Who Picked the Sidemen?

A couple of items from the Jazz Collector mailbox.

One of our readers and regular commenters, Japhy, send a note with the following question:

“Sidemen — who picked em?

“Something I’ve long wondered is — if an artist without a regular working band came in to can an album, how were the sidemen chose? At Blue Note, for example, did Alfred and Frank assemble the players, or would a guy with some pull like Dexter Gordon say, “Hey this is who I want to play with?” Could a name artist veto a sideman? Maybe the leader would come in with a couple of guys and then Lion would fill in the holes? It’s pretty clear that a lot of artists tended to record together, but overall it’s just something I’ve always wondered about.”


Another reader sent me this article:

Jazz fans seek ways to seek eternity with the greats.

It’s about jazz fans wanting to be buried near favorite artists, such as Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Doesn’t do much for me, but perhaps others . . . ?


  • My understanding from numerous jazz biographies, liner notes, etc is that the choice of sidemen was a combination of who the label knew; who the leader knew; and, often most importantly, who was in town on the days set for recording. Aside from steady bands (or pre-planned dates with written material), it was just catch-as-catch-can with the limited number of top guys who lived in town (or who happened to be in town for a while). I’m sure some folks with experience in the industry can provide more color (or correct my impression).

  • Terryfromflorida

    R.I.P. Charlie Haden

  • i met charlie haden here in cincinnati at captain beefheart show,we talked about jazz and music in general,great guy,loved the fact that my friends and i were searching for new sounds,sad to here about his passing,those that dont compromise about their art should always be remembered

  • It also depends on status. Miles Davis would never work with someone he didn’t wanted. At least, that’s what his biography tells me.

    Grant Green is on most of the Blue Notes from the 60’s. I don’t think Mobley (for example) could of had a different guitarist on ‘Workout’. He was with Blue Note, so he was on the record.

    I also doubt he initially planned for a guitarist, by the way. Grant Green’s parts come across as tacked on… Though that would be a different discussion.

  • I would also bet that the label would pick sidemen that might bring some new tunes to the session, and that the label in turn might be able to extract publishing rights from those tunes. (Not that this ever happened of course 😉 )

  • The sidemen story makes a lot of the great recordings seem like a stroke of dumb luck. Similarly, could some records have achieved legendary status in jazz history if so-and-so had been in town to play bass that day? As for that cemetery story – pretty wild! Even wilder is Jackie McLean’s headstone! Say what? Conversely, what an understated headstone for Duke. We’re all just bones in the ground in the end.

  • Don’t forget that some records were released as leader dates by the “more marketable” band members, who might’ve been chosen as sidemen initially. For example, a Willie Wilson LP on Jazz Line was actually issued first under Freddie Hubbard’s name (Fontana) and then Duke Pearson’s leadership (Prestige).

  • I am particularly interested in the jazz “sidemen” of the 1920-50’s. My Grandpa, Bob Effros played trumpet with big band leaders Vincent Lopez, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and other brilliant musicians like Satchmo, Handy
    and Gershwin.
    According to Bob Effros and written in “Lopez Speaks: An Autobiography” by Vincent Lopez, many musicians were sought after, others auditioned constantly until recognized. The “Big Jazz Bands” of the 20’s often had multiple orchestras. At any one time, Lopez and Whiteman may have over 100 performers on their payroll.
    According to Lopez autobiography, Bob Effros introduced Xavier Cugat to him. Grandpa also vouched to Lopez for the Dorsey Brothers to perform together and would not “misbehave”, as they were known to do when performng together. Jimmmy and Tommy Dorsey later when to lead their own orchestras and hire “sidemen”, including grandpa Bob Effros.

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