Frankie Trumbauer was born in 1901 to a musically-inclined mother who directed theater orchestras. His St. Louis childhood saw Frankie learning a number of instruments, including the cornet, clarinet, and bassoon. But he is perhaps best known for popularizing the C-melody saxophone, which is somewhere between an alto and tenor saxophone in size. His twenties were spent playing with groups like the Mound City Blowers, who gave “Tram” his first recording experience with some songs for Brunswick Records.
Frankie was the musical director for Jean Goldkette’s Victor Recording Orchestra when he first recruited Bix Biederbecke to play cornet.
They had a solid rapport, and kept it going through collaborations with Paul Whiteman and, by 1927, Frankie’s own recordings for Okeh. The first single was a cover of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Singin’ The Blues.”
They were joined by guitarist Eddie Lang. The three of them would work together throughout 1929, with a number of songs that would become part of the early jazz canon. Frankie’s solo on “Trumbology,” for example, was very influential for later jazz greats like Lester Young.
Violinist Joe Venuti joined the fun in the this jaunty little saunter down the streets of “Baltimore.”
“Borneo” features a vocal by Scrappy Lambert. The lyrics aren’t entirely politically correct, but the overall feel is lighthearted and whimsical, a daydream of a faraway place where you’ll dance all night even if you have a corn-e-o on your foot. Those of you who are interested in the island’s true story can click here. Those interested in a song depicting a more contemporary version of escaping to Borneo can click here.
By 1931, Bix and Eddie had moved on to seek their own fortunes. Frankie’s recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind”—the second, after Hoagy’s 1930 version—made it to the Top 10.
After that, Trumbauer’s solo recording dates came less consistently. He took some jobs playing with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra again and formed The Three T’s with the two Teagarden Brothers in 1936, recording with Brunswick, Columbia, and Varsity along the way. By 1940, Frankie put music aside for his other passion: flying. He joined the Civil Aeronautics Authority, became a test pilot for North American Aviation and, during the war, trained crews in the use of the B-25 bomber. With the exception of a brief stint in the NBC Orchestra, Trumbauer would continue to make his living in aviation until his death of a heart attack at the age of 55.