Don Frye

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This pianist began working as a professional jazzman while he was still a teenager. The year was 1919 and the bandleaders who were willing to potentially corrupt an adolescent were the brothers Cecil…
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This pianist began working as a professional jazzman while he was still a teenager. The year was 1919 and the bandleaders who were willing to potentially corrupt an adolescent were the brothers Cecil and Lloyd Scott. The pianist went off to New York City with this band in 1924--coincidentally, Frye had just turned 21 but it is not known whether the Scott brothers were waiting around for their pianist to hit legal age before heading to the Big Apple. Frye continued working with this group until the early '30s, then was in a trio led by Freddy Moore that also included fiery alto saxophonist Pete Brown.

In May of 1937, the pianist became one of the original members of the John Kirby Sextet but did not stay with this group for very long. Lucky Millinder was the next bandleader who was fortunate to have this pianist in the rhythm section, then the honor passed to Frankie Newton in 1939. The following decade drummer Zutty Singleton was utilizing Frye in a sextet as well as a trio. In 1943 one of these groups was based out of Los Angeles for a stint. Frye also did some performing and recording with guitarist, singer and oddball Slim Gaillard.

Upon his return to New York City in the mid '40s Frye became the house pianist at the Ryan's venue. He was a regular at that club for nearly two decades until it finally shut its doors for good in 1962, following which Frye freelanced his solo piano repertoire around various Manhattan venues. Eventually he retired, an event the audience that likes to talk over the pianists in these venues might not have noticed. In 2003 Frye joined the elite group of jazzmen who have celebrated their 100th birthdays. He is not related to the boxer Don Frye, who strangely enough had one bout with Drew Fickett, a boxer whose hobby was playing piano!