Tommy Douglas was known in some circles as the greatest reed player who never wanted to leave Kansas City. Which might not have been a big thing, since there have always been many great jazz musicians who are happy to stay put in this live music Mecca with its grand tradition for intense rhythms and all-night jamming. This player came from a family of musicians, including a brother, Roy Douglas, who blew tenor sax. After studying in both Topeka and at the Boston Conservatory, Tommy Douglas received much formative training touring with Captain Woolmack's Band.
Douglas showed up in Kansas City in the late '20s, playing with Paul Banks and George E. Lee, as well as plunging into the waters of leading his own band. While he focused quite often on the Tommy Douglas Orchestra, he also toured with pianist Jelly Roll Morton, and in Jap Allen's group. In 1932, he joined up with Clarence Love's Orchestra and was, for a short period, part of the Bennie Moten group. In the mid-'30s, his own group was one of the more active territory bands, but this meant extended sojourns at Kansas City clubs, as well as rovings and meanderings back and forth across state lines, one of which of course runs right through Kansas City itself. In the late '30s, he rejoined his old associate Lee, this time as musical director, and made many recordings backing up the group's vocalist Julia Lee. Through the '40s, '50s, and '60s he worked almost exclusively with his own group, the performances largely confined to the state of Missouri. One exception was a gig with Duke Ellington which lasted less than two weeks.