The One and Only Cat Anderson

William Alonzo “Cat” Anderson (1916-1981) grew from a childhood in the Jenkins Orphanage to become the acclaimed lead trumpet player with Duke Ellington and one of the most recognized and most sensational high-note lead trumpet players of all time. Paul Cacia, no mean lead trumpet in his own right appears to put Maynard Ferguson, John Madrid and Cat Anderson at the top of the tree of this genre. Paul writes, "Cat, Bud, and Madrid had registers well into the triple C range at any time during a performance, they only used it, if it was appropriate. It might be the last note of the night..." Source.

Car Anderson

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Cat was put in the orphanage after both his parents died during his childhood. He soon took on the name “Cat,” that would stick for the rest of his life, for his fighting style at the orphanage. His music career began on larger horns, like the trombone and baritone, but when he showed considerable talent, the orphanage granted his wish: he received his first trumpet.

Anderson grew to be a standout with the orphanage bands, and his first official departure from the orphanage was with a group of fellow Jenkins players that called themselves the 'Carolina Cotton Pickers.' The group toured for a short while and actually recorded four tracks for Brunswick Records, strongly suggesting that this was an unusually talented group.

After leaving the 'Cotton Pickers,' Anderson played with several bands during the 1935-44 period, including those of Claude Hopkins, Lucky Millinder, Erskine Hawkins and Lionel Hampton. It was with Lionel Hampton that he recorded the classic "Flying Home" lead trumpet part.

But Cat's real success and fame as a trumpet player only came when he joined Duke Ellington's big band. The 'Duke' originally recruited him for a gig at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia, but he soon became a vital band member. He went on to record on many of Duke's most famous recordings. Ellington, always on the lookout for distinctive sounds, used Anderson's screamingly high trumpet acrobatics to sensational effect on several numbers, including 'El Gato,' 'Trumpet No End,' and 'Jam with Sam.'

Anderson also performed and recorded with several other jazz stars including Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Hodges, and also recorded a few albums under his own name.

Wynton Marsalis holds 'The Cat,' in particularly high regard, referring to him as "one of the best ever" high note trumpet players. More than just a high-note trumpeter, though, Anderson was also a master of mute, and especially plunger-mute playing. He played with Ellington's band from 1944 to 1947, from 1950 to 1959, and from 1961 to 1971, with each break corresponding with somewhat disastrous attempts to lead his own big band. All the indications are that Cat was never suited to the continual responsibilities and stresses of being band leader. A great musician may dream of leading their own orchestra but experience has amply demonstrated that comparatively few really great musicians are also great band leaders.

In 1971, at the age of 56, Anderson settled in the Los Angeles area, but he still continued to play occasional studio sessions and he enjoyed gigging with local bands, he also occasionally came to play in Europe. Although his somewhat odd and erratic behaviour during the last few years of his life has been well recorded (and frequently exaggerrated!), it nevertheless surprised many people when he died of a brain tumour in 1981.

You can hear several snippets of Cat playing here:

Jazz; A Musical Passion