This talented reed player shares the same birthday as Joseph Jarman, another modern jazzman whose taste in axes includes low-speaking horns such as bass clarinet and baritone saxophone. It is the latter horn that Jay Cameron is best known for, although he also recorded on both bass and regular B flat clarinet as well as alto saxophone, the horn he started out on in the early '40s. Cameron was several touches more of a mainstream jazzman than Jarman, although both have reputations as exciting soloists. On baritone, Cameron was treated to regular standup features during
his tenure with both the Woody Herman big band and trombonist Slide Hampton's group, perhaps the contexts in which he was heard by the widest audience. Cameron also took part in dozens of brilliant jazz recordings during the '50s and '60s, and has been profiled as one of a group of American "expatriate" jazzmen who lived in Europe for extended periods.
He came out of the music scene in Hollywood in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War. Up until 1947 he was part of Ike Carpenter's band; by the end of the decade he had begun the first of his European sojourns, teaming up with veteran trumpeter Rex Stewart in France and Italy. In the early '50s Cameron wandered around with a variety of bands in Belgium, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. Cameron spent much of 1955 balancing a baguette on his knee, working in Paris with groups that would often hit at the same club for four months running. The following year he was back in the United States and had begun working with Herman, in subsequent years gigging with top jazz leaders, including contrasting trumpeters Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Trumpet, in fact, seemed to be the instrument of choice for many of his collaborators. Cameron was one of the first players to work with Freddie Hubbard when that fiery trumpeter first showed up in the Big Apple in 1958, while also holding down the floor for high-note specialist Maynard Ferguson during the same year. He was a busy freelancer during these times, racking up nearly 35 recording dates over the a stretch of only a dozen years. Jay Cameron's International Sax Band was one of the only projects under his own name, and a recording of the group that appears with various scramblings of the title Third Herdsmen: The Vogue Sessions has become something of a collector's item. Beginning in the late '60s, Cameron toured with multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Paul Winter. In 1993, author Bill Moody published The Jazz Exiles: American Musicians Abroad, a study of the expatriate movement with a chapter focusing on Cameron.