Melba Liston: Trombone!

Photo Courtesy:  The Girls in the Band.

Photo Courtesy: The Girls in the Band.

I was quietly cataloging LP’s for Marr Archives from the Norman Saks Collection, when a local Kansas City artist caught my attention. IT WAS A WOMAN! It was a female jazz musician from Kansas City and it was not Mary Lou Williams or Julia Lee. As most women in jazz are known for singing or piano, I was doubly surprised to find that this female jazz artist was a TROMBONE player.

Melba Liston, the jazz trombonist, was born in Kansas City on January 13, 1926. She played with all of the great bands: Gerald Wilson, Dexter Gordon, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones.

She endured the abuse that many female jazz performers endured during that time and was outspoken about that mistreatment. This exploitation caused her to leave music for a while. She spent most of her years in California, but finally came back to music and music education in the 70’s. This brought her back to Kansas City for the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival with her band “Melba Liston Company”.

Even after a stroke, Melba continued to write and arrange music that melded African Rhythms with American Jazz.

The Marr Sound Archives carries many recordings featuring Melba Liston, but one of my favorite songs is “Pow” from the Melba and Her Bones LP on MGM’s Metro Jazz label.

Walter Page, Charlie Persip, Buck Clayton, Melba Liston, and an unidentified musician performing on stage. Photo Courtesy: The Buck Clayton Collection, LaBudde Special Collections.

Walter Page, Charlie Persip, Buck Clayton, Melba Liston, and an unidentified musician performing on stage. Photo Courtesy: The Buck Clayton Collection, LaBudde Special Collections.

Melba Liston performs with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band. Photo Courtesy: The Charlie Menees Collection, LaBudde Special Collections.

Melba Liston performs with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band. Photo Courtesy: The Charlie Menees Collection, LaBudde Special Collections.

Photo courtesy The Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham Collection, LaBudde Special Collections.

Photo courtesy: The Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham Collection, LaBudde Special Collections.

Contributed by Vicki Kirby, Library Information Specialist II and Special Formats Cataloger

2 thoughts on “Melba Liston: Trombone!

  1. In the picture of the Buck Clayton band — dating from the early Fifties (Page died in 1957 and Persip’s drum set has a Dizzy horn on it) — is it possible that the clarinetist is Ernie Caceres? I wonder if this is from JAZZ AT THE PLAZA, a time when Buck, the Ellington band, and the Gillespie band were all together in the same place? Memory plays tricks, but it is possible. Hail Melba Liston!

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