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Jimmy Knepper

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Biography

James M. Knepper was born on November 22, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. He began his musical career with the trombone at the age of nine. He started playing professionally at the young age of 15, in jazz bands and at dance clubs in the 1940’s. Knepper’s first big job was with Freddie Slack, a jazz piano player leading his own big band. After that he worked with other jazz big bands led by Roy Porter, Charlie Spivak, Claude Thornhill, Woody Herman, and even Stan Kenton in 1959. He finally gained notoriety and attention while playing under Charles Mingus. Mingus’ prior trombonist, Willie Dennis, was a friend of Jimmy’s, so before leaving he got him the job. Knepper played on many of Mingus’ biggest albums. His first album with Mingus was The Clown, from 1957. He was the only brass player on the album. In 1959 he appeared on both Blues & Roots as well as the landmark album Mingus Ah Um.
Jimmy Knepper stayed with Mingus until October 12, 1962. On that date Mingus and Knepper reportedly got into an argument over an upcoming concert, and the bassist punched Knepper in the mouth, breaking one of his teeth and ruining his embouchure. This blow also resulted in Knepper losing the top octave of his rage on the trombone for the rest of his career. Knepper pressed charges, and Mingus was charged with assault, but given a suspended sentence.
Jimmy Knepper’s first solo record, A Swinging Introduction to Jimmy Knepper, was released in 1957. This was comprised of mainly covers, with a few original tracks written by Knepper. He also released Idol of the Flies that same year, featuring a young upcoming pianist by the name of Bill Evans.

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