Paul Bascomb, born on February 12, 1912, in Birmingham, Alabama, was an American jazz saxophonist who made a significant impact on the swing and rhythm & blues scenes. Known for his smooth and melodic playing style, Bascomb was a highly regarded tenor saxophonist who worked with some of the most prominent big bands of his time.
Bascomb’s early interest in music was nurtured by his family, which included his older brother Dud, a successful jazz trombonist. He began playing the alto saxophone, later transitioning to the tenor saxophone. In 1932, Paul and Dud joined the historically black Alabama State Teachers College, where they formed a band called the ‘Bama State Collegians.
The ‘Bama State Collegians gained considerable popularity and eventually relocated to New York City in 1934, where they became the core of Erskine Hawkins’ big band. Paul Bascomb became the lead tenor saxophonist in the band, performing with them for nearly a decade. During his tenure with Hawkins, Bascomb made notable recordings, including the hit “Tuxedo Junction.”
In 1944, Bascomb left Hawkins’ band to form his own group, which played a combination of swing and rhythm & blues. He led this ensemble throughout the 1940s and 1950s, recording memorable tunes like “Pink Cadillac” and “More Blues – More Beat.” Bascomb’s band became a popular touring act, performing at various clubs and dance halls across the United States.
Despite not achieving the same level of fame as some of his contemporaries, Paul Bascomb was widely respected by his peers for his exceptional talent and distinctive sound. He was particularly known for his ability to create melodic and accessible solos that appealed to a wide range of listeners.
After retiring from active performance in the early 1960s, Bascomb returned to his hometown of Birmingham, where he became involved in music education. He worked with local school bands and taught private lessons, helping to nurture a new generation of musicians. Paul Bascomb passed away on December 2, 1986, leaving behind a legacy of musical innovation and excellence.
Although his name may not be as widely recognized as some of his contemporaries, Paul Bascomb’s contributions to the development of swing and rhythm & blues remain an important part of jazz history. His smooth, melodic playing and his dedication to the craft of saxophone continue to inspire musicians and enthusiasts alike.
Last updated 3/18/2023.