Chu Berry

Leon BrownChuBerry (September 13, 1908 – October 30, 1941) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist during the 1930s.

According to music critic Gary Giddins, musicians called him “Chu” either because he chewed on the mouthpiece of his saxophone or because he had a Fu Manchu mustache.

Berry was born in Wheeling, West Virginia. He graduated from Lincoln High School, in Wheeling, then attended West Virginia State College for three years. His sister Ann played piano. Berry became interested in music at an early age, playing alto saxophone, at first with local bands. He was inspired to take up the tenor saxophone after hearing Coleman Hawkins on tour.

Most of Berry’s career was spent with swing bands: Sammy Stewart, 1929–1930, with whom he switched to tenor sax, Benny Carter, 1932–1933, Teddy Hill, 1933–1935, Fletcher Henderson, 1935–1937, Cab Calloway, his best-known affiliation, from 1937 to 1941. Berry is credited with turning Calloway’s band into a legitimate jazz orchestra over the four years of his membership. Throughout his brief career, Berry was in demand as a sideman for recording sessions under the names of various other jazz artists, including Spike Hughes (1933), Bessie Smith (1933), The Chocolate Dandies (1933), Mildred Bailey (1935–1938), Teddy Wilson (1935–1938), Billie Holiday (1938–1939), Wingy Manone (1938–1939) and Lionel Hampton (1939).

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