Jazz Gillum

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No harmonica player was as popular or as much in demand on recording sessions during the '30s as Jazz Gillum.
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One of the pre-eminent Chicago harpists of the pre-war era, Bill "Jazz" Gillum was born September 11, 1904 in Indianola, Mississippi. He picked up the harmonica at the age of six, and five years later ran away from home to live with relatives in nearby Charleston. After spending his formative years playing street corners and house parties for spare change, Gillum moved to Chicago in 1923, and before long he hooked up with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy, who often played together as a duo in area clubs. Following a few sideman dates for ARC, he signed with RCA Victor's Bluebird imprint in 1934 to record as a solo artist. His strong relationship with producer Lester Melrose also resulted in a steady stream of session work, and he was a fixture of the "Bluebird Beat" house band. Gillum was drafted into the Army in 1942, and when he returned from duty, his high, reedy harmonica sound had been largely eclipsed by the harder-edged style of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. He recorded a few more sides for Bluebird, but drifted into obscurity by the '50s, dying after a gunshot wound to the head on March 29, 1966.