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William "Buddy" Collette

Jazz musician William “Buddy” Collette was born on August 6, 1921 in Los Angeles, California to Willie Hugh and Goldie Marie Collette. Collette cultivated his love for music at a young age, taking up the alto-saxophone and forming his first group at age twelve. This group included Britt Woodman on the trombone and Charles Mingus on the bass. By age seventeen, Collette was performing professionally and soon thereafter, he served in the U.S. Navy as a bandleader during World War II.

After returning from the war, Collette began playing with the Stars of Swing, a jazz quartet featuring saxophonist Dexter Gordon, bassist Charles Mingus, and drummer Chico Hamilton. The group helped to keep bebop music alive in Los Angeles during the mid-1940s in the historic Center Avenue neighborhood. In 1949, Collette performed around Los Angeles with a variety of jazz musicians including Edgar Hayes, Louis Jordan, Benny Carter, and Gerald Wilson. By 1950, Collette was working as a studio musician, and became the first African American musician to perform on television on the Groucho Marx show You Bet Your Life. In 1954, Collette worked as a disc jockey under the pseudonym of Sleepy Stein and released an album entitled Tanganyika, with a group consisting of Collette, drummer Chico Hamilton, trumpeter John Anderson, pianist Gerald Wiggins, guitarist Jimmy Hall, and bassist Curtis Counce. In 1955, Collette gained national recognition after he became a founding member of Chico Hamilton’s legendary quintet. In 1956, Collette recorded his first album, Man of Many Parts, as a bandleader. Later that year, Collette followed his debut album with Nice Day with Buddy Collette, which led to a string of albums throughout 1958 and 1959 including Calm Cool and Collette, Porgy and Bess, and Jazz Loves Paris.

By 1966, Collette had become a noteworthy educator in Los Angeles. He also freelanced, worked in the studios, played in clubs and taught aspiring jazz musicians. Collette’s students included such renowned woodwind players as Eric Dolphy, Charles Lloyd, Frank Morgan, Sonny Criss and James Newton.

In 1988, Collette recorded Flute Talk, his first album as a bandleader since 1964. Collette also produced a spoken word record on his experiences with jazz in 1994, Jazz for Thousand Oaks in 1996, and Live from the Nation’s Capital in 2000.

Collette passed away on September 19, 2010 at the age of 89.

Accession Number

A2007.153

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/20/2007

Last Name

Collette

Maker Category
Middle Name

Marcell

Occupation
Schools

David Starr Jordan Senior High School

Los Angeles City College

96th St. Elementary School

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Los Angeles

HM ID

COL15

Favorite Season

Spring

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

Australia, Italy, France

Favorite Quote

It Is Better To Be A Part Of Something Than Be All Of Nothing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

8/6/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fish

Death Date

9/19/2010

Short Description

Jazz musician William "Buddy" Collette (1921 - 2010 ) became the first African American musician to perform on television on the Groucho Marx show, "You Bet Your Life."

Employment

California State University, Los Angeles

Flip Wilson show (Television program)

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Loyola Marymount University

California State University, Long Beach

California State University, Dominguez Hills

'You Bet Your Life'

Favorite Color

Brown, Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William "Buddy" Collette's interview, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William "Buddy" Collette lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William "Buddy" Collette describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William "Buddy" Collette talks about his extended family

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers a lesson from his father

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Slating of William "Buddy" Collette's interview, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers his home life

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his neighborhood in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William "Buddy" Collette describes the smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls his early interest in music

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers 96th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers meeting Art Tatum

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers busking with Charles Mingus

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his religious upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his peers at David Starr Jordan High School in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers the Woodman brothers' band

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers the Great Depression

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls his early musical influences

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers his friendship with Charles Mingus

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls playing with his first band

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers playing in a U.S. Navy Reserve band, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers playing in a U.S. Navy Reserve band, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his early music lessons

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - William "Buddy" Collette describes the racial discrimination in the U.S. Navy Reserve

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls forming a band with Charles Mingus

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - William "Buddy" Collette talks about playing jazz flute

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls playing at the Downbeat in Los Angeles, California, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls playing at the Downbeat in Los Angeles, California, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - William "Buddy" Collette describes Charles Mingus

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls his workshops at the Crystal Tea Room in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers Central Avenue in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - William "Buddy" Collette describes the Community Symphony Orchestra

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls joining the orchestra on 'You Bet Your Life,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls joining the orchestra on 'You Bet Your Life,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers playing flute on 'You Bet Your Life'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William "Buddy" Collette talks about African Americans on television

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls filming 'You Bet Your Life'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers Buddy Collette and His Swinging Shepherds

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls protesting discrimination at the Academy Awards

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers playing at the Academy Awards

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers the Watts uprisings

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his musical career

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William "Buddy" Collette remembers Groucho Marx

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - William "Buddy" Collette recalls his election to the American Federation of Musicians Local 47 board

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his work with Fred Katz and Chico Hamilton

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - William "Buddy" Collette talks about his teaching career

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - William "Buddy" Collette reflects upon his success

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - William "Buddy" Collette describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - William "Buddy" Collette reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - William "Buddy" Collette reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - William "Buddy" Collette narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

3$2

DATitle
William "Buddy" Collette remembers his friendship with Charles Mingus
William "Buddy" Collette recalls joining the orchestra on 'You Bet Your Life,' pt. 2
Transcript
Now during that time period, you know, you are going to school, you're twelve or thirteen, how else did you spend your time, what else did you do, or was music your primary focus at that time, trying to better yourself?$$Well, music was a lot of it. You know with my musical friends like Charlie Mingus after he started playing with the band, he had a feeling for music that probably as strong as anybody you ever heard. He just loved it. He would put his bass on his shoulders and walk from 108th Street to 96th Street [Los Angeles, California], you know, a kid with a full size bass, it might have been a little smaller, carrying it on his shoulders like he was a strong guy, always big and strong. Walked in my house every morning before I'd get up in the summer, knock on the door at nine o'clock and I wasn't even up yet. He would say, "We're going to play today?" "Yeah, we'll play." So I'm saying as long as I'm around him what am I going to say, no. I love music too but you can't chase anybody down. If you love it and nobody else love it, so you're playing alone, but that was every day he had to play. Once you play, the next day was a dream too, cause you going to play some more good tunes.$$So you spent a lot of time playing music--$$Yeah.$$--and Charles Mingus was a personal friend. How old was Charles Mingus around this time when he was coming over to your house?$$How old was he?$$Yes, Mingus?$$Well, he was about six months under me, so we were pretty close.$$Okay. And you all met at Jordan High School [David Starr Jordan High School, Los Angeles, California], at the school?$$We met between Jordan High School and my home. One day, I see this guy with a shine box, but the shine box is real high like this and looking like a chicken coop or something with long legs. I used to shine shoes so I saw him but I knew that I would recognize him when I saw him. The reason why I am saying this because they say, "Mingus' family plays cello and sister Grace [Grace Mingus Washington] and Vivian [Vivian Mingus Myles] they played piano and violin." They said, "Mingus is strange guy," and you know there are times in the '60s [1960s]. He might've created that period. He cut his head with a cross through the middle (laughter). He'd come to school and he'd be doing something completely different than anybody else. But the kids thought it was funny and then he would get into a fight later on, always different kind of guy. He get into a fight he'd lose and he'd say, "You're gonna fight me tomorrow, you know," (laughter) and he say, "'Cause I gonna finally beat you." He would keep fighting the guy and the kids would all be behind him like an event and they would say, "Mingus is going to fight the guy again today, he gone get whipped again," and maybe get whipped two or three days and the third day, then he beats the guy. I mean he had stuff going so this is the wild side of him and the other side, he plays music so beautiful that no one could help but smile and he loved me you know because he thought I did so much for him 'cause I said, "Get a bass," and that bass changed his whole life.$So this is the night they played the, 'Carmen' by Bizet [Georges Bizet]. So he [Percy McDavid] was there and I said the premise of the orchestra [Community Symphony Orchestra] was, was if I wanted to play the first flute on one of the pieces while, you know, the conductor was there, I could do it. But sometimes if he hadn't been there, I wouldn't have gotten this opportunity; it could have been somebody else. They would have said, "Oh you play it," you know, I couldn't just take the part. So he's conducting and now he gets to the part that says first flute only and there's other three flutes players some have played with the symphony and they would love to play it too. Kind of show off, but they'd probably played it hundreds of times. I'd never played, but, you know, I probably knew it when I start playing it. So he said, "Mr. Collette [HistoryMaker William "Buddy" Collette], would you like to play the flute solo?" The orchestra stopped here because now this next section is really just flute and harp but I didn't know that, I just figured well I'll play the solo because you got sixty people around you. So he starts conducting and I got three notes by myself (scats), you know I do the melody. But anyway I'm playing, the harpist about twenty feet across the room so lonely you know, I'm trying to, my heart is (gesture), and I say, "Where are the rest of the people?" I wanted more around me you know, I don't want to be exposed like that for the first time anyway especially playing a piece I didn't know. At this point, I'd only been playing for two years. But I hung in there and I was such a good musician on the other instruments that I could make it work so I played for about a minute all alone with the harp while everybody else listening, saying, "Not too bad, you know, it wasn't great but, you know, he didn't fall, he didn't stumble," and I didn't have to stop and give me another chance. So they tap their bows, like I said, that means you made it (claps hands). And I said, "Oh, thank you," a little, a little weird. The night it was over he was like, "Wow, that was a tough one." 'Cause everybody was listening to me and I didn't want an audition like that. But anyway after the concert is over, about 9:30 or 10:00, they got some big steps down there [Joseph LeConte Junior High School; Joseph LeConte Middle School, Los Angeles, California], 'cause went back there and taught the young after school class, help the youngsters come through the same place. When I walked down those stairs I could see myself talking to Fielding. I'm walking down and Fielding is already out. He said, "Hey, pretty nice flute playing." He said, "You remember me? I'm Jerry Fielding the guy that missed you at the church?" I said, "I know you." I said, "What's going on?" He said, "Well, I need a guy for the Groucho Marx's show ['You Bet Your Life']. You know Marshal Royal?" That's my friend that was in the Navy [U.S. Navy Reserve] with me, and also the eagle player. I said, "Yeah, I know Marshal, he just left town with Count Basie," and that was true 'cause and he said, "Well, you'd have to play flute, saxophone and clarinet." So he knew I play flute and I said, "I play saxophone and clarinet." He said, "Well, I didn't know you played that." I said, "But, yeah, I just played flute for two years." I said, "Marshal doesn't play flute," and he's gone so this was pointing toward me and he kind of wanted to see me anyway, that if I could play. So, he heard a little flute that I guess he liked it okay. But anyway he said, "Well, I want you to work on the Groucho show. I'll have the contractor call you in about a week, his name is Ben Barrett," and I got the call and they said, "Well, bring your horns, alto, clarinet and the flute to Groucho Marx show," CBS on, at that time it was at Sunset [Boulevard] and, Sunset and, and Vine [Street].$$How big was that for you at that point getting that job? Did you feel like, what happen to you at that moment because now you're getting ready to be on a major national television show?$$Well, I'll tell you, well, I just felt good that I was accepted knowing that I would not let them down 'cause I had worked hard to be as good as the players I had heard out there. And, you know, most of them were pretty good, so, you know, all the training, all the studying for four years, you know. Clarinet teacher one day, flute the next day, next the writing class. I was in it, you know. I was like a guy in best shape for a heavy weight champion fight, you know. I said, "Well, I'll do all right guys I know" and the guy next to me, Hynie Gunkler, a German guy played very good and he hit me on the leg says, "Man, you're much better than the guy that was here." Well, I didn't expect that, I just knew I'd worked hard, you know.