Booker Pittman

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If this artist had stayed put working in an orchestra pit, he would be among the illustrious few working musicians whose surname describes their gig. Booker Pittman traveled far and wide, though, making…
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If this artist had stayed put working in an orchestra pit, he would be among the illustrious few working musicians whose surname describes their gig. Booker Pittman traveled far and wide, though, making his reputation in the territory bands of Kansas City and Dallas, then expanding the territory to include not only Europe but South America. Many jazz musicians have been influenced greatly by music from the latter continent, but Pittman actually moved there, at one point even running his own farm near São Paulo, Brazil.

The reed player and vocalist's mother was Portia Pittman, a daughter of Booker T. Washington and a music teacher who provided valuable schooling for a host of legendary '20s Dallas jazzmen, including Sam Price and Budd Johnson. In the second half of that decade, Booker Pittman made his mother proud joining the reed sections of bands such as the Blue Moon Chasers and Gene Coy's Happy Black Aces. The following decade he became associated with the Kansas City jazz scene, figuring into the early histories of Count Basie and scintillating combos including Ralph Cooper's Kongo Knights.

Bandleader Lucky Millinder took Pittman on tour in Europe in the summer of 1933. Pittman stayed abroad for several years, then traveled to Rio de Janiero with one of his regular European employers, orchestra leader Romeo Silva. Options seemed decent for an American jazzman in South America at this time, Pittman working at one Bueno Aires hotel with a group called the Swing Stars before launching his own version of the group at a similar venue. He gigged in Argentina for nearly a decade before going back to Brazil and taking an equal length of time off from music: the farming period. In the early '60s he was back as a player, including a trip home. Back in South America in 1963, Pittman put together a variety act with daughter Eliana Pittman, a vocalist. His last performances in the United States were on a television program in 1964.