Alphonso Trent

b. Alphonse Trent, 24 August 1905, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA, d. 14 October 1959, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA. Born into a middle-class family, Trent learned piano at an early age and by his teens was playing…
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Artist Biography

b. Alphonse Trent, 24 August 1905, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA, d. 14 October 1959, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA. Born into a middle-class family, Trent learned piano at an early age and by his teens was playing regularly in local dance bands. He formed his own band while in his late teens, then worked briefly for another local leader before taking over his small band and securing a long residency at a hotel in Dallas, Texas. For this engagement he expanded the band to 10 pieces; among the excellent musicians he hired were Snub Mosley, James Jeter, Hayes Pillars (who later teamed up to form the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra), drummer A.G. Godley, generally acclaimed as the father of Kansas City-style drumming, Stuff Smith, Peanuts Holland and Sy Oliver. Thanks to regular broadcasts from the hotel, Trent’s popularity spread throughout the south-western states. He paid high wages and offered his sidemen exceptionally good conditions which included smart uniforms and personal limousines. The line-up of the band remained remarkably constant and the musicians enthusiastic, well aware that they were envied by less fortunate members of other territory bands.

This consistency, allied to ample rehearsal time and excellent arrangements (aside from Oliver, the band’s arrangers included Gus Wilson, brother of Teddy Wilson), helped to build the orchestra into the outstanding territory band of the pre-swing era. Although the band occasionally played in the east, including an appearance at New York’s Savoy Ballroom, Trent preferred to remain in the south-west. This parochial attitude, coupled with the fact that the band made only a tiny handful of records, prevented it from making an impact upon the national jazz scene. Worse still, the band’s management was inept and in 1933, on the eve of the explosion of interest in big band jazz, Trent was obliged to fold. For the rest of the 30s he continued to play with small groups, for one of which he unearthed the unknown Charlie Christian, but by the early part of the following decade music was only a part-time interest. He died in October 1959. During its existence the Trent band displayed standards of musicianship on a par with those of more famous bands, such as Fletcher Henderson’s and Jimmie Lunceford’s, but his few records give only a tantalizing glimpse of its qualities.