b. Albert Omega Sears, 21 February 1910, Macomb, Illinois, USA, d. 23 March 1990, New York City, New York, USA. After playing alto and baritone saxophones in various bands in the north-eastern states, Sears switched to tenor saxophone and moved to New York, where he was soon in demand. In the late 20s he was with Chick Webb and Zack Whyte, then briefly played with Elmer Snowden before forming his own band. In 1941, he folded his band and joined Andy Kirk, then Lionel Hampton, and, in 1944, succeeded Ben Webster in the Duke Ellington band. Sears remained with Ellington until 1949 and soon thereafter joined Johnny Hodges’ band, which had a successful record with Sears’ composition ‘Castle Rock’. Sears subsequently ran his own music publishing business in partnership with Budd Johnson, playing occasionally in R&B bands and using the name Big Al Sears. A forceful player with enormous drive and energy, Sears needed only a slight coarsening of his naturally rasping tone to adapt readily into the R&B fold. Despite such later manifestations, however, his recorded solos with Ellington indicate a musician of considerable sophistication, and his recordings, which include ‘Hiawatha’ from Ellington’s ‘The Beautiful Indians’, frequently offer fine examples of his craft.
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