Correspondence, transcripts of interviews, photographs, a biography, a discography, an award, printed material and other miscellany documenting the life and career of Red Norvo.
Scope and Contents:
The Red Norvo Papers consist of correspondence, transcripts of interviews with Red Norvo, miscellaneous publications (catalogues, monographs, newsletters, pamphlets, programs), periodicals, articles and clippings, photographs, and several miscellaneous documents: various advertisements, a hotel receipt, liner notes, an award from Metronome, a biography prepared by Capitol Records, a Red Norvo discography, a concert engagement advertisement in the form of a postcard, a poster (Benny Goodman), and a Red Norvo concert tour itinerary.
Divided into 7 series: Series 1: Correspondence, 1939-1997; Series 2: Red Norvo Interview Transcripts, 1991-1993; Series 3: Miscellaneous Publications; Series 4: Miscellaneous Documents; Series 5: Periodicals, Series 6: Periodical Articles and News Clippings; Series 7: Photographs.
Biographical / Historical:
Along with Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo stands as one of the most celebrated and influential figures in the history of Jazz vibraphone. Norvo was born Kenneth Norville in Beardstown, Illinois on March 31, 1908. He began studying marimba at an early age and played in a rhumba band in 1925. After a brief stint as a tap dancer and conductor on the Vaudeville circuit, Norvo played xylophone with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. He later married the band's singer, Mildred Bailey, and together they were known as Mr. and Mrs. Swing. From the late 1930's through the early 1940's Norvo lead his own orchestra (with arrangements by Eddie Sauter) and his own sextet.
In 1944 Norvo switched permanently to vibraphone and joined the Benny Goodman Sextet. In 1945 the Red Norvo Selected Sextet (featuring Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie) recorded Hallelujah, Get Happy, Slam Slam Blues, and Congo Blues—an event that many critics regard as helping to commence the bebop era and the establishment of modern jazz. In 1946 Norvo played with Woody Herman's First Herd. But in Norvo's formative years it was the improvisational piano style of Teddy Wilson that most influenced his own style of play.
In 1950 Norvo founded the Red Norvo Trio, which included Tal Farlow on guitar and Charles Mingus on bass. Norvo also performed and recorded with a quintet. He settled in Santa Monica, California and became a prolific recording musician with Capitol and other labels. Most of the essential singers of the period either performed or recorded with him: Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee to name a few.
Norvo notably backed Sinatra on his Australian tour in 1959 and appeared with him in the 1960 film, Ocean's Eleven. In 1961 Norvo began to suffer hearing loss, a condition which worsened throughout the remainder of his life. In the 1970's he performed mainly in Las Vegas. He died April 6, 1999 in Santa Monica.
Materials in the Archives Center
Benny Carter Collection (NMAH.AC.0757)
Milt Gabler Papers (NMAH.AC.0849)
Jazz Oral History Program Collection(NMAH.AC.0808)
William Russo Music and Personal Papers(NMAH.AC.0845)
Jack Siefert/Woody Herman Collection(NMAH.AC.0659)
Ernie Smith Jazz Film Collection (NMAH.AC.0491)
The collection was donated to the Archives Center by Portia Norvo Corlin on April 1, 2004.
Collection is open for research and access on site by appointment. Unprotected photographs must be handled with gloves.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.