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Bubber Miley

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James Wesley “Bubber” Miley (April 3, 1903 – May 20, 1932) was an early jazz trumpeter and cornet player, specializing in the use of the plunger mute.

Miley was born in Aiken, South Carolina into a musical family. At the age of six he and his family moved to New York City where, as a child, he occasionally sung for money on the streets, and later, at the age of fourteen studied to play the trombone and cornet. In 1920, after having served in the navy for eighteen months, he joined a jazz formation named the Carolina Five, and remained a member for the next three years, playing small clubs and boat rides all around New York City. After leaving the band at the age of nineteen, Miley briefly toured the Southern States with a show titled The Sunny South, and then joined Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, replacing trumpeter Johnny Dunn. They regularly performed in famous clubs around New York City and Chicago. While touring in Chicago, he heard King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band playing and was captivated by Oliver’s use of mutes. Soon Miley found his own voice by combining the straight and plunger mute with a growling sound.

Miley’s talent and unique style were soon noticed in New York’s jazz scene - among others by Duke Ellington who wanted him to jump in for trumpeter Arthur Whetsel. According to saxophonist Otto Hardwick, Ellington’s band members had to shanghai Miley into joining them for his first performance, at the Hollywood on Broadway in 1923, At the time, Ellington’s Washingtonians were formally led by Elmer Snowden, but Ellington, who factually had already been running the formation, also took over its official leadership a few months later.

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