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Barrett Deems


Octogenarian drummer (born Springfield, Illinois March 1, 1914) who was best known for anchoring Louis Armstrong's bands (Armstrong used to call him "The Kid") died September 15, 1998 at Columbus Grant Hospital of Pneumonia. Barrett was 5 years old when he picked up his first set of sticks and started drumming. He used to follow people around town and play with his father. One day someone mentioned he thought Barrett may really have a chance at becoming someone, so he took off for New York. His first job was with Paul Ash and his orchestra. He eventually went on to play with such greats as Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnett, and Woody Herman. Up until just before his death he still performed with his own excellent Barrett Deems 18-piece Big Band (including trumpeters Brad Goode and Mike McLaughlin, trombonist Audrey Morrison, and reedmen Barry Winograd and Richie Corpolongo). The group which performed weekly at the Elbo Room and The Note. Even at 80+, he was still talented, although some nights, he would wander off and spend the night by the bar (the backup drummer is excellent, though!)

Deems, once billed as "the world's fastest drummer," began working professionally in the late 1920s, and led a number of Chicago-area bands before joining Joe Venuti (1937) with whom he worked for 7 years. He then worked with Jimmy Dorsey (1945), Red Norvo (1948) and Muggsy Spanier (1951), Armstrong, Jack Teagarden (1960-4). He also led his own band, Chicago's Brass Rail club, worked with the Dukes of Dixieland, Joe Kelly's Gaslight Band, played and recorded with Art Hodes, and toured with a number of Armstrong Tribute bands.
In 1952, Barrett Deems began one of the high points of his career, working for Louis Armstrong and his All Star Band all over the world. Deems refers to Louis as a "beautiful person" talking about how his companion would give money to the sick and needy. Deems also witnessed the racial discrimination during those times, and being the only white band member sometimes faced hateful comments. But Armstrong, Deems, and associates were focused on their passion for music.

You can hear him on Louis Armstrong's Satch Play's Fats and Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy as well as his appearance in the 1956 film High Society.

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