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Tommy Potter was always best-known for his association with Charlie Parker (1947-50), particularly for being a member of Bird's quintet at a time when its other players were Miles Davis, Duke Jordan and Max Roach. Never a major soloist himself on the level of an Oscar Pettiford, Potter (who usually just played four-to-the-bar lines) was really an advanced swing stylist who was flexible (and skilled) enough to keep up with Parker's often rapid tempoes. He actually began on the bass fairly late, originally playing piano and guitar and not switching to bass until he was already 21 in 1940. Potter worked with John Malachi, Trummy Young and then quite notably the Billy Eckstine Orchestra (1944-45). After playing with John Hardee and Max Roach, Potter joined Bird's group. In addition to his work with Charlie Parker, Potter recorded with Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Wardell Gray and other top bop musicians during the era.
In the 1950s he remained in demand, working with Count Basie (1950), Eckstine again (1950-51), Earl Hines (1952-53), Artie Shaw (1953-54), Eddie Heywood, Bud Powell's Trio, Tyree Glenn (1958-59), Harry "Sweets" Edison (1959-61), Buck Clayton and even Charles Lloyd. Although Potter's basic style gradually slipped behind the times, he had opportunities to record in many settings including with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Shaw and Edison among others. After playing in a Charlie Parker memorial group in 1965, Potter gradually dropped out of music, becoming semi-retired. Tommy Potter only led two record dates, within three days of each other in Stockholm (in 1956) for the Metronome and East West labels.