George Oldham

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George Oldham is one of two brothers from Chattanooga who were active on the Chicago jazz scene in the ‘30s and ‘40s, performing together as members of the Louis Armstrong Big Band circa 1933. Relatively…
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George Oldham is one of two brothers from Chattanooga who were active on the Chicago jazz scene in the ‘30s and ‘40s, performing together as members of the Louis Armstrong Big Band circa 1933. Relatively little attention has been paid by jazz scholars to either of the transplanted Tennessean siblings: to pick a metaphor appropriate to their surname, they have been treated like old hams jammed in the back of the butcher´s sale display. Bill Oldham seems to have generated most of whatever scant interest exists in the brothers. He, after all, mastered four of the orchestra´s low-range instruments from three different instrument families. While Bill Oldham remained active musically for nearly half a century, his brother died in 1947. It can be assumed that he was still fairly young; typically, a lack of solid information on his birthday is part of the miniscule research package.

According to recording credits he played mostly alto saxophone and clarinet. A great deal of his discography, which has been logged as totaling a half-dozen separate recording sessions between 1933 and 1936, is devoted to realizing Armstrong´s large ensemble aspirations. Satchmologists would describe this as part of the great man´s youthful enterprise, certainly a good deal more ambitious than the small combo groove he settled into in his later years. By the time Armstrong gathered a new version of the orchestra in New York City in 1935, reed section members Oldham and Scoville Brown had been replaced by Henry Jones and Charlie Holmes. Oldham went onto the Lionel Hampton band, where he shows up on recordings from the late ´30s--these appear to have been his final musical performances.