This superb rhythm section player went through periods of instrumental specialization during his epic career, keeping time for a series of terrific, contrasting singers when he was young and turning old and grey while jogging in front of, if not behind, guitar wizards Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, and Charlie Byrd. Drummer Bertell Knox's own group performs regularly at the Kennedy Center, including a 2004 tribute to Count Basie. Knox had a good start on his drumming abilities when he shipped off to the Second World War. The esteemed Specs Wright, professional New York City jazzman, had initiated percussion studies that continued courtesy of Camp Lee's aggressive bandmasters. Out of uniform, the drummer began gigging around the Washington, D.C., area, nabbing the throne in the Howard Theatre house band, the Washingtonians. He thus touched the Basie circle, as the leader was a reed player who became one of Basie's best soloists, Frank Wess.
In the early '50s Knox spent a few years with the Howard University Swingmasters, then began accompanying Pearl Bailey and Ella Fitzgerald, among other singers. For half a decade beginning in 1952, he also regularly worked with tenor saxophone wildman Arnett Cobb. The relationship with bossa nova guitarist Byrd began at the Showboat club circa 1957. A 1965 date that was only released on CD decades later presents the drummer in particularly brilliant company, holding forth at the Left Bank venue on an evening when the front horn line consisted of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Jimmy Heath, each trying to eat the other for breakfast. Rick Wurzbacher, another jazz guitarist, is the bandleader as the scene jumps forward at least four decades, a Live! set tracked at Blues Alley with the drummer sounding more like a teenager than a 74-year-old gentleman. Continuing to be based out of the nation's capital, Knox has presumably retired from supporting himself as a government clerk.