US jazz cornetist and pianist. Although he died at the age of twenty-eight, he was one of a handful of white musicians who profoundly influenced the early development of jazz.
Born in Davenport, Iowa, he studied the piano as a child, and was playing the cornet professionally while still at school. In 1922 he was expelled from a military academy after less than a year; in 1923–24 he played and recorded with a band called the Wolverines and thereafter with Jean Goldkette, Frankie Trumbauer, and Paul Whiteman. He died of alcoholism.
His recordings are mostly of poor technical quality but his tone was described by fellow musicians as bell-like, as though the notes were struck by a mallet. With this exceptional tone, his perfect intonation, and a deep sense of melody, he influenced a generation of both black and white musicians. He was an indecisive and ineffectual man, who never bothered to learn to read music really well. He did not live long enough to become as well known to the public as he was to other musicians. Nevertheless, largely as a result of his tragic lifestyle and early death, he became a jazz legend.