Buck Clayton 1911-1991

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Audio is Buck Clayton on trumpet and Frankie Lane on vocals, the tune You Can Depend On Me. (Frankie also had a Shanghai connection, see Frankie Lane under Performers.)

In 1934, the young trumpet playing band leader Buck Clayton, and his band The Harlem Gentlemen,debarked onto Shanghai's Bund under contract to play at the plush Canidrome Ballroom 逸園跑狗場 in Shanghai. Buck's band was the first American jazz band to come to Shanghai under contract, although individual American musicians had visited, including the jazz singer Midge Williams* who performed at the swank Canidrome in 1933, one year before Buck's arrival. At that time, most of the bands at Shanghai's many nightclubs and cabarets were Philippino or White Russian. Buck played in Shanghai for two years and had a major impact on the development of jazz in Shanghai.

Buck enjoyed Shanghai and things went well at the Canidrome ballroom until one night a white,lowlife bouncer from the Venus Club, Jack Riley, was drinking at the Canidrome and beckoned Buck to his table. As the newspaper reported it the next day, in Damon Runyonesque prose:

"The place is the Canidrome. The time is 11pm Tuesday. Buck Clayton's band is playing a lilting tune. The Hollywood Blonds are just about to put on a number. Mr. Jack Riley, ex-American sailor, who at one time was No. 1 at Riley's Bamboo Hut, now transformed into the Venus, and who a year ago sold his Manhattan Bar, famous gathering spot for the Asiatic Fleet, is sitting at a table with two girls...Some say Riley did not like Clayton's smile, others that Clayton asked Riley to tone down. Anyway blows were struck and Buck Clayton fell. Silence for a minute, then members of the band made for Mr. Riley.

The spotlight switches to the dance floor. Riley is eagle-spread and reports indicate that one of the band members sat on his chest and proceeded to pummel him. There was no panic because the very few guests that were there did not know whether it was part of the floor show or not. The curtain came down on this scene all too quickly, the battle being halted before it became serious. Casualties reported: Riley, slightly swollen face, plenty of body bruises; Clayton, a black (sic.) eye; other musicians minor bruises...Later Riley returned. No, he did not bring a gang with him. He came back with his hands in his pockets grumbling about some papers he had lost. He said nothing of the fight, perhaps because Mr. Riley is a hardy and courageous guy. (??!?) We remember Mr. Riley as an outstanding fighter in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps amateur bouts of a few years ago. He was plenty good, tough and game."

Due to this fracas Buck's contract with the Canidrome was terminated and he was left stranded in Shanghai with no funds to return to America. But there was more than one dance hall in Shanghai and Buck soon found work in a less upscale club, The Casanova Ballroom, which had a more Chinese shopkeeper clientele. There he arranged and played Chinese pop songs as well as his own style of jazz.

After Buck Clayton left Shanghai, he went on to become a major force in jazz as trumpet player and arranger for Count Basie and his own small combos. He died in 1991 at the age of 80. He always said the happiest days of his life were those he spent in Shanghai.

Related Items:
Canidrome-YìyuánPǎogǒuchǎng 逸園跑狗場
Shànghǎi 上海