American National Biography Online
Hardwick, Toby (31 May 1904-5 Aug. 1970), jazz alto saxophonist,
was born Otto J. Hardwick in Washington, D.C. (His parents' names
and occupations are unknown.) A younger neighbor of Duke Ellington,
Hardwick may have worked locally as a string bassist from as
early as age fourteen. He attended Dunbar High School. Ellington
got Hardwick started on C-melody saxophone around 1920, and his
career followed Ellington's: local jobs, many involving banjoist
Elmer Snowden; two attempts to establish themselves in New York,
first without Snowden in March 1923 in Wilbur Sweatman's vaudeville
band and again at midyear with Snowden and his Black Sox Orchestra
at Baron Wilkins's Exclusive Club; and an engagement at the Hollywood
(later the Kentucky) Club, where Snowden's Washingtonians evolved
into Ellington's orchestra. During the Washingtonians' years
Hardwick concentrated on playing alto saxophone while doubling
on violin and string bass.
As a young adult, Hardwick was unreliable, because of heavy
drinking and extended romantic affairs. According to Ellington,
"Lots of chicks wanted to mother him--so every now and then he'd
submit! It meant he was in and out of the band rather unpredictably"
(Dance, p. 58). Hardwick acquired his nickname, Toby, in Atlantic
City, New Jersey, during one such absence. Nonetheless, Hardwick
was the one constant element in Ellington's reed section as the
orchestra grew in size in the mid-1920s. His alto saxophone led
the band in ensemble passages (although evidently Harry Carney
sometimes took this role after first working with the band in
the summer of 1926), and Hardwick contributed solos on many of
Ellington's important early recordings, playing in a sweet, pretty
manner on "Immigration Blues" (1926) and "Black and Tan Fantasy"
(1926 and 1927), and in a jaunty, florid style on "The Creeper"
(1926) and "Jubilee Stomp" (1928). Like most professional reed
players, he doubled on clarinet and other saxophones: soprano,
baritone, and bass; "Birmingham Breakdown" (1927) features solos
on alto and baritone saxophones. Several of these titles exist
in more than one recorded version, but Hardwick's contributions
do not vary appreciably from one to the next. With Ellington,
he composed "Hop Head" and "Down in Our Alley Blues" (1927).
Hardwick nicknamed Joe Nanton "Tricky Sam" (because of his manual
dexterity), and later in life Roy Eldridge "Little Jazz" (his
physical stature), Ray Nance "Floorshow" (his flair for presentation),
and Billy Strayhorn "Swee' Pea" (after the character in the Popeye
comic strip). He loved to have fun, and he was curious about
the world. He realized the first ambition throughout his career
in music; he undertook the second in 1928. Ellington had no intention
of leaving the Cotton Club, so Hardwick quit in the spring of
1928 and left for Europe, where he joined Noble Sissle's orchestra,
Back in the United States the following year, he briefly joined
Chick Webb's big band. According to Hardwick, he led a band full-time
for three years (1930-1932), mainly at the Hot Feet Club in Greenwich
Village, where Chu Berry, Garvin Bushell, and Fats Waller were
among his sidemen. In 1931 at a benefit performance featuring
a "battle of the bands," Hardwick's ensemble was judged to have
defeated Ellington's. After the demise of the Hot Feet Club,
the band continued to perform with James P. Johnson and then
Count Basie as Hardwick's pianist. He then ceased band leading
and rejoined Snowden at Smalls' Paradise in Harlem. Bushell,
though, claims that in 1930 the bandleader was Snowden, with
Hardwick playing lead alto saxophone, and that the musicians
quit the Hot Feet Club as a group that same year. John Hammond
recalled Hardwick in Snowden's band in 1931. Standard sources
on Waller, Johnson, and Basie shed no further light on this period.
In any event, Hardwick performed in Snowden's band in the movie
short Smash Yo' Baggage (1932).
In the spring of 1932 he rejoined Ellington. As Barney Bigard
explained, "Toby wasn't an improvising musician, but he played
some beautiful things. He was a melody boy. He used to have all
the first parts, because Johnny Hodges couldn't read so well
at that time" (Dance, p. 87). By this point, Ellington's orchestra
had many soloists superior to Hardwick, and his importance came
in focusing the band's sound in passages for reeds and for the
full ensemble. During the next fourteen years he was a soloist
on only a few significant recordings, including the last phrases
of "Sophisticated Lady" (1933), which he wrote in collaboration
with Ellington and trombonist Lawrence Brown; "In a Sentimental
Mood" (1935), at the beginning and again before the first trumpet
solo; and "All Too Soon" (1940), in the opening theme intertwining
Hardwick's soprano saxophone and Brown's muted trombone. In 1945
a recording session by Sonny Greer and the Duke's Men produced
fine versions of "Mood Indigo" and "The Mooche" on which Hardwick
Tired of traveling constantly from one venue to the next, Hardwick
left Ellington in May 1946 and retired from music to work on
his father's tobacco farm in southern Maryland. Later he became
a hotel shipping clerk. He suffered a long illness, and after
the death of his wife, Gladys (details of his marriage are unknown),
he died in a nursing home in Washington, D.C.
Stanley Dance interviewed Hardwick and surveyed his career in
The World of Duke Ellington (1970), pp. 55-62, which also includes
personal stories about Hardwick. Bits of his early career are
in Les Muscutt, "Discovering Elmer," Storyville, Apr.-May 1968,
pp. 3-7; Edward Kennedy Ellington, Music Is My Mistress (1973),
pp. 50-51; Albert McCarthy, Big Band Jazz (1974); Whitney Balliett,
"Big Sid," Improvising: Sixteen Jazz Musicians and Their Art
(1977), pp. 139-50, which has Hammond's comment, repr. in American
Musicians: Fifty-six Portraits in Jazz (1986), pp. 179-87; Barney
Bigard, With Louis and the Duke: The Autobiography of a Jazz
Clarinetist, ed. Barry Martyn (1985); Garvin Bushell, Jazz from
the Beginning, as told to Mark Tucker (1988); and Laurie Wright,
"Fats" in Fact (1992). Rex Stewart confirms Hardwick's talent
for inventing nicknames in Jazz Masters of the Thirties (1972),
p. 103. Dick M. Bakker identifies titles featuring Hardwick's
solos in Duke Ellington on Microgroove, vol. 1: 1923-1936 (1977).
Gunther Schuller supplies musical analysis in The Swing Era:
The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 (1989), as does Mark Tucker
in Ellington: The Early Years (1991), the most accurate source
on early biographical details. Obituaries appear in the Washington
Post, 7 Aug. 1970, and the New York Times, 8 Aug. 1970.
Barry Kernfeld. "Hardwick, Toby";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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