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Alfred W. Hall; Pioneer Black Musician, 72

January 22, 1988

Alfred W. Hall, the veteran bassist who emerged from East Coast jazz bands to become the first black musician to play in a Broadway theater orchestra, died Monday at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. He was 72 and his death was attributed to a "long illness."

Hall, who played the cello and tuba as a youngster in Philadelphia, began playing bass in 1932 and until his hospitalization last month could still be seen each Sunday afternoon at Sweet Basil in Greenwich Village, backing up bandleader and trumpeter Adolphus (Doc) Cheatham.

At his death he had been honored by inclusion in the Smithsonian Institution's Jazz Oral History Project and by the Duke Ellington Society.

As a youth, Hall had hoped to become that rarest of performers, a black man playing in a symphonic orchestra.

But finding that avenue closed, he moved to New York in 1936 and began playing the big band circuit in such clubs around the city as the Savoy Ballroom, Cafe Society and the Blue Angel.

He played with Billy Hicks in 1936-37, Skeets Tolbert in 1937-38 and then joined Teddy Wilson's band when the Benny Goodman pianist left to form his own group.

When Wilson disbanded his big band in 1941, Hall went on to play and tour with Count Basie, Eubie Blake, Erroll Garner, Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster and other jazz greats.

In addition to a jazz career in recording, teaching, concert and nightclub, Hall played in numerous stage pit bands while running his own recording firm, Wax Records, later taken over by Atlantic.

In 1946, he was chosen to play bass in George Abbott's production of "Barefoot Boy With Cheek," making him the first black musician to perform in a Broadway theater orchestra.

He later played in such other stellar Broadway musicals as "High Button Shoes," "The Music Man," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Gypsy."

In 1958 he played for Jerome Robbins' "Ballet" and performed in the band that accompanied French singer Yves Montand in his first one-man show in the United States in 1959.

He produced and arranged four records in 1946 and 1947 as owner and creative director of Wax and three were honored by Downbeat magazine as "Record of the Year."

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