Born Andrew Dewey Kirk, 28 May 1898, Newport, Kentucky, USA, d. 11 December 1992, New York City, New York, USA. Raised in Colorado, Kirk dabbled in music as a child, learning to play several instruments. He studied assiduously, one of his tutors being Wilberforce Whiteman, father of Paul Whiteman. Kirk played in several bands in and around Denver, in particular that led by George Morrison which played popular music of the day mixed with a smattering of light classics. It was a solid musical apprenticeship for the young man, but he was cautious about his career and all the while kept other regular employment. In 1927, he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he joined Terrence Holder's band, the Dark Clouds Of Joy. By this time Kirk was mostly playing tuba, doubling on baritone and bass saxophones. In 1929, Holder, an erratic individual with his own ideas on how to run the band's finances, was persuaded to quit and Kirk took over leadership. The band's name underwent various minor changes but thereafter was mostly known as Andy Kirk And His Clouds Of Joy. At the instigation of George E. Lee, the band auditioned for and obtained an engagement at Kansas City's prestigious Pla-Mor Restaurant. During their stay at the Pla-Mor the band auditioned again, this time for a recording contract. When Marion Jackson, the regular pianist, could not make the date, Kirk brought in Mary Lou Williams. In addition to playing on the date, Williams also supplied several arrangements, some of which were of her own compositions. She so impressed the record company's executives, Jack Kapp and Dick Voynow, that they insisted she appear on all the band's record dates. Soon afterwards, Jackson tired of this implied slur and quit the band. Williams joined the band full-time and quickly became one of its most important and influential members. The band's personnel was relatively stable over the years and included many excellent musicians such as Buddy Tate (tenor saxophone), Edgar Battle (trumpet), Claude Williams (violin), Ben Thigpen (drums), Pha Terrell (vocals) and Mary Lou's husband, John Williams (alto saxophone).
A subtly swinging band, epitomizing the best of the more commercial end of the Kansas City Jazz sound, the Clouds Of Joy enjoyed several years of success. There were difficult moments, not least in early 1931 when the band had to take engagements and record sessions under the nominal leadership of Blanche Calloway, but they survived into the late 40s. The size of the band, usually ranging between 11-13 pieces, meant that it was smaller than the average swing era big band and this, allied to Mary Lou Williams' skilful charts, gave it an enviable cohesion. Mary Lou Williams left in 1942 to develop her remarkable career. Williams apart, the band's outstanding soloist was tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson. A light-toned player with a sound, if not style, akin to that of Lester Young, he contributed many memorable moments to the band's recorded output. Wilson's death, in 1941 at the age of 30, was a great loss.
For all the enormous talents of Williams and Wilson as far as the non-jazz public was concerned, the band's greatest asset for many years was singer Pha Terrell. He had a light tenor voice with little or no jazz feeling but had several hit records, of which the best known was "Until The Real Thing Comes Along". One of the few territory bands to gain a national reputation, the Clouds Of Joy folded in 1948. Thereafter, Kirk played only occasionally but eventually left of music to take up hotel management. In the 60s, he was occasionally active in music, then dabbled in real estate. In the 80s he took a further job with the local New York American Federation of Musicians, where he continued to put in appearances until long after retirement age.
Walking And Swinging (1936-42) (Affinity 1983)****, Andy's Jive (1944-45) (Swing House 1984)***, Cloudy (1929) (Hep Jazz 1984)****, All Out For Hicksville (1931) (Hep Jazz 1988)***, with Mary Lou Williams Mary's Idea (GRP 1993)***, Mellow Bit Of Rhythm (RCA 1993)***, Kansas City Bounce 1936-40 recordings (Black & Blue 1993)***, An Introduction To Andy Kirk 1926-46 recordings (Best Of Jazz 1998)***.
Twenty Years On Wheels, Andy Kirk as told to Amy Lee.
Source: Encyclopedia of Popular Music
Classics Jazz (France)
Classics Jazz (France)
Classics Jazz (France)
Best Of Jazz (France)
Instrumentally Speaking [Cassette]
Lady Who Swings The Band [Cassette]