Harry Carney
Background information
Birth nameHarry Howell Carney
Born(1910-04-01)April 1, 1910
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedOctober 8, 1974(1974-10-08) (aged 64)
New York City, U.S.
Instrument(s)baritone saxophone, clarinet
Years active1930s–1970s

Harry Howell Carney (April 1, 1910 – October 8, 1974) was a jazz saxophonist and clarinettist who spent over four decades as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He played a variety of instruments, but primarily used the baritone saxophone, being a critical influence on the instrument in jazz.

Early life

Carney was born on April 1, 1910, in Boston, Massachusetts.[1] In Boston, he grew up close to future bandmate Johnny Hodges.[2] Carney began by playing the piano at age seven, moved to the clarinet at 14, and added the alto saxophone a year later.[1] He first played professionally in clubs in Boston.[1]

Early influences on Carney's playing included Buster Bailey, Sidney Bechet, and Don Murray.[3] Carney also reported that, for his baritone saxophone playing, he "tried to make the upper register sound like Coleman Hawkins and the lower register like Adrian Rollini".[4]

Later life and career

After playing a variety of gigs in New York City at the age of 17, Carney was invited to join the Duke Ellington band for its performances in Boston in 1927.[5][note 1] He soon recorded with Ellington too, with a first session in October that year.[5] Having established himself in the Ellington band, he stayed with it for the rest of his life.[1] The band began a residency at the Cotton Club in New York at the end of the year.[5]

After Ellington added more personnel in 1928, Carney's main instrument became the baritone saxophone.[5] He was a dominant figure on the baritone in jazz, with no serious rivals on the instrument until the advent of bebop in the mid-1940s.[7] Within the overall sound of the Ellington band, Carney's baritone was often employed to play parts of harmonies that were above the obvious low pitching of the instrument; this altered the textures of the band's sound.[8]

In January 1938, Carney was invited to play with Benny Goodman's band at Carnegie Hall.[9] Recordings from this event were released as The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert. Carney also took up the bass clarinet around 1944.[3] He "co-composed "Rockin' in Rhythm" and was usually responsible for executing the bubbling clarinet solo on this tune".[3]

In 1957, Carney was part of a band led by pianist Billy Taylor that recorded the album Taylor Made Jazz.[10]

Carney was the longest serving player in Ellington's orchestra.[3] On occasions when Ellington was absent or wished to make a stage entrance after the band had begun playing the first piece of a performance, Carney would serve as the band's conductor.[citation needed] The Ellington orchestra typically travelled on a tour bus, but Ellington himself did not; he was driven separately by Carney, a "quiet, calm presence".[11]

Ellington wrote many showpiece features for Carney throughout their time together.[citation needed] In 1973 Ellington built the Third Sacred Concert around Carney's baritone saxophone.[12]

After Ellington's 1974 death, Carney said: "Without Duke, I have nothing to live for".[5] Carney's final recording may have been under Mercer Ellington's leadership, for the album Continuum.[3] Four months after Ellington's death, Carney also died, on October 8, 1974, in New York.[1]

Influence and legacy

Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney, Aquarium NYC, c. November 1946. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.

Carney was an early jazz proponent of circular breathing.[12] He was also Hamiet Bluiett's favorite baritone player because he "never saw anybody else stop time" in reference to a concert Bluiett attended where Carney held a note during which all else went silent.[13] Two months after Carney's death, bassist Charles Mingus recorded Sy Johnson's elegy "For Harry Carney"; the track was released on the album Changes Two.[14]


As leader

As sideman

With Rosemary Clooney

With Duke Ellington

Main article: Duke Ellington discography

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Benny Goodman

With Jazz at the Philharmonic

With Johnny Hodges

With Billy Taylor

Main sources:[15][16]


  1. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington states that Carney joined the band in 1926, and rejoined it the following year.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Willard, Patricia (October 4, 2012), Carney, Harry (Howell), Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2227923
  2. ^ Gioia, Ted (2011). The History of Jazz (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-19-539970-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Harry Carney". AllMusic. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  4. ^ Sudhalter, Richard M. (2001). Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915–1945. Oxford University Press. p. 172.
  5. ^ a b c d e Lorre, Sean. "Carney, Harry". Archived from the original on September 19, 2011.
  6. ^ Spring, Evan (2014). "Duke Ellington Chronology". In Green, Edward (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press. p. xiv. ISBN 978-0-521-88119-7.
  7. ^ Berendt, Joachim-Ernst; Huesmann, Günther (2009). The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century (7th ed.). Lawrence Hill. pp. 339–340. ISBN 978-1-55652-820-0.
  8. ^ Williams, Martin (1993). The Jazz Tradition (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-19-507815-2.
  9. ^ Berish, Andrew (2014). "Survival, Adaptation, and Experimentation: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra in the 1930s". In Green, Edward (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-521-88119-7.
  10. ^ Taylor, Billy (2013). The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor. Indiana University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-253-00917-3.
  11. ^ James, Stephen D.; James, J. Walker (2014). "Conductor of Music and Men: Duke Ellington Through the Eyes of His Nephew". In Green, Edward (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-521-88119-7.
  12. ^ a b Cottrell, Stephen (2012). The Saxophone. Yale University Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-300-10041-9.
  13. ^ "Jazz | All About Jazz". 23 October 2005. Archived from the original on 2005-10-23. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  14. ^ Santoro, Gene (2000). Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus. Oxford University Press. p. 417. ISBN 978-0-19-509733-7.
  15. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (1992). The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP & Cassette (1st ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-015364-4.
  16. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0.