Red Norvo Day

March 31, 1908 – April 6, 1999

A tribute to the pioneering jazz vibraphonist and xylophonist

Vibraphonist, xylophonist and leader Kenneth Norville (Red Norvo) was born on March 31, 1908 in Beardstown, Illinois.

Norvo started on piano before switching to xylophone and marimba as a teenager.

He toured with a marimba band (the Collegians) in 1925, worked with Paul Ash and Ben Bernie, studied mining engineering at the University of Missouri, and worked in vaudeville as a tap dancer.

Norvo was featured with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in the early 1930s where he met and married the singer Mildred Bailey.

A jazz xylophonist up until 1943, Norvo recorded some adventurous music in 1933 (including “Dance Of The Octopus”), performed and recorded with all-star groups and led a big band during 1936-42 that featured his wife’s singing and Eddie Sauter’s advanced arrangements.

In 1943 Norvo switched to the vibraphone where his cool tone and light but fluent solos contrasted with Lionel Hampton’s approach.

Norvo worked with Benny Goodman (1944-45), Woody Herman (1946), had a trio with guitarist Tal Farlow and bassist Charles Mingus (later Jimmy Raney and Red Mitchell), had later reunions with Goodman, and stayed active playing his brand of forward-looking swing into the mid-1980s.

Here is Red Norvo on July 8, 1982 leading a trio with Tal Farlow and bassist Steve Novosel at the Northsea Jazz Festival.

-Scott Yanow