Ulysses Livingston's name is surely one of the most auspicious-sounding among guitarists in the jazz idiom. Despite the fact that greater fame was awarded to simpler handles such as Jim Hall and Joe Pass, Livingston still piled up discographical credits that would mightily impress any bean counter -- even including a side or two with "Bean" himself, namely tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Like Speedy Sparks of Austin, Texas, Livingston's professional music career began as a roadie, although in the Horace Henderson band this position was referred to as "valet." And like the avant-garde guitarist Joe Morris, Livingston began concentrating on playing electric bass after several decades as a guitarist.
Livingston began this musical life in the West Virginia State College Band, leaving that for the previously described gainful employment with the Henderson mob. From there he returned to West Virginia, using the area as a base to secure gigs with roaming carnival bands. He strums his way into the jazz picture frame in the mid-'30s, performing with Lil Armstrong, Frankie Newton, Sammy Price, and Benny Carter. Like many a musician, this activity eventually involved residencies in New York City. In the early '40s the guitarist began touring and recording with the great jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. This was a period in which many musicians were sidetracked into the military, to either play music on bases or actually march in the infantry. Livingston's involvement was brief, despite any heroic references his first name may evoke. By 1943 he was back on the music scene, this time trying the West Coast.
The move also seemed to involve a change in musical direction, moving toward rhythm & blues or the type of vocal group sound that was popular before the former term was even established. He played guitar and also sang in groups such as the Spirits of Rhythm as well as leading his own Four Blazes, a combo moniker that has been used in music history with the regularity of summer forest fires. The development of this type of music in Hawaii also involves Livingston, with collaborator Cee Pee Johnson.
Livingston continued working on a freelance basis in the '50s, settling in Los Angeles and developing an expertise in electronics that led to dual responsibilities at recording sessions. In the '70s he was better known as an electric bassist, but he continued to record on guitar as well.