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Paul Webster

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The Jimmie Lunceford band became known for some of the notes Paul Webster hit on his trumpet; documentation of his close to a decade as a featured soloist on the Lunceford bandstand is encyclopedic. Listeners who praise high-note trumpet blasters by endowing them with the power to raise the dead should be advised that Webster was actually gainfully employed as an undertaker in Kansas City prior to making it on the jazz scene. This artist should not be confused with a songwriter prolific enough to make this trumpeter's published accomplishments seem like scraps of papyrus in the wind. Both men are coincidentally named Paul Francis Webster, although the songwriter seems to have made the most use of the middle name in credits. Both men also died in New York, although in different decades. The trumpeter's life was nearly 20 years shorter, Webster riffing past the respiratory illness that finally brought him down with a regular schedule of live gigs and recording. His uncle Sam Ford started Webster off on trumpet, and by the mid-'20s the lad was gigging in an amorous-sounding outfit fronted by Clarence Lover. During college he was part of a Memphis-based combo that identified itself as the Boston Serenaders. Embalming was Webster's initial choice of careers after graduating from Fisk University, yet his choice of Kansas City to begin that career led to employment as a trumpeter with George E. Lee, Bennie Moten, and many others. He was in and out of Moten's groups during the early '30s and also began his initial collaborations with Lunceford during that period. The trumpeter was finally finished with the latter big band come 1944, then began working with the entertaining Cab Calloway, once again a source for attention-getting solos well into the '50s. Webster also stocked the pages of his datebook courtesy of bandleaders Charlie Barnet, Count Basie, Sy Oliver, and Pérez Prado. In his later years Webster combined his gigging with a position in the United States immigration service. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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