Cat Anderson

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Cat Anderson
Anderson in New York, c. 1947
Anderson in New York, c. 1947
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Alonzo Anderson
Also known asCat Anderson
Born(1916-09-12)September 12, 1916
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.
DiedApril 29, 1981(1981-04-29) (aged 64)
Norwalk, California, U.S.
Years active1930s–1970s

William Alonzo "Cat" Anderson (September 12, 1916 – April 29, 1981) was an American jazz trumpeter known for his long period as a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra and for his wide range, especially his ability to play in the altissimo register.[1]


Early life[edit]

Born in Greenville, South Carolina,[2] Anderson lost both parents when he was four years old, and was sent to live at the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, where he learned to play trumpet.[2] Classmates gave him the nickname "Cat" (which he used all his life) based on his fighting style.


He toured and made his first recording with the Carolina Cotton Pickers, a small group based at the orphanage. After leaving the Cotton Pickers, Anderson played with guitarist Hartley Toots, Claude Hopkins' big band, Doc Wheeler's Sunset Orchestra (1938–1942), with whom he also recorded, Lucky Millinder, the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, Sabby Lewis's Orchestra, and Lionel Hampton, with whom he recorded the classic "Flying Home No. 2".[3]

Anderson's career took off, however, in 1944, when he joined Duke Ellington's orchestra,[2] at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. He quickly became a central part of Ellington's sound. Although Anderson was a very versatile musician, capable of playing in a number of jazz styles (Leonard Feather described his style as "somewhere between Louis Armstrong and Harry James), he is most renowned for his abilities in the extreme high or "altissimo" range. He had a big sound in all registers, but could play up to a "triple C" (the highest Bb note on a piano keyboard) with great power (he was able to perform his high-note solos without a microphone, while other members of a big band were usually amplified for their solos). Wynton Marsalis called him "one of the best" high-note trumpeters.[4]

But Anderson was much more than just a high-note trumpeter—he was also a master of half valve and plunger mute playing.[2] Author and jazz critic Dan Morgenstern said of Cat that "he was...the [Ellington] band's Number One utility trumpeter, capable of filling in for anyone else who was not there." He played with Ellington's band from 1944 to 1947, from 1950 to 1959, and from 1961 to 1971, with each break corresponding to a brief hiatus to lead and front his own big band.[2] In addition to his work on trumpet, he was a very skilled arranger and composer—he performed his own compositions "El Gato" and "Bluejean Beguine" with Ellington, and others of his compositions and arrangements with his own band, for example on his 1959 record album for Mercury, Cat on a Hot Tin Horn.

Personal life and death[edit]

After 1971, Anderson settled in the Los Angeles area,[2] where he continued to play studio sessions, to perform with local bands (including Louie Bellson's and Bill Berry's big bands), and to tour Europe. He died of brain cancer in 1981.[5]


From left: Louie Bellson, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry at the Palomar Supper Club, April 19, 1952, with the Duke Ellington Orchestra; Photo courtesy of the Fraser MacPherson estate
  • Cat Anderson Plays at 4 AM (Columbia [France, EMI], 1958)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (Mercury, 1958)
  • A Chat with Cat Anderson (Columbia [France, EMI], 1963)
  • Cat Speaks (Black & Blue, 1977)
  • Plays W.C. Handy (Black & Blue, 1978)
  • Americans Swinging in Paris (EMI, 2002; CD reissue of the two French Columbia albums)
  • Cat Speaks: The Definitive Black and Blue Sessions (Black & Blue, 2002)[6]

As sideman[edit]

With Gene Ammons

With Louie Bellson

With Duke Ellington

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Lionel Hampton

  • Lionel Hampton and His Jazz Giants 77 (CBS MasterWorks, 1977)
  • All-Star Band at Newport (Timeless, 1978)
  • Live: 50th Anniversary Concert (Sultra, 1981; Half Note, 1999)

With Johnny Hodges

With Quincy Jones

With others


  1. ^ Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Books. p. 13. ISBN 0-141-00646-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  3. ^ Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestley, Brian; Alexander, Charles (2004). The Rough Guide to Jazz. Rough Guides. p. 17. ISBN 978-1843532569.
  4. ^ Trumpet Kings. Dir. Burrill Crohn. Perf. Wynton Marsalis, Louis Armstrong, et al. Video Artists International, Inc., 1989. Videocassette.
  5. ^ "William Alonzo (Cat) Anderson, Trumpeter With Ellington, Dead". The New York Times. The Associated Press. 2 May 1981.
  6. ^ "Cat Speaks". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Cat Anderson | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2019.

External links[edit]