Alto and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Tyler, born in Kittrell, NC on Dec 15, 1918, brought his high-energy style to Boston in 1946, when he joined the Sabby Lewis Orchestra. It was a pairing that was just right for the times, and Tyler became the band’s star soloist. As another alto saxophonist, Dave Chapman, described him, “A hot saxophone player, a lot of personality. On the rough side, but always exciting.” He was a bandstand regular at all the South End and Roxbury clubs from the mid 1940s to the early 1960s.
Jimmy Tyler moved from North Carolina to New York City as a young man, finding work with drummer Chris Columbus, and the Savoy Sultans. He played in an Army in World War II, stationed in the Philippine Islands, and then at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. At that time he played with Boston jazzmen Joe Nevils and Ernie Trotman, and maybe they convinced him to move to Boston.
Tyler worked with Lewis from mid 1946 to mid 1948. In 1947, he recorded his signature tune, Illinois Jacquet’s “Bottoms Up” (Crystal-Tone 515A). Billboard called the record “a terrific sax ride by Jimmy Tyler.” Tyler, though, got restless, and he went on his own in late summer 1948. He formed a band with some of the good young modernists in Boston, like trumpeter Lennie Johnson and drummer Bey Perry, and worked at Wally’s Paradise. They stayed at Wally’s until April 1949. From about July to October, Tyler toured with Count Basie.
Back in Boston that fall, Tyler rejoined the Sabby Lewis Orchestra, and it did not go well. The band fell apart in December, and its former members voted to keep going with Tyler as their leader. On December 31, 1949, the Jimmy Tyler Orchestra took the stage at the Hi-Hat and worked there until June. After the summer in Atlantic City, Tyler returned to house band duties at the Hi-Hat until May 1951.
Jimmy Tyler was a natural-born networker, long before anyone called it that. When he was in Atlantic City, he met Larry Steele, who owned and managed the Smart Affairs musical review. Steele hired Tyler’s band to tour with the show beginning in the fall of 1951. The following April, the tour arrived in Boston, at the Sugar Hill nightclub, on the edge of the Theatre District. Tyler left Steele and Smart Affairs at the end of that engagement in May.
The 1950s found Tyler based in Boston but working all along the eastern seaboard, from Maine to Miami. In mid-1958, though, he was able to settle in Boston. He started working in the house band at Connolly’s, with Hillary Rose on Hammond organ and Baggy Grant on drums, and lining up guest artists to play with them. The guest list was heavy with names from the Ellington, Basie and Hampton bands. During the summers, he’d move to the Rocky Manor, a club in Wareham, near Cape Cod. Tyler was able to stay on this schedule until September 1962, when Connolly’s decided to make a change. Tyler took his guest-artist concept to the nearby Shanty Lounge, but it was not successful there. Other, more contemporary styles of jazz were nudging their way onto Boston’s bandstands.
In about spring 1963, Tyler moved to New York. The singer Lloyd Price hired Tyler to run his show band, and that lasted for about two years. Their tour stopped in Boston in December 1964, at the Basin Street South nightclub.
Jimmy Tyler didn’t get back to Boston too often after the mid 1960s, and it was often family ties, not musical ones, that brought him back. In the mid 1970s, he joined forces with organist Wild Bill Davis. They toured in Europe and recorded the obscure album, The Blue Waters of Bermuda (Wiljim Records JT329). After that, Tyler was pretty quiet, and residing in the Daytona Beach area in Florida. He died there on May 13, 1998, at age 79.
To the music. Here’s Tyler with the Sabby Lewis Orchestra and “Bottoms Up” from 1947.
Here is Jimmy Tyler on tenor with a crack studio band playing his own 1956 composition, “Pink Clouds.” I’ve always liked Cliff Leeman’s drumming here.