June Rotenberg

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b. c.1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Encouraged in her interest in music, she was thought to be taking piano lessons but was, in fact, taking lessons on the bass. By the time her ruse was detected…
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b. c.1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Encouraged in her interest in music, she was thought to be taking piano lessons but was, in fact, taking lessons on the bass. By the time her ruse was detected she had gained enough proficiency to stay with the instrument, becoming one of very few female bass players in any kind of music. In fact, although trained in classical music, and later a jazz player of distinction, Rotenberg played in many musical forms, including classical, throughout her career. In New York from the early 40s, she met and sat in with many fine jazz musicians including Ben Webster, Lester Young and Mary Lou Williams. She played and recorded in a trio led by Williams, with Bridget O’Flynn on drums.

She also played in a trio with O’Flynn led by Beryl Booker. In the mid- to late 40s Rotenberg was splitting her musical time between long spells with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and after-hours sessions with Art Tatum. During the 50s she spent some time in Europe, mostly playing classical music but with the occasional jazz session in Parisian clubs. She played at festivals centred upon the playing of the renowned classical cellist Pablo Casals. Eventually, Rotenberg began spending most of her time in New York, playing in studios and in Broadway pit orchestras. Despite her status, she still found it necessary to prove herself; she told Sally Placksin, ‘to be treated as an equal, you better be very good.’