, but I think Jake Hanna and Cal Collins… Good record…

  5. Rob D says

    Wonderful clip of Snooky..RIP to a guy who graced any session he was on.

    A good friend of mine who was/is a musician used to always point out to me what Rick points out above: the contributions to the great sound of the Jones/Lewis of Snooky.

    Sad day.

  6. Dick McGarvin says

    There’s another big band that should be on Snooky’s list of credits. It’s the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. He was with that band right from its beginning in 1985, and his last appearance with the group was just this past December. In concert, Snooky was always featured on the band’s opening number, either I BE SERIOUS ‘BOUT DEM BLUES or BLUES FOR STEPHANIE, both John Clayton compositions. In an email, John said, ” We relied on his energy to remind us of the level we needed to maintain and he always came through.” John also quoted co-leader, Jeff Hamilton, who said, “We’ll never sound the same.”

  7. says

    Thanks for the info on the passing of Snooky Young. Many years ago – March 1981- I put together a recording of birthday greetings for the ailing Rafael Mendez. Ralph was, at the time, actually very ill in the hospital, in a coma. He later came out of it, but died the following September. I contacted many trumpet and musical greats over the phone, and they were all gracious enough to let me record birthday greetings, which were edited together and sent to Mendez in the hospital. Participants included Doc Severinsen, Snooky Young, Clark Terry, Adolph Herseth, Armando Ghitalla, Clifford Lillya, Ray Anthony, Reynold Schilke, Roger Voisen, Vito Pascusci, Robert Giardinelli, and many others. It was quite a cross-section of the classical and jazz trumpet world, and also the music mfg. business. I think I still have the master tape somewhere.

    I recall that Snooky Young was very gracious, and seemed happy to be included in the little project. I saw him perform with the Tonight Show orchestra prior to that, at a show taping, in July of 1974. I regret that we never got to really meet in person, even though we spoke briefly on the phone.

    It is amazing that these old fellows are still playing – I think Clark Terry is also in his 90’s and still performing. And, Doc appears to be going strong at 83 or so.

    Thanks for keeping us all informed about these things.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Mr. Hubbard is a trumpet and cornet soloist and a designer and builder of brass instruments.

  8. says

    Snooky was for Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, and numerous other great swingin’ bands, what were Al Killian, and later Cat Anderson for the Duke, or Maynard Ferguson, and Al Porcino for Kenton, and Herman (although Al rarely improvised).

    Similar to Doc Cheatham, he started out as a lead trumpeter, and ended as a grand seigneur of jazz.

    When you see him, sitting in his open car with a big smile, wearing those gangsta styled shoes à la “The Untouchables”, you know that this man had a very good life.

    P.S. — Feel free to click on my name in the upper left corner of this comment to see the picture.

  9. Tom Priesmeyer says

    Hi Doug,
    Thanks for the article and clip on Snooky, one of my jazz idols. One of the best nights of my life started by sitting on the front row before the band at a Tonight show taping, seeing and hearing him in that first chair.

    I’ll be doing a two-hour tribute to Snooky on my contemporary big band jazz radio show Swingshift on Thursday, June 2, from 7-9am edt, streamed live from Vanderbilt University at The show is archived for a week after broadcast for listening anytime and can be accessed by going to the main page, clicking audio archive then clicking on theswingshift name.