George Duvivier started out playing the violin and the cello, but it was the bass; and eventually the double-bass; that would capture his fancy.
In his early teens, he was already playing with The Royal Barons and serving as The Central Manhattan Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster. He attended New York’s Conservatory of Music and Art and New York University, where he studied composition, but dropped out to work with Eddie Barefield, a saxophonist.
George was only about nineteen at the time, and; nothing against Eddie; his dream was to play with Coleman Hawkins, so he solicited Hawk the old-fashioned way, by penning him a letter and sending it off in the post. Coleman asked him to come and try out for his band, and George landed the gig, working alongside his idol at Kelly’s Stable over the next several months.
Uncle Sam came calling and George wound up in the army. Upon his release, he became the staff arranger for Jimmy Lunceford and eventually did the same for Sy Oliver. Frequently, these bands would play some of George’s original compositions.
In the 1940s, he hooked up with Billie Holiday and Bud Powell (with whom he would collaborate on several recordings) and then in the ’50s, went on a European tour with Nellie Lutcher and Lena Horne. He also busied himself by playing on commercials, movie soundtracks, and TV shows. One of those TV shows was NBC’s The Today Show, on which George was part of a trio that began rehearsing at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m., and eventually wrapped up the show at around 10:00 a.m. Afterwards, George would hot-foot it to the next recording gig, and the next. It was not unusual for him to do three recording sessions in a day, which is how he managed to amass such a daunting discography.
In the 1950s, he continued to perform with Bud Powell, both live and in the studio. A couple of early Powell recordings on which he appears are The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 2 and The Complete Bud Powell on Verve. In 1954, he helped Chuck Wayne cook up Tasty Pudding. The following year was a very busy one: Chico Hamilton recruited him to play on one of his albums and George also appeared in The Benny Goodman Story and a subsequent TV special, Steve Allen in Movieland. In 1956, he reunited with Bud Powell on Strictly Powell and took a stab at being a bandleader on a recording for French Coronet, featuring Martial Solal. He joined Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’s ensemble from 1957 to 1959, appearing on all three of Davis’s Cookbook recordings, plus “Jaws” and Smokin’. George also found time to renew acquaintances with Hawk on Coleman Hawkins and Confreres and Powell on Swingin’ with Bud Powell. His alliance with Davis led to other recording opportunities, as Davis’s quartet included organist Shirley Scott, and George wound up recording no less than five albums with her in 1958 alone: Great Scott!, Now’s the Time, Scottie, Shirley’s Sound, and Workin’. In 1959, he appeared on a pair of Arnett Cobb albums, Blow Arnett, Blow and Smooth Sailing, and four Eddie Davis albums, Bagalao, “Jaws” in Orbit, Prestige Profiles: Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Very Saxy, which also featured Arnett Cobb and Coleman Hawkins. He also appeared on Hawkins’ Hawk Eyes! and Shirley Scott Plays The Duke, all in the same year in which he moonlighted with The Sonny Clark Trio on their eponymous debut. Oh, and there was also the Studio 61 episode on which he appeared with pianist Hank Jones.
If anything, George was even more prolific in 1960: It may not surprise you that five of the albums he appeared on were Eddie Davis’s Misty, Coleman Hawkins’ In a Mellow Tone, and Eddie Davis with Shirley Scott, as well as Scott’s Soul Sister and Trio. It also marked the beginning of a creative partnership with Oliver Nelson, with whom he recorded Screamin’ the Blues and Soul Battle. Things got experimental in 1961 with Ron Carter and Eric Dolphy on an album appropriately titled Out There, and the three of them also recorded Where?, adding the talents of Mal Waldron to the mix. He also joined Dolphy and Nelson on Straight Ahead and Nelson and Joe Newman on Main Stem. A couple of other recordings worth noting from this time were Dizzy Gillespie’s Perceptions and After Hours by Sarah Vaughan. George got together with Eddie Davis in 1962 on Streetlights, and Oliver Nelson on Frank Wess’s Southern Comfort: The latter featured a tune called “Shufflin'”, which Oliver wrote for George. He also teamed up with Sweets Edison and Ben Webster on Ben and Sweets and Wanted to Do One Together. In 1963, George branched out a bit on Stan Getz’s Jazz Samba Encore, Reflections and Stan Getz/Laurindo Almeida, Ahmad Jamal’s Macanudo, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s The Composer of Desafinado Plays, and Cal Tjader’s Several Shades of Jade. He participated in Lalo Schifrin’s New Fantasy in 1964 and also appeared on Johnny Hodges & Wild Bill Davis, Volume 1-2/1965-1966, as well as recording “One for Duke” with Ron Carter and Oliver Nelson’s big band. In 1966, he recorded Goin’ out of My Head with Wes Montgomery, and teamed up with Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri on El Sonida Nuevo (The New Soul Sound) as well as performing on The Dick Cavett Show. A pair of late ’60s/early ’70s albums on which he appeared are Moondog’s self-titled effort and Some of the Things We Do, recorded with Neil Rosengarden.
On 8th July 1972, George played the Waterloo JazzFest with John “Bucky” Pizzarelli, and they also played Atlantic City together on 18th February of the following year. In 1973, he released and/or recorded three albums with George Benson, Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon, Volume 1, Love for Sale, and Witchcraft. The mid-70s saw George joining a group called Soprano Summit, which released Chalumeau Blue in 1976. In 1977, he appeared on the self-explanatory Lionel Hampton with Dexter Gordon. He appeared on a pair of live albums with Arnett Cobb & The Muse All Stars in 1978, Live at Sandy’s and Live at Sandy’s: More, as well as Bucky Pizzarelli’s Songs for New Lovers. The Muse All Stars, George in tow, also offered support to Helen Humes on her 1979 release; you guessed it;Helen Humes and the Muse All Stars. While all of this was going on, George also managed to find time to tour with Benny Carter and Hank Jones.
George is also featured in the 1982 film, Gibson Jazz Concert. In 1982, he recorded the prophetically titled Last Sessions with Sonny Stitt and made one more recording with Arnett Cobb in 1984, entitled Keep Pushin’. His last recording may have been Lonely City, with the Freddie Redd Septet.
George died of cancer on 11th July 1985. His musical legacy, however, lives on in CD form: Some highlights include The Essential Eric Dolphy, The Boston Pops Orchestra’s Gershwin: Greatest Hits, and Joe Wilder’s Alone with Just My Dreams, the title track of which is culled from one of George’s compositions, unearthed around 1990. For more information about George, check out Edward Berger’s Bassically Speaking: An Oral History of George Duvivier, published by Scarecrow Press in 1993. A link is listed below.
Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)
Here he is on bass with Dizzy Gillespie & Stan Getz on a rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing”…