Trombonist Matthew Gee Jr. was born in Houston on November 25, 1925. Jazz critic Leonard Feather considered him one of the "best and most underrated bop-influenced trombonists." Gee began, however, on trumpet and moved to baritone horn (an instrument on which he recorded with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1959) before settling on the trombone by age eleven. His father was a bass player, and his brother Herman was, like Matthew, a trombonist. Reportedly Gee took up the trombone after hearing Trummy Young, the trombone star with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra and later a member of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.
Gee attended Alabama State College and then performed with the Coleman Hawkins band in New York before serving in the United States Army during World War II. Following his tour in the service, he worked with Dizzy Gillespie in 1946 and with various jazz figures during the early 1950s, among them Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Count Basie, fellow Houstonian Illinois Jacquet, Lou Donaldson, and singer Sarah Vaughn.
In 1956 Riverside Records issued Gee's album Jazz by Gee (reissued in 1996 on CD), which includes fellow Texan Kenny Dorham on trumpet. This album exhibits Gee's finest work as a soloist. Unfortunately, as several commentators have noted, his later performances do not fulfill the promise of his early years. Critic Orrin Keepnews described Gee's style as "driving" and "plunging," with "in-tempo guttural throat sounds with which––in some unexplainable way––Gee occasionally seems to answer himself while playing!" Gee was expressive as a ballad player, as well as quite agile in producing turns and also darting phrases that were definitely in the bop tradition.
From 1959 to 1963 Gee was with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and can be heard on the 1960 Ellington album Blues in Orbit, which features two compositions by Gee: "The Swingers Get the Blues Too" and "The Swinger's Jump." The first of these is credited to Gee and Ellington, but Gee had already recorded "The Swingers Get the Blues Too" in 1956 on an Atlantic Records album entitled Soul Groove, featuring tenorist Johnny Griffin. Even here the trombonist's own solo work lacks the spirit and inventiveness of his other 1956 album, Jazz by Gee. As for Gee's solo performances on the Ellington album, he is most impressive on "The Swinger's Jump." Although the liner notes do not indicate that the trombonist solos on this piece, his style is clearly recognizable and distinct from that of Booty Wood, the other trombone soloist. Gee also solos on Ellington's "C Jam Blues."
In later years Gee made appearances with various small groups, including one with tenorist Paul Quinichette, but not much was heard from the trombonist to make his a vital name in the periods of free jazz and hard bop in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Nonetheless Gee, along with Henry Coker, was probably the most important bop-inflected trombonist from Texas. Matthew Gee died in New York City on July 18, 1979.
Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Orrin Keepnews, Liner notes to Jazz by Gee (Riverside OJCCD-1884-2, 1996).
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
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