Cultural Percussionist

Red Rodney Day

Robert Roland Chudnick (September 27, 1927 – May 27, 1994), known professionally as Red Rodney, was an American jazz trumpeter.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he became a professional musician at 15, working in the mid-1940s for the big bands of Jerry Wald, Jimmy Dorsey, Georgie Auld, Elliot Lawrence, Benny Goodman, and Les Brown. He was inspired by hearing Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to change his style to bebop, moving on to play with Claude Thornhill, Gene Krupa, and Woody Herman.

 

He accepted an invitation from Charlie Parker to join his quintet. and was a member of the band from 1949–1951. As the only white member of the group, he was billed as “Albino Red” when playing in the southern United States. During this time he recorded extensively.

During the 1950s, he worked as a bandleader in Philadelphia and recorded with Ira Sullivan. He became addicted to heroin and started a pattern of dropping in and out of jazz. In 1958 he left jazz because of diminishing opportunities, lack of acceptance as a white bebop trumpeter, and legal problems due to his heroin addiction. He continued to work in other musical fields. Although he continued to be paid well, he supported his drug habit through theft and fraud, eventually spending 27 months in prison.

In 1963, during a run-in with police, a detective hit him in the mouth, loosening several teeth and starting the cycle of dental issues that continued into the 1970s. In September 1963, his father died; a month later, while his wife was driving him back from a Las Vegas gig, she lost control of their car and plunged down a Nevada highway embankment. Asleep in the back seat, he awoke to find his wife and 14-year-old daughter dead.

During 1969, Rodney played in Las Vegas with fellow Woody Herman colleague, trombonist Bill Harris, as part of the Flamingo casino house band led by Russ Black. Similar work continued through 1972.

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