The Troy Street Observer

September 6 and 7: Max Kaminsky

Photo of Max Kaminsky
Max Kaminsky, mid-1940s

Trumpeter Max Kaminsky was born in Brockton on September 7, 1908, and died in New York one day shy of his 86th birthday, on September 6, 1994. Maxie was raised in Dorchester, and he was playing trumpet well enough to be paid for it at age 14.

When Kaminsky was 20, he went to Chicago and was indelibly stamped with the style that would last a lifetime. He was a professional musician and he could and did play every kind of music, but at heart he was always a disciple of Louis Armstrong and a Chicago-school hot player. He had that big Armstrong tone and his solos were crisp and tasteful. He wasn’t one to hog the spotlight and he was congenial company in any setting.

Kaminsky went to Chicago in 1928 and worked with Red Nichols in 1929, but he was back in Boston in 1930, playing whatever he could find to pay the bills. Leo Reisman was leading the very successful dance band at the Hotel Brunswick, and when a new owner bought the nearby Hotel Bradford, he asked Reisman to organize a band there, too. He did, and Kaminsky was on it. Kaminsky also started playing society music for the Back Bay crowd—it wasn’t the Depression for everybody—something he did on and off for 30 years, whenever the jazz pickings were slim.

Then came the big bands, and Kaminsky was with Tommy Dorsey in 1936 and Artie Shaw in 1937-38. In 1939, he was back to doing what he did best, playing small-group jazz with Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude band at Nick’s in New York.

The war reunited Kaminsky with Artie Shaw. He was on Shaw’s 1942-43 Navy band, island-hopping across the Pacific, in and out of the war zone. He was part of a peerless trumpet section that included Frank Beach, Conrad Gozzo, and John Best.

In 1945, Kaminsky was playing some of the best trumpet of his life, and he returned to Boston to do it, in an extended residence at the Copley Terrace and then at his own club, Maxie’s. When that didn’t work out, he went back to Nick’s in Greenwich Village.

Kaminsky was a regular in Boston during the Dixieland revival of the late forties/early fifties, and less frequently later. He was a regular at all the New York Dixieland places: Condon’s, Nick’s until it closed in 1962, Jimmy Ryan’s until that closed in 1983. He did extensive society work for Harry Marshard’s office, in Boston and throughout the northeast. He traveled across Asia with Jack Teagarden on a State Department tour in 1960.

Kaminsky’s autobiography, My Life in Jazz, was published by Harper & Row in April 1963, and Pete Welding reviewed it in Down Beat that July, calling it “an entertaining, occasionally informative, and often evocative book,” but concluding it is “a thin, superficial biography that ultimately tells little about him.” At the risk of being accused of piling on, I’ll add that the book is just plain sloppy—too many misspelled names, too many inaccurate dates. One wishes his writing were as dead-on as his trumpeting.

Here’s a 1958 vid of Kaminsky on Art Ford’s TV jazz party, and like a lot of older television footage, it looks like it was shot in a snowstorm. Nonetheless, it’s Maxie’s group with an uptempo “Royal Garden Blues.” Max solos at about the 2:30 mark, but stick around for Stuff Smith at about 4:30.

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