Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
Jazzed in Cleveland Complete Index

Part 3 - Pee Wee Jackson, a Forgotten Pioneer
Story filed May 29, 1996

The headline in the Cleveland Press in the 1940s blared: GABRIEL BLOWS HIS HORN

The story described the adventures of a man who stole a milk truck. He drove it through some of Cleveland's better neighborhoods at 5 o'clock in the morning playing "Taps" and other bugle calls on an old trumpet. Eventually he was arrested by Cleveland police. Most people at the time thought it was just an amusing prank. But looking back, that incident was the tragic coda to the career of one of the first top-flight jazz musicians from Cleveland to emerge on the national scene.

The horn player the headline writer called "Gabriel" was Harry "Pee Wee" Jackson, a jazz trumpeter from Cleveland who had played with some of the top black bands in the 1930s and 1940s. Pee Wee Jackson first joined Earl "Fatha" Hines' Orchestra in Chicago. Budd Johnson recalled in Ira Gitler's book Swing To Bop, "Jackson was the first guy we took out of Cleveland." Johnson said Pee Wee Jackson was "a very good trumpet player." According to Johnson, it was Jackson who "pulled our coats" about another Cleveland trumpeter, Freddie Webster. Johnson said the highly-regarded Webster "was never quite the trumpet player that Pee Wee was, but he had that big sound and he used to play pretty."

Jackson joined Horace Henderson's Orchestra in 1938 with another Cleveland trumpeter, Emmett Berry, and returned to Hines in 1940 with yet another trumpeter who had played in Cleveland, Tommy Enoch. In 1941 Jackson, Enoch and Webster, quickly developing what some were beginning to call "The Cleveland Style of Trumpet," went to Los Angeles with Hines and recorded six sides for Bluebird Records.

In 1942 Jackson and Webster joined the high-flying Jimmie Lunceford band. When the band came to Cleveland, young musicians from Central High School turned out in force to cheer their alumni heroes.

Jackson and Webster returned to Hines again in 1942 and played with such sidemen as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine and singer Sarah Vaughan. It was the band many later called "The Incubator of Bop." Budd Johnson remembered, "Freddie would play the big sound and the pretty things, and Pee Wee would play the bop-style songs."

But Jackson apparently began drinking heavily and soon disappeared from the jazz scene. He was not heard from again until that night in Cleveland when he stole a milk truck and drove around some of the better neighborhoods playing "Taps." A few years later the Cleveland jazz pioneer was dead and all but forgotten.

Copyright 1996 Joe Mosbrook

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