Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
A talented stride pianist, Claude Hopkins never became as famous as he deserved. He was a bandleader early on, and toured Europe in the mid-'20s as the musical director for Josephine Baker. Hopkins returned to the U.S. in 1926, led his own groups, and in 1930 took over Charlie Skeete's band. Between 1932-1935, he recorded steadily with his big band (all of the music has been reissued on three Classics CDs), which featured Jimmy Mundy arrangements and such fine soloists as trumpeter/vocalist Ovie Alston, trombonist Fernando Arbello, a young Edmond Hall on clarinet, and baritone and tenorman Bobby Sands, along with the popular high-note vocals of Orlando Roberson. The orchestra's recordings are a bit erratic, with more than their share of mistakes from the ensembles and a difficulty in integrating Hopkins' powerhouse piano with the full group, but they are generally quite enjoyable. Mundy's eccentric "Mush Mouth" is a classic, and Hopkins introduced his best-known original, "I Would Do Anything for You." Although they played regularly at Roseland (1931-1935) and the Cotton Club (1935-1936), and there were further sessions in 1937 and 1940, the Claude Hopkins big band never really caught on and ended up breaking up at the height of the swing era. Hopkins did lead a later, unrecorded big band (1944-1947), but mostly worked with small groups for the remainder of his career. He played with Red Allen's group during the second half of the 1950s, led his own band during 1960-1966, and in 1968 was in the Jazz Giants with Wild Bill Davison. Claude Hopkins led an obscure record for 20th Century Fox (1958) and three Swingville albums (1960-1963), but his best later work were solo stride dates for Chiaroscuro and Sackville (both in 1972), and a trio session for Black & Blue in 1974; it is surprising that his piano skills were not more extensively documented.