With a name that sounds like something shouted in brogue during a shipwreck, Castor McCord was a superb member of the reed sections in some of the classiest ensembles ever assembled in jazz, including a Parisian outfit that backed Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins. Nonetheless there are other aspects of his life and career that merit interest outside the realm of jazz aesthetics. For one thing--or actually two things--McCord is one of very few sets of twins involved in performing swinging music. His brother was also a saxophonist, Theodore McCord, sometimes known by his antique middle-name of "Jobetus."
A superficial examination of the playing involvements of these brothers would lead to the mistaken conclusion that they were bluegrass pickers, or rather tooters, instead of jazzmen. After all, they both started out playing in Edgar Hayes' Blue Grass Buddies in 1924. Hayes, however, was an early jazz bandleader, part of a rich scene of black music happening in the region of Ohio towns such as Springfield and Xenia. At this point, the McCord brothers were still in high school and the term "bluegrass" was years away from being used in the context of anything connected to country and western. During his ensuing years at the area's important Wilberforce University, Castor McCord joined a student band under the direction of Horace Henderson, which as in the case of many of his fellow students led to a decision to play professionally.
McCord headed to Atlantic City, then the Big Apple. Falling in with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, he was by the end of the '20s playing on dates behind Armstrong. He kept up his allegiance to this group while also working with leaders such as Eubie Blake and Charlie Matson. A period of living abroad was next on the agenda, although this decision puts McCord in a much larger group of American performers than his later decision to abandon music for hairdressing. He spent more than a year based in Paris and was also in on the traveling adventures of bandleader Leon Abbey, another expatriate who took jazz to lands it had never been before, including India in 1936.
As a leader of his own group, McCord's main ventures seem to have taken place during the European sojourn--he had his own trio in Amsterdam in 1937. He also gigged the following year in a Rotterdam outfit whose musical weather vane was Walter Rains. McCord came back to New York City soon thereafter, joining back up with Abbey who had made the same decision. In McCord's final years as a musician he joined the reed section of Benny Carter's band for some memorable stomping at the Savoy, also working with Eddie Mallory and a memorable ensemble organized by the great Kansas City jazz musician
Claude Hopkins. McCord opened his own Manhattan hairdressing salon in 1940, remaining committed to the comb and brush up until his death in the early '60s.