Harry Howell Carney, born on April 1, 1910, in Boston, Massachusetts, was a renowned American jazz saxophonist, primarily known for his 45-year tenure with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. As one of the longest-serving members of the band, Carney played a crucial role in shaping its distinctive sound, particularly through his mastery of the baritone saxophone.
Carney began playing the clarinet at age 15 and later switched to the alto saxophone. He soon found his true calling when he picked up the baritone saxophone, an instrument that would come to define his career. Carney joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1927 at just 17 years old and remained a vital member of the band until Ellington’s death in 1974.
During his time with Ellington, Carney was responsible for developing the unique baritone saxophone style that became a signature sound of the orchestra. His rich, deep tone and exceptional breath control allowed him to create a powerful foundation for the band, while his innovative techniques and solos helped elevate the baritone saxophone to a prominent role in jazz music.
In addition to his prowess on the baritone sax, Carney was also a skilled clarinetist and played the bass clarinet and alto saxophone on occasion. He contributed to several of Ellington’s most famous recordings, such as “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Rockin’ in Rhythm.” Despite being heavily associated with the Ellington Orchestra, Carney occasionally performed and recorded with other groups and artists, including Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, and Lionel Hampton.
Carney’s impact on the jazz world extended beyond his remarkable playing. He served as a mentor to younger musicians and inspired countless saxophonists, leaving a lasting impression on the development of the baritone saxophone in jazz. Following Duke Ellington’s death in 1974, Carney’s health began to decline, and he passed away on October 8, 1974, just months after Ellington.
Harry Carney’s unparalleled skill, innovation, and dedication to his craft have secured his place in jazz history as one of the most influential baritone saxophonists of all time. His contributions to the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the broader jazz community continue to resonate and inspire future generations of musicians.
Page last updated 3/18/2023.