Harry James "King" Serial #107 Custom Trumpet
The KING serial #107 trumpet used by Harry James throughout the last 15 years of his recording career. It is in fact, the actual first result of the collaboration of H. N. White Company and Harry James's to produce "the perfect trumpet". Includes a Harry James special Parduba & Son double cup trumpet mouthpiece. When my Dad, Harry James, was playing with Benny Goodman in the 1930’s, he was considered by most of the Big Band musicians of that time (including Benny) to be one of the very finest lead trumpet, solo and jazz players in the world. Like many successful players, his primary ambition was to have his own successful Big Band. In the late 1930’s and with a little financial help from Benny Goodman personally, he was finally able to form his own Big Band. The success or failure of any Big Band of that time was (and sometimes still is) based on audience acceptance of the sound produced and the popularity and “dance-ability” of the music itself. Although Dad’s true love was the freedom of jazz (educated jazz w/theme & variations), he quickly recognized that his target audience primarily wanted to dance and romance to the music played. He knew that arrangements and certain sounds were also identified with specific Big Bands. He immediately adjusted his personal playing style (and his musical arrangements) to fulfill his target audiences’ requirements. Some called it “Schmaltzy” (they didn’t have to book the Band), but it worked. He was selling a new sound featuring his personal trumpet playing; and his audiences’ were buying it. At this time Dad was playing a Selmer brand trumpet because it allowed him to most easily produce the sounds (and tone) he was initially associated with - however, he was always experimenting with other brands of trumpets to find improvement. In the early 1950’s, the H. N. White Company (working with Dad on bore size relationships, the location of bracing and its affect on internal vibrations, water valve design and placement, etc.) produced a new trumpet that finally seemed to satisfy his constant searching for his first improved alternative to the Selmer. Produced in 1953, it was named the “KING Symphony” and this immediately became Dad’s primary performing trumpet. It was Gold plated (for show) with a Sterling Silver Bell (to help augment his unique tonal quality). In 1957 Dad (and his Band) performed at a Dallas, Texas dance club venue named “Luann’s” located on Greenville Avenue. I was sitting at a table located just stage left and Dad would sit and talk with me about my own musical endeavors during his breaks. I had also been somewhat musically successful for my age (then 16 years old and playing mostly classical music). As soon as the job finished, Dad came to the table with the horn he had been playing (the KING Symphony serial #333232) and said “Here son, I think you will really like this. I’ve been playing it for several years now and I’m hooked… and don’t worry, I’ve got another one”. He proceeded to explain some of the features that made it somewhat easier to play for long hours (bore and curve size relationships, etc.) and also told me that, even then, he had not stopped working with the H. N. White Company seeking even further improvements. I played that wonderful trumpet, usually in Big Bands, until I left the music industry in 1967 to pursue the business of developing real estate. On a Saturday morning in July of 1983, I was called to Dad’s bedside in a hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada. He had left right after a job that Friday night, flown home to Las Vegas and checked himself into the hospital and gone to sleep. A few hours later he was pronounced comatose and his prognosis was extremely dire due to various serious health problems (including cancer). Dad died, without ever waking up, just after midnight on the following Tuesday morning – the 10th anniversary of the same month that his second wife Betty Grable had died. That afternoon at a reception honoring Dad, Mr. Pee Wee Monte, Dad’s primary Band manager since 1940, handed me another trumpet saying that my Dad would have wanted me to have it – it was Dad’s “recording horn”. I did not pay much attention to the horn for several more months due to all of the complexities of the funeral (one of Dad’s best friends, Frank Sinatra, gave the eulogy), estate settlement interaction with family members and my own ongoing workload (developing real estate in Dallas since 1967). When I did get around to looking closely at this new horn, I saw that it was also a KING, but I was shocked to see it had the serial #107 and had no third valve slide finger controller! Over the intervening years, I discovered that Dad had never used a third valve slide finger controller as he, due to having the curse of perfect pitch, had always used his lips to control the exact pitch of any note he was playing. Over the years, while researching this “recording horn”, I discovered that the H. N. White Company had indeed continued to work with Dad throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s to further develop the “perfect trumpet”. Unfortunately, due to several sales of the company and subsequent relocations, most of the company’s actual records have been lost. It appears that they had produced a very limited run of the final design modifications for Dad around 1968 and numbered them in the low 100’s. In spite of several years of investigation (including personal interviews with past Band members, family members, instrument repair experts who worked with Dad over the years and current H. N. White Company factory representatives), I have not been able to find any reference, by anybody, to any of these specially made trumpets except for the one that Mr. Monty gave to me upon Dad’s death. I can only conclude that Dad did not want anyone to know about them and kept them very exclusive to himself. It is my opinion, based on all of my research as described above, that the two trumpets described herein are, in fact, the actual first and the actual last of the H. N. White Company and Dad’s decade’s long experiments and modifications to produce “the perfect trumpet”. Since 1968, according to Mr. Monty as he gave me this horn, this KING serial #107 has been the trumpet used by Dad throughout his remaining 15 year recording career while his KING Symphony series remained the trumpet he normally used for public performances (including his very last performance in July of 1983). These two trumpets together, plus all of the recordings (and movies) that he made during his incredible career, appear to be the last physical manifestations of my Dad’s magnificent musical legacy.