William Alonzo Anderson, known as Cat Anderson (September 12, 1916-April 29, 1981), had a birthday two days ago. Cat became famous in the Duke Ellington Orchestra and was probably the best high note trumpet player in history.
I’ll never forget hearing the Ellington band in Ft. Worth in 1971, probably near the end of Cat’s tenure with the band. He was amazing with the upper register, but what stayed with me just as much was that he slept on the band stand sitting in his chair when not playing. I had never seen anyone do that before, or since. I wondered how he knew when to wake up and play, and I also wondered how he didn’t get fired. I leaned later in life that Duke was willing to put up with just about anything from his musicians–he was very loyal.
I don’t really remember much else about the concert that day. Cat’s playing was so impressive that I still can see and hear him playing “Satin Doll”. It was so effortless for him to do what very few could even come close to doing. I did read later in life, also, that Cat practiced four hours a day, both on off days and on performance days. I also heard from friends that he was very secretive about what size mouthpiece he played. I was told he would always take his mouthpiece with him on breaks. He was only 64 when he died. Now that I am 64 I can say that he died very young!