Leon "Chu" Berry

Leon "Chu" Berry

born on 13/9/1908 in Wheeling, WV, United States

died on 31/10/1941 in Conneaut, OH, United States

Alias Chu Berry

Leon "Chu" Berry

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Chu Berry
Birth name Leon Brown Berry
Born September 13 1908
Origin Wheeling, West Virginia
Died October 30 1941 (aged 33)
Genres Swing music
Instruments tenor saxophone
Associated acts Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway

Leon Brown "Chu" Berry (September 13, 1908,[1] Wheeling, West Virginia – October 30, 1941,[2] Conneaut, Ohio) was an American swing tenor saxophonist.

Considering the brevity of Chu's life, and that his recording career spans a mere decade, it is remarkable that his name continues to loom large in the annals of jazz. Had he lived, there is no doubt that he would be ensconced in the jazz pantheon alongside Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. He was that good. – Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

Early life

Berry graduated from Lincoln High School, in Wheeling, then attended West Virginia State College, near Charleston, for three years.[3] His stepsister played piano and Chu became interested in music at an early age, playing alto sax at first with local bands. He was inspired to take up the tenor saxophone after hearing Coleman Hawkins on tour. Although Berry based his style on Hawkins' playing, the older man regarded Berry as his equal, saying "'Chu' was about the best."

Big Band Career

Most of Chu Berry's career was spent in the sax sections of major swing bands:[4]

"Although it has been stated in some publications that Chu Berry joined Count Basie's orchestra, this is erroneous. He did not take the place of Herschel Evans, but did, however, deputize for him at a recording date..."[5]

Session Player

Throughout his brief career, Chu Berry was in demand as a sideman for recording sessions under the names of various other jazz artists, including:

During the period 1934-1939, while saxophone pioneer Coleman Hawkins was playing in Europe, Chu Berry was one of several younger tenor saxophonists, such as Budd Johnson, Ben Webster and Lester Young who vied for supremacy on their instrument. Berry's mastery of advanced harmony and his smoothly-flowing solos on uptempo tunes influenced such young innovators as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The latter named his first son Leon in Chu's honor.[6] Chu Berry was one of the jazz musicians who took part in jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse in New York City which led to the development of bebop.

"Christopher Columbus", which Berry co-composed with Andy Razaf was the last important hit recording of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra, recorded in 1936. It is one of the most popular riff tunes from the swing era and was used as the final showstopper in Benny Goodman's first Carnegie Hall jazz concert of January 16, 1938.

Berry died in Conneaut, Ohio from injuries sustained in an automobile accident while en route between gigs in Brookfield, Ohio, and Toronto.

"Chu Berry" is the unofficial name of a series of saxophones produced by the C. G. Conn company during the 1920s, though it is more accurate to refer to those saxophones as the Conn New Wonder Series II. Interestingly, Berry played a tenor model known as the Conn 10M Transitional,[7] and is not known to have ever worked on a New Wonder Series II.[8] Saxophone collectors often use "Chu Berry" in reference to alto, soprano, and baritone models of the same vintage.

Author Jack Kerouac was obviously a Chu Berry fan, referring to him as "the great Chu Berry" near the beginning of The Subterraneans.


Although Chu Berry's recording career spanned less than a decade, he is well represented on record.[9]


Ten selected singles

  • Sweet Sue, with Spike Hughes and His Negro Orchestra, 1933
  • I Never Knew, with The Chocolate Dandies, 1933
  • Blue Lou, with Fletcher Henderson, 1936
  • Limehouse blues, 1937
  • Forty-Six West Fifty-Two, Chu Berry and his Little Jazz Ensemble, with Roy Eldridge, 1938
  • Sittin' In, same
  • Oh, Lady Be Good!, with Count Basie, 1939
  • Sweethearts on parade, with Lionel Hampton, 1939
  • Shufflin' at the Hollywood, same
  • I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You, with Cab Calloway, 1940

External links


  1. Although some sources give a 1910-09-13 birth date, Chu was enumerated 1910-04-15 in the United States census at 1002 Chapline Street in Wheeling, a 19-month-old child living with his parents Brown and Margaret Berry – ancestry.com. ancestry.com (a subscription site). Retrieved on 2009-10-16.
  2. Berry's death date also appears differently in various sources. However, his death certificate clearly lists his death as occurring 7:30 AM, October 30, 1941, in Brown Memorial Hospital, Conneaut, Ohio, as the result of a skull fracture incurred in an accident at 12:35 AM, October 27. The informant is his wife Ann. The certificate lists his middle name as Brown, gives his birth date as September 13, 1908, and gives his parents' names and birthplaces. – FamilySearch Record Search. familysearch.org. Retrieved on 2009-06-26.
  3. Leon "Chu" Berry. Wheeling Hall of Fame biography. Retrieved on 2009-05-29.
  4. Chilton, John, Who's Who of Jazz, Storyville to Swing Street, Time-Life Records Special Edition, page 32, 1978
  5. Case, Brian, and Britt, Stan, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz, Harmony Books, page 24, 1978
  6. cabcalloway.cc. Retrieved on 2009-06-18.
  7. 10M Transitional. commentary. Retrieved on 2009-06-25.
  8. New Wonder (Series II). commentary. Retrieved on 2009-06-18.
  9. Rust, Brian, Jazz and Ragtime Records, 1897-1942, Mainspring Press, 2008.
This page was last modified 16.10.2009 15:01:17

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