Night Lights Classic Jazz

Too Little, Too Soon: Booker Little

Booker Little was a talented young trumpeter and composer who’d already begun to fulfill his promise when illness struck him down at the age of 23.

Play Episode (Real Audio)
Booker Little photo

Photo: Album cover art

Little’s sound conveyed a high musical intelligence, an emotional outlook by turns melancholic and suddenly charged, and a keen lucidity—reflective of the man himself.

Trumpeter Booker Little was born in Memphis on April 2, 1938; he died in October of 1961 at the age of 23, leaving behind a small but significant body of recorded work that continues to influence modern-day jazz artists such as trumpeter Dave Douglas, who recorded a tribute to Little in the 1990s. He was part of a superlative generation of Memphis jazz musicians that included pianists Phineas Newborn and Harold Mabern and saxophonists George Coleman and Frank Strozier; like several of these men, he would move to Chicago in the late 1950s, where he studied at the Chicago Conservatory, met Sonny Rollins, and eventually joined Max Roach’s hardbop group.

Little began his career under the sway of trumpeter Clifford Brown’s sound, eventually forging his own approach that jazz scholar Paul Berliner describes as containing “high sustained vocal cries, short interjections of phrases with speechlike cadences and rhythms, long, rapid passages mixing complex scalar and chordal elements, and melodies with simple singable qualities often treated as sequences.” In addition to his solo style, Little also became an increasingly sophisticated jazz composer, using unusual musical forms and meters and drawing upon the influence of jazz elders such as Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, as well as contemporary Eric Dolphy. His compositions and his playing conveyed a high musical intelligence, an emotional outlook by turns melancholic and suddenly charged, and a keen lucidity—all reflective of the man himself.

“Too Little, Too Soon” features Little’s recordings with Dolphy and and music from the four albums he made under his own name between 1958 and 1961. You can hear more of Booker Little in the recent Night Lights program The Memphis Mafia. (Two videos of Little playing with Max Roach’s group in the late 1950s are also posted there.) Check out Jazzwax blogger extraordinaire Marc Myers’ thoughts on Little as well.

Music Heard On This Episode

Man of Words
Booker Little — Out Front (Candid, 1961)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Man of Words
Booker Little — Out Front (Candid, 1961)

Notes: Little composition.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Moonlight Becomes You
Booker Little — Booker Little 4 + Max Roach (Blue Note, 1958)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Minor Sweet
Booker Little — Booker Little (Time, 1960)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
The Confined Few
Booker Little/Booker Ervin — Sounds of the Inner City (Warwick/Collectables, 1960)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
If I Should Lose You
Booker Little — Victory and Sorrow (Bethlehem, 1961)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Hazy Hues
Booker Little — Out Front (Candid, 1961)

Notes: With Eric Dolphy on alto sax.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Bee Vamp
Eric Dolphy — Live at the Five Spot V. 1 (Prestige, 1961)

Notes: Booker Little composition, with Little on trumpet.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Victory and Sorrow
Booker Little — Victory and Sorrow (Bethlehem, 1961)

Notes: Little composition, from his last album.

Buy from Amazon »
album cover
David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

View all posts by this author »

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Night Lights Classic Jazz:

Support For Indiana Public Media From

About Night Lights

Search Night Lights

where to hear night lights

This Week On Afterglow

Mr. B: The Billy Eckstine Story

Photo of singer Billy Eckstine

Billy Eckstine was a cultural pioneer who became one of the first black male solo singers to find success singing love songs.

Read more »

Afterglow is WFIU's weekly program of jazz and American popular song hosted by David Brent Johnson.

More from Afterglow »