Billy Mitchell (jazz musician)

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Willie Melvin Mitchell (November 3, 1926 – April 18, 2001), better known as Billy Mitchell, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist.[1][2]

Mitchell was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He and family moved to Detroit, where he received early music education at Cass Tech. Known for his close association with another Detroiter, trumpet player Thad Jones and work with a variety of big bands including Woody Herman's when he replaced Gene Ammons. In 1949 Mitchell recorded with the Milt Buckner band, as well as making several recordings with Thad.

From 1951 to 1954, Mitchell led the house band at the Blue Bird Inn in Detroit.[3]:124 The band operated in different configurations including with drummer Oliver Jackson and his bassist brother Ali; as a quartet with Terry Pollard, Beans Richardson, and Elvin Jones;[3]:126 as a quintet including Thad Jones;[3]:131 and, for several months in 1953, with Miles Davis as a guest soloist.[4]:173

From 1956 to 1957 he played with Dizzy Gillespie in his big band.

From 1957 until 1961 and from 1966 to 1967 Mitchell played with Count Basie. In the early 1960s he co-led a group with Al Grey, The Al Grey Billy Mitchell Sextet which won the Downbeat new band award in 1962, and introduced Vibes star Bobby Hutcherson. Mitchell performed and recorded with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band, in Europe, in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and also served as musical director to Stevie Wonder for a short time during this period. He died in Rockville Centre, NY, in 2001.

He is not to be confused with another Billy Mitchell, a jazz-piano keyboardist whose career was most notably with Optimism Records in the 1980s.


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Count Basie

With Tony Bennett

With the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Jimmy Heath

With Milt Jackson

With Thad Jones

With Pony Poindexter

With Bernard Purdie


  1. ^ Martin, Douglas (May 2, 2001). "Billy Mitchell, 74, Saxophonist Who Played in Top Jazz Bands". New York Times. Retrieved 17 Jun 2016. 
  2. ^ Allmusic
  3. ^ a b c Bjorn, Lars; Gallert, Jim (2001). Before Motown. "Before Motown". University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-06765-6. Retrieved 20 Jun 2016. 
  4. ^ Davis, Miles; Troupe, Quincy (1989). Miles. Simon & Schuster. LCCN 90037501. Retrieved 20 June 2016.