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.