Norma Carson

One of the many great unsung musicians in jazz history is trumpet player, Norma Carson. Her playing was superb — interesting ideas, beautiful tone, excellent technique, and plenty of swing. I discovered her playing through the session Leonard Feather produced with Terry Pollard and her Septet called “Cats vs. Chicks.” The idea was to give listeners a side-by-side comparison of an all male and all female band, with the idea of proving that the women played just as well as the men. [1] It was well-meaning, but in my opinion, a little unfortunately framed… but I digress. That’s a discussion for another day. It is, however, wonderful to listen to her trade with Clark Terry on the track, “Anything You Can Do.” They both sound amazing and the energy they create together is really special.

She was born in 1922 in Portland, Oregon, and according to Linda Dahl in her book, “Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen,” Norma Carson was a “hard-blowing player of the modern school originated by such musicians as Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro.” She began playing trumpet at age 12. Her father was also a trumpeter and so was her sister. She later joined Ada Leonard’s all-woman big band and then spent some time playing with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. [2] She says of her time with the Sweethearts, “That was the band where I started to venture out a little bit … I got my phrasing together, and I had a lot of great friends on the band. It was just a ball. There was a certain closeness there that taught me a lot — about swinging, about life, about a lot of things that are very important to me now. It was a great time in my life.” [3]

There were some difficulties, though. Dahl writes, “In 1951, Norma Carson spoke pointedly about the disadvantages of being a woman player: “I’ve never found it an advantage to be a girl. If a trumpet player is wanted for a job and somebody suggests me, they’ll say ‘What, a chick?’ and put me down without even hearing me,” Carson says. “I don’t want to be a girl musician. I just want to be a musician.”

She was actually included in Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz. Here’s the entry:

CARSON, NORMA trumpet; b. Portland, Ore., 1922. Worked with Ada Leonard, Sweethearts of Rhythm, Vi Burnside; from 1952 free-lanced in Phila; married to tenor player Bob Newman. Inspired by Gillespie and Davis, she revealed considerable talent in the Cats vs. Chicks LP on MGM but has remained in relative obscurity. Addr: 902 Brant Ave. Clark, N.J.[4]

I wish there were more recordings of Norma’s marvelous playing. I read something that said she might have another album floating around somewhere. Until that surfaces, please enjoy the 4 tracks in this playlist!

“Ada Leonard’s ‘young’ band of 1944-45. Left to right: Eunice ‘Johnny’ Johnson (bass), Florence ‘Fagle’ Liebman (drums), Norma Carson (trumpet), Betty ‘Roz’ Rosner (tenor), Dolores Gomez (trumpet), Betty Kidwell (alto), Top: Pat Stullken (lead alto). Courtesy Betty Kidwell Meriedeth” From Swing Shift [5]

(Re)sources

[1] Feather, Leonard, producer. Cats Vs. Chicks: A Jazz Battle of the Sexes. 1954, MGM Records. LP.

[2] Linda Dahl, Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984).

[3] Sally Placksin, American Women in Jazz 1900 to the Present. (New York: Seaview Books, 1982).

[4] Feather, Leonard, 1914-1994, The Encyclopedia of Jazz.. New York: Horizon Press, 1955.

[5] Sherrie Tucker, Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000).

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