Drummers / Percussionists
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BIOGRAPHY

Sonny Greer

Sonny Greer, born December 13, 1895 in Long Branch, New Jersey, was an American jazz/big band drummer and vocalist, best known for his work with Duke Ellington.

Greer played with Elmer Snowden's band and the Howard Theatre's orchestra in Washington, D.C. before joining Duke Ellington in 1919. He was the first drummer to work with Duke, playing with Ellington's quintet, the Washingtonians. On December 4, 1927, Ellington began his residency at the Cotton Club in Harlem, increasing the size of his band from six (including Greer on drums) to eleven players. Sonny's day job was working as a designer for the Leedy Drum Company of Indiana, and as a result, was able to build up a huge drum (trap) kit, including chimes, a gong, timpani, and vibraphone. At the time this drum/percussion set-up was worth more than $3,000!

Unfortunately throughout his music career Greer was a heavy drinker. He was also a pool-hall hustler — when he needed to retrieve his drums from the pawnbroker. In 1950, Duke Ellington responded to Greer's drinking and occasional unreliability by taking a second drummer, Butch Ballard, with them on their Scandinavia tour. This infuriated Greer — the ensuing, fiery argument led to his permanent dismissal.

Greer continued to play music, working mainly as a freelance drummer, performing with such musicians as Red Allen, Tyree Glenn, J. C. Higginbotham, Johnny Hodges, and Brooks Kerr. Besides briefly leading his own band, Greer appeared in a number of films as well as taking part in a tribute to Duke Ellington in 1974, which saw a lot of success throughout the United States.

Sonny Greer died on March 23, 1982; he was 86.


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