Red Norvo was Mr. Swing

Red Norvo had to be good: Being called “Mr. Swing” in an era in which swing was king suggests a tremendous amount of respect (or an extraordinary publicist).

Here is the second paragraph of NPR’s profile of Kenneth Norville, who was born in 1908 in Beardsville,IL:

Credited with bringing the xylophone, formerly a vaudeville instrument, into jazz, Red Norvo was a sideman with Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman and Woody Herman. Norvo led one of the most admired bands of the swing era, and he served as a catalyst for the career of musicians whose ranks include Charles Mingus. While Norvo received acclaim throughout his life, his innovations on the mallet instruments were far ahead of his time. (Continue Reading…)

I suppose I should look up the difference between the xylophone and the vibes, as most famously played by Lionel Hampton. In any case, Norvo played with all the greats. He was married, naturally, to Mrs. Swing:

Red Norvo was born Kenneth Norville in Beardstown, Illinois. The story goes that he sold his pet pony to help pay for his first marimba. Norvo’s career began in Chicago with a band called “The Collegians”, in 1925. He played with many other bands, including an all-marimba band on the vaudeville circuit, and the bands of Paul WhitemanBenny GoodmanCharlie Barnet, and Woody Herman. Norvo recorded with Mildred Bailey (his wife), Billie Holiday,Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra, among others. Together, Red and Mildred were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing.” He also appeared in the film Screaming Mimi (1958), playing himself, and in Ocean’s 11, backing Dean Martin‘s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?“.(Continue Reading…)

Above is Norvo playing “Waiting for the Sunrise” alongside Benny Goodman. Below is “The Girl from Ipanema.” Both are great, for different reasons: The first for the unbelievable virtuosity of both men, the second for the beauty and elegance of the performance and, of course, the fact that it is such a pretty song.