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The Perdido Wahoo Line: Ted Sturgis and Benny Harris

Anthony Barnett and
Leif Bo Petersen


This essay derives from a question originally posed by Anthony Barnett [AB] concerning the true inventor of an addition to “Perdido” that came most often to be known as the “Wahoo” line. The musical analyses are by Leif Bo Petersen [LBP]. The historical research has been conducted equally by AB and LBP, with early input by several others, [1] to whom grateful thanks. In later phases of the work helpful research suggestions were received from the editor and an anonymous reader. For convenience the line is referred to here as the “Wahoo” line even when it appears in performances before the name “Wahoo” became current and/or where there is evidence to question the legitimacy of that titling.

Note: An addendum presenting newly discovered information was appended to this article on August 7, 2011.

Part 1

“Perdido”, composed by Juan Tizol, was first recorded for broadcast use by the Duke Ellington Orchestra at a Standard Transcription session on December 3, 1941. [2] The first commercial recording took place on January 21, 1942, released in May 1942. [3] It was copyrighted on March 12, 1942. [4] It is a thirty-two bar AABA tune in B-flat, most often played at medium tempo. The A1 and A3 sections rest on the chord sequence ii7–V7–I–VI7 played twice with one chord per bar. The A2 section consists of a ii7–V7–I–VI7 and a ii7–V7–I sequence, the last chord lasting two bars. The B section has the traditional “I Got Rhythm” bridge.

This very simple chord sequence soon became an important jam session vehicle. Pianist Billy Taylor who came to New York in the fall of 1943 was an eager participant in the jam sessions at Minton’s. In 1993 he recalled: “Then Bud [Powell] would play some things and the trumpet player, whoever, they would play say a tune like “How High The Moon”, which they had an arrangement of for dancing, or they’d play a tune like “Perdido”, one of these tunes, and the hip...the guys that are sitting in with Bud would play the bebop line while they’re playing the regular dance line [musical sounds]. Instead of doing that the guy would [musical sounds]. I can’t remember the line now but it’s one that Ellington actually played, based on the same harmonic structure.” [5]

It is clear that what Taylor is referring to here is the “Wahoo” line, commonly assumed to be a composition by trumpeter “Little” Benny Harris. The line covers the A sections, and the melodic main trait is a two-bar arpeggio gesture, which is sequenced down twice by one scale step. A basic part of this gesture is the ascending arpeggio played as a triplet. This is an important ingredient in the jazz language of the 1940s and can be found in plenty in the solos of Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and many others. [6]

Note: This article uses interactive musical notation produced using Sibelius notation software. The Sibelius Scorch plug-in allows for musical notation to be displayed as well as heard. Transcriptions are notated at concert pitch. The play button starts playback from the beginning. Clicking on any point in the notation starts the playback from that point. Key and tempo can be changed by the user. If you do not see the score, get the Scorch plug-in here.

Example 1a. Basic A section gesture (“Perdido”, Stuff Smith Trio version)

Example 1b. Basic A section gesture (“Donby”)

Example 1c. Basic A section gesture (“Perdido”, Red Rodney version)

Example 1d. Basic A section gesture (Later “Wahoo” versions)

The last two bars have a repeated gesture, which is somewhat different in the different versions.

Example 2a. Ending gesture, A1 last two bars (“Perdido”, Stuff Smith Trio version)

Example 2b. Ending gesture, A1 last two bars (“Donby”)

Example 2c. Ending gesture, A1 last two bars (“Perdido”, Red Rodney version)

Example 2d. Ending gesture, A1 last two bars (Later “Wahoo” versions)

It should be noted that despite what Taylor is reported as saying, no example has been found of the use of the line in any performance of “Perdido” by Ellington himself. [7]

Part 2

The earliest example of the line on record is found in “Perdido” by the Stuff Smith Trio with pianist Billy Taylor and bassist Ted Sturgis, recorded June 9, 1945, at the famous Timme Rosenkrantz Town Hall Concert. Violinist Stuff Smith states the “Perdido” theme freely and continues with two solo choruses. After a piano solo comes a pre-arranged chorus, presenting what came to be known as the “Wahoo” line. (examples 1a and 2a). The B section here also has a pre-arranged line. The next chorus has pre-arranged riffs in the A sections and a bass solo in the B section. In the final chorus Smith returns to a free rendition of the original theme. It should be noted that Stuff Smith is already anticipating, or referring to, the “Wahoo” theme in the second A section of his second solo chorus. This arrangement may have been worked out for this special concert event, although the whole performance sounds more like the head arrangement routines of a working band. [8]

The first U.S. commercial release of Stuff Smith’s performance was on a 10-inch LP, Commodore FL20,028, Town Hall Jazz Concert, vol. 3, released in March 1953. [9] There were no U.S. 78-rpm releases of Stuff Smith’s three performances at the concert, though two tracks by the Charlie Ventura Trio with Gene Krupa, a Red Norvo coupling with a Don Byas–Slam Stewart duet, and a two-part title by Red Norvo from the concert appeared on the Moses Asch Disc label, the first two as 12-inch releases in February 1948, the last two as a 10-inch release in July 1948. [10] Smith’s tracks did, however, appear on 16-inch AFRS Basic Music Library 3136, a pressing of a portion of Town Hall Concert, which would have been distributed for broadcast use, probably mainly abroad, around 1950. [11] “Perdido”, divided over two sides, also appeared on French Selmer Y7140 and Danish Baronet TR9, both 10-inch 78-rpm releases. The masters, extant in the Timme Rosenkrantz collection at the Music Department of the University of Southern Denmark, used for both Baronet and Selmer were engraved March 16, 1950 and processed March 22, 1950. [12]

Part 3

The line next occurs on a Don Byas Quintet recording, significantly including “Little” Benny Harris, made for Savoy the same year, on November 26, 1945. [13] The track is titled “Donby” and opens with the “Wahoo” line. Compared to the Stuff Smith version, the basic gesture varies a little (examples 1a and 1b). The two closing bars are also different: the Smith track has a four-note gesture played four times, while the Byas version has a three-note gesture played twice (examples 2a and 2b). It could be said that Byas is “bopping” the line compared to Smith’s swing-oriented rendition. There is a written part for the B section, which is totally different from the B section line of the Stuff Smith version. In the out chorus a new line is introduced in A1 and A2, while B and A3 have the lines heard in the opening chorus, except that the closing repeated gesture in A3 is played three times. This is, then, the first appearance of the line as, or in, a composition other than “Perdido”.

“Donby” was the only title from the four-title session not released on 78; one was released in 1945 and two in 1946. “Donby” was first released in or shortly after spring 1953 on Savoy EP XP 8030, [14] close on the heels of the first American commercial release of the Smith Trio’s “Perdido”. No registrations have been found for the title at Library of Congress, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or ASCAP. Savoy credits the composition to Byas.

Part 4

On November 23, 1946 Red Rodney’s Be-Boppers recorded “Perdido” for Keynote with vocal by Dave Lambert and Buddy Stewart. A Mercury CD release, which also includes an alternative take, gives Neal Hefti as arranger for the session. [15] On this track is found the procedure described by Billy Taylor as being a routine at Minton’s: Red Rodney states the “Perdido” theme while Lambert and Stewart simultaneously state the “Wahoo” line. The basic gesture is in keeping with the Byas version, but Lambert and Stewart “ghost” the second note of the second bar, and they add two extra notes at the end (example 1c). The closing gesture is similar to the Byas out chorus version: a three-note gesture played three times (example 2c). There is an arranged vocal line for the B section here, which has no relation to either the Smith or the Byas recordings. Importantly, as will become clear, the track was first released on 78 on Keynote K657. It was listed as a forthcoming release in the March 1, 1947 issue of Billboard. [16] A surviving WNEW Saturday Night Swing Session broadcast from The Royal Roost, March 15, 1947, emceed by Leonard Feather, features Rodney on “Perdido”, but, apart from the merest of hints during his soloing, the “Wahoo” line is not used. [17]

Part 5

From 1947 the “Wahoo” gesture pops up in several connections. It is, for example, found in nearly identical form in the arrangement of Lionel Hampton’s “Muchacho Azul”, recorded November 1947, not in the key and the harmonic setting of “Perdido” but as an instrumental “shout” repeated half a step upwards and leading into Hampton’s solo. The theme of J. J. Johnson’s December 1947 “Down Vernon’s Alley”, based on “Perdido”, opens with a similar phrase.

The complete “Wahoo” line occurs as the opening and closing theme in several extant live performances. Howard McGhee’s band played it in Paris on May 15, 1948. It was titled “Big Will” when the concert recording was first released, on LP, credited in error to Tadd Dameron, who is not the pianist here. The band plays the line in a way that would become prototypical (examples 1d and 2d). In early March 1947, McGhee had performed at the Hi-De-Ho Club in California with Charlie Parker as a guest. The many surviving recordings of “Perdido” from this period show no trace of the “Wahoo” line, which suggests that it was first incorporated into McGhee’s repertoire after his return to New York in the spring of 1947.

There are several live versions, released as “Wahoo”, by the Charlie Parker Quintet. The first is usually dated November 11–23, 1947, Argyle Show Lounge, Chicago. Here the line is played as in Rodney’s “Perdido”. Others are from late November 1949, Pershing Hotel Ballroom, Chicago; February 14, 1950, Birdland, New York; February 18, 1950, St. Nicholas Arena, New York; April 21, 1950, Symphony Hall, Boston; February 5, 1953, CBC-TV Studio, Montreal. The Parker–Powell–Navarro band played it at Birdland on May 15–16, 1950. [18] All of these have the “d” versions of the line. None of these recordings was released until the late sixties or even later. [19]

“Wahoo”, as a so-designated composition, was also in the Tadd Dameron book, which has given rise to some erroneous credits to him. It is heard on Dameron’s Royal Roost October 30 and November 6, 1948 broadcasts. On the latter track a voice is heard shouting “Wahoo, Yahoo” at the opening of the number. On the February 12, 1949 Royal Roost broadcast Dameron’s Big Ten plays the theme. Here Symphony Sid announces it: “Right now—one everybody remembers that we did at the Apollo ’bout a year ago—one I am sure that everybody remembers, a thing called ‘Wahoo’.” He is referring to a performance at “Symphony Sid’s Bop Concert” engagement at the Apollo Theater, April 16–22, 1948. This confirms that the title “Wahoo” for this line was known at least by spring 1948. Finally there is a Dameron version recorded at Salle Pleyel, Paris, May 4, 1949. In the October and November 1948 performances, Kai Winding gives the line the Rodney twist (example 1c) in the opening chorus, though not in the closing chorus. Allen Eager plays the “d” version throughout. The 1949 performances have the “d” version.

On December 19, 1948, Leonard Feather emceed a Sunday afternoon jam session broadcast over WMGM from the Royal Roost. [20] The participating musicians, among them “Little” Benny Harris, were all associated with the bop movement. The opening tune “Perdido” serves as a showcase for Buddy DeFranco who is its only soloist, apart from a brief piano introduction by Bud Powell. Of interest is the fact that the out chorus has the ensemble playing the “Wahoo” line in the “d” version. [21]

As with Parker’s, none of Dameron’s recordings of “Wahoo”, all live, was released until the sixties. In fact, there are no studio recordings of the line whatsoever entitled “Wahoo” during the period under investigation. [22] The first Dameron release was on Jazzland LP JLP 68, which gives composer credit to Harris. There is no copyright deposit for a Benny, or Bennie, Harris “Wahoo” among his other compositions at Library of Congress. Other “Wahoo” compositions are unrelated—at least one Dameron release erroneously credits the composer of one of them. BMI does credit Harris with the composition. The publisher is given as Second Floor Music, a company owned by Don Sickler. The authors’ assumption is that the registration was made after Benny Harris’s death. [23]

Part 6

On June 24, 1952 Vic Dickenson’s Quartet recorded the “Wahoo” line for Blue Note. The track was titled “Lion’s Den”. Two takes have been released. The basic gesture is obviously taken from Rodney’s “Perdido” (example 1c), while the A section endings are different, and vary on the two takes. The B section is more or less improvised. The whole performance smacks of being a loose head arrangement put together in the studio.

The Library of Congress Copyright Office credits Benny Harris and Leonard Feather for “Lion’s Den”. [24] The Blue Note 78 label credits “Harris–Williams” (Leroy Williams, an alias for Leonard Feather). BMI credits B. Harris (though cross-referenced in error to a different composer B. Harris) and [Leroy] Williams (the alias for Feather). This suggests that Feather was either the producer or the supervisor of the session. In such roles it was commonplace for him to have one or more of his own compositions recorded, or to make some kind of claim, but there is really nothing in the music of “Lion’s Den” that can legitimize his cutting himself in as co-composer here.

The master take was released on 78 Blue Note 1600, reviewed in Billboard, November 8, 1952. [25] Both the master and an alternative take are included on The Complete Edmond Hall/James P. Johnson/Sidney DeParis/Vic Dickenson Blue Note Sessions, Mosaic LP MR6-109 and CD MD4-109. [26]

Part 7

One of several rereleases, on a variety of labels, [27] of Stuff Smith’s performances at Town Hall Concert was double LP Atlantic SD2-310 The Commodore Years, Town Hall Jazz Concert 1945 (“album collator Milt Gabler”), released in 1973. The liner note is by Leonard Feather. It was partially reprinted on the German-manufactured, pan-European distributed, part-reissue Town Hall Concert 1945 on CD Commodore 8.26169, which carries both 1985 and 1986 copyright notices. The same production was subsequently released in the U.S.A. in 1988 on Commodore LP CCLP7006 and CD CCD7006. [28] On all these releases, Feather’s comments on “Perdido” include: “Later in this track [bassist Ted] Sturgis introduced a famous out chorus riff that became a permanent part of the tune [...]”.

Feather goes too far in stating that the line became a “permanent part” of the tune. It would be more accurate to say that the line is often found in performances of ”Perdido“. However, the interesting point is that, even if the word “introduced” is slightly ambiguous, Feather’s comment can be understood as indicating that at least by 1973 he considered Sturgis to be the original composer of the “Wahoo” line, a conception consistent with the chronology given above. It is also backed up by Billy Taylor speaking, in 1993, of musicians in the Don Redman orchestra, of which both Taylor and Sturgis were members, that toured Europe in 1946: [29] “[...] Ted, oh, what was Ted’s name? Oh, my, oh, my, oh, my. Wonderful bassist, Sturgis, Ted Sturgis was the bassist. Ted says and I have no reason to doubt him that he wrote that line that Ellington and some of the other guys play ‘Perdido’, [musical sounds]. So he was one of the persons that took credit for that because those kinds of things became common property quick. Most guys didn’t copyright their thing so you might come up with an idea, I say that’s great and then I go on a record date two weeks later and say hey, this is my tune [laugh]. That happened a lot.” [30] Taylor again alludes to this in his 1995 Cadence recollection of his playing alongside Sturgis with Smith and Redman: “Great bassist! He was credited with a line that everybody plays. [hums the line] I can’t think of a tune right at the moment that uses it but everybody plays it.” [31] “Credited” does not of course in this context mean copyrighted or registered, simply “acknowledged” by those in the know.

Why, then, is the “Wahoo” line so ubiquitously associated with Benny Harris? The answer would seem to lie in the fact that influential critics such as Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler thought so. [32] Harris was known as the composer of familiar bop lines, including “Ornithology” and “Little Benny”, and Billy Taylor, in another interview, recognizes him in this role. “[...] Frank Wess and the baritone player, Leo Parker, and Charlie Rouse—all of these guys came up aware of this Washington contingent, and all of the guys knew Benny Harris and liked these little things he was doing and did things based on those things.” [33]

It should be noted that the Stuff Smith Trio with Taylor and Sturgis was a working unit at the Onyx Club from late May 1945. During the same period, on the other side of 52nd Street, at the Three Deuces, Don Byas was leading a quartet with Erroll Garner, playing opposite the Gillespie–Parker Quintet which included bassist Curly Russell. Gillespie had, in fact, been playing there with Byas up to that point. Phil Schaap reports that Sturgis was the bassist for a week or two [34] when the quintet first opened in April. [35] Don Byas may have heard Stuff Smith’s “Perdido” with the “Wahoo” line at the Onyx Club and/or at the June 9, 1945 Town Hall Concert in which he also participated, in a duo with bassist Slam Stewart and an unprogrammed trio with Teddy Wilson. [36]

It does have to be considered that Sturgis heard Byas play “Donby”, with or without Harris, prior to the concert or that everyone involved had heard the line at jam sessions at Minton’s and that no one can safely be identified as its originator. Yet there is the testimony of Sturgis via Taylor, documented at least twice, and the other evidence that suggests Harris cannot safely be identified as its originator.


Assuming Ted Sturgis to be the true originator of the line, why did he not register or copyright it? The logical answer is that he did not think of it as a new composition. It was simply an added feature to the Stuff Smith Trio’s performance of “Perdido”. The title was, in fact, printed in the Town Hall Concert program as one of two to be played by the Trio though, in the event, they played three. [37] That the Trio’s performance was at least worked out beforehand, not extemporized on the spot, appears to be attested to by the way Smith and Taylor interact with the line, both before and during the bass/violin chorus. Sturgis doubtless had no reason to imagine that his line would be picked up and extracted as a composition in its own right.

There are other factors. Sturgis, whose nickname was “Mohawk,” played in swing, proto-bop and bop contexts, including with Louis Armstrong in 1940, though he appears to have been most at home in transitional swing to bop contexts. He worked frequently with Roy Eldridge, whose orchestra at Kelly’s Stable included Sturgis and Kenny Clarke. He had also played in Teddy Hill’s orchestra at the same time as Dizzy Gillespie. He recorded alongside Dameron and Bud Powell with Sarah Vaughan in 1946. Charlie Parker’s composition “Mohawk”, recorded in 1950 with Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Curly Russell, is reputedly named for him [38] and Sturgis himself co-wrote, with drummer Buford Oliver, “The Mohawk Special”, recorded with Byas and Taylor in Paris in 1946. Yet despite a distinguished career and Taylor’s categorization of him as a “wonderful” and “great bassist,” Sturgis appears to have been somewhat self-effacing and largely off the radar so far as a wider public is concerned. There is, for example, no entry for him in the first edition of New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, rectified, by Howard Rye, in subsequent editions. [39] There has also been resistance in some quarters to acknowledge Stuff Smith as an important transitional swing to bop figure. This is dealt with at length in AB’s 96-page liner booklet “Almost Like Being in Bop”, which accompanies the 2005 2-CD set of early American and European bebop violin I Like Be I Like Bop, AB Fable ABCD2-011/12.

Based on the evidence presented above, the following scenario suggests itself, not definitive but—give or take a detail or two—logical and likely: The first recording of Ted Sturgis’s original line as an addition to “Perdido” was made at Town Hall Concert in June 1945, first released in the U.S.A. in March 1953. Don Byas picked up the line, and a few months later, in November 1945, extracted it from its original position in “Perdido” to make a new composition, “Donby”, at a session including Benny Harris, not released until—or a little after—spring 1953. As an aside, the pianist Jimmy Jones and the bassist John Levy on the Byas session were members of the Stuff Smith Trio 1943–1944, briefly separated from Taylor and Sturgis’s sojourn by Erroll Garner and Lloyd Trottman. Broadcast and concert recordings of “Perdido” by the Smith Trio with Jones and Levy in 1944 do not include the “Wahoo” line. [40] Smith occasionally played the line during his 1965–1967 European residency. [41] No later recording of “Perdido” with Sturgis has been identified.

In the meantime it became well known as a line further adapted and added to other performances of “Perdido”, such as Red Rodney’s 1946 studio recording, released in 1947. Aside from Byas’s “Donby”, Harris and/or others codified the line, again extracted from “Perdido”, to make a newly titled composition “Wahoo”, that title probably first appearing in 1948, reputedly a reference to Harris’s part Indian ancestry. [42] Despite long-held assumptions that the line originated with Harris, nowhere is any reference to be found of Harris himself claiming “Wahoo”, which could be explained by his knowing full well that it was not his to claim, whatever others may have believed and to which he may, at least for a period, have acquiesced. It may also be considered significant that the only identified interview with Harris: Dick Hadlock, “Benny Harris and the Coming of Modern Jazz.” Metronome, September 1961, 18–20, does not mention “Wahoo” or a “Perdido” riff, or indeed “Lion’s Den”, in a run-down of some of his compositions. But note too that at the time of this interview none of the so-designated “Wahoo” live performances had been released.

Hadlock reports Harris as saying: “It was the record company people who named a lot of those tunes, you know.” This is born out by Leonard Feather’s semi-appropriation of the line, co-crediting himself with Harris, as “Lion’s Den” for a 1952 recording session by Vic Dickenson. In Jazz: An Exciting Story of Jazz Today (Los Angeles: Trend, 1958), 68, Feather notes of “Perdido”: “[...] a [...] riff founded on its simple chord structure, invented by Benny Harris and once recorded under the title ‘Lion’s Den’ by Vic Dickenson on Blue Note, though more customarily it is included as the standard ‘out’ chorus on ‘Perdido’ itself.” Notable is the absence of any reference by Feather to the title “Wahoo”. Again, all the live performances were yet to be released. By 1973, when assigned to write the liner note for the Atlantic reissue of Town Hall Concert, Feather was faced with the glaring obviousness that Harris had not originated the line and, to Feather’s credit, he at last now gave restitution where properly due: to Ted Sturgis. [43] Had release of the Stuff Smith Trio’s “Perdido” not been delayed beyond 1948, when a few of the performances by others from the concert were released on the Disc label, rather than, in the U.S.A., until 1953, its chronology would have been less disturbed, with only Rodney’s “Perdido” appearing earlier. Had it appeared well before, not just before, “Donby”, and before, not after, “Lion’s Den”, would the history of the origin of the “Perdido Wahoo Line” have taken a different direction?


(July 2011) Some months after the posting of this article, live recordings from the collection of the late Otto Flückiger were received courtesy of Armin Büttner, with assistance from Mario Schneeberger.

In 1946, Don Redman took the first American jazz orchestra to Europe after World War II. The fourteen-piece orchestra (plus vocalist) included Ted Sturgis, Billy Taylor, and Don Byas, all significant players in the earliest history of the recorded use of the “Wahoo” line. The tour was organized by Timme Rosenkrantz. Stuff Smith was also invited, but he declined.

Three concert recordings from the tour are known. Firstly, one in Copenhagen at KB-Hallen, September 15, 1946, released on the Danish Steeplechase label, which does not concern us. Secondly, one in Geneva at Victoria Hall, October 27, 1946, released in part on the Swiss TCB label. The parts that have not been released include a selection entitled “Good House”. Thirdly, an unreleased concert in Basel at Küchlin Varieté Theater, October 31, 1946, which includes an incomplete recording of the same piece. These recordings can be heard here.

Hearing “Good House” immediately calls to mind the A section of the “Wahoo” line. However, closer listening reveals a little surprise: it is not exactly the same line. It is only the general procedure that is recognizably similar: a two-bar arpeggio gesture, which is sequenced down twice by one scale step.

Example 1e. Basic A section gesture (“Good House”)

The notes and the rhythm are somewhat different. This also goes for the two-bar ending of the A sections. On the other hand, it is obvious that the arrangement and performance of “Good House” is closely related to the Stuff Smith Trio’s Town Hall version of “Perdido”. The B section of the opening chorus of “Good House” is almost identical to the B section of the “Wahoo” chorus played at Town Hall. Both performances feature the bass. In the bass solo towards the end of “Good House”, Sturgis gives a free rendition of the Town Hall “Wahoo” chorus, playing melodically and rhythmically close to the original “Wahoo” line. Taylor’s piano comping behind Sturgis is also reminiscent, in particular at the Basel concert, of the Smith Trio’s “Perdido”.

Further confirmation of the conclusion that Sturgis is the true composer of the so-called “Wahoo” line is provided by Don Redman’s announcement of the number fortuitously recorded at the Geneva concert: “We’d like to present our second portion with a composition by our bassist Ted Sturgis. Ted Sturgis is the arranger, and Ted Sturgis is the soloist. ‘Good House’!”

We also take this opportunity to note that another violinistic version of “Perdido” with the line has been identified. It is performed by Stuff Smith’s friend Ginger Smock on a private video of an appearance by vocalist Billy André at The Mint, Las Vegas, July 24, 1985. “Perdido” is one of Smock’s two instrumental quintet features during the hour-long program in which she otherwise has an accompanying role.


[1] Among whom: Philippe Baudoin, Noal Cohen, Ira Gitler, Dan Morgenstern, and Brian Priestley. Grateful thanks, too, to guitarist Piers Clark (UK) whose conversations with AB about the origin of the line first prompted wider questioning.

[2] W. E. Timner, Ellingtonia: The Recorded Music of Duke Ellington and His Sidemen, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996), 45, gives the first recording of “Perdido” on December 3, 1941 at RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA, with the note “recorded originally for SRT [Standard Radio Transcription].”

[3] RCA Victor advertisement in Billboard, May 23, 1942, 64.

[4] Catalog of Copyright Entries 1942, vol. 37, part III, 426.

[5] Billy Taylor, interview by Mr. Brown and Eugene Holly, November 19, 1993, transcript p.35, Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

[6] Thomas Owens, Bebop: The Music and Its Players (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 31.

[7] Brian Priestley (e-mail communication, May 6, 2010): “I believe it’s the case that none of Ellington’s versions of ‘Perdido’ ever incorporated this theme (as opposed to boppish lines such as Jimmy Hamilton’s ‘Hoppin’ John’, which did).”

[8] A near-contemporary rare insight into Smith rehearsing a new routine with an earlier trio, with Jimmy Jones and John Levy, can be heard on a September 8, 1944 Asch session outtake of “Stop-Look”, first released on Stuff Smith, 1944-1946 Studio, Broadcast, Concert and Apartment Performances, AB Fable ABCD2-007/8. “One could imagine that the ‘Wahoo’ routine had been worked out in this way. Sturgis provided the line and Smith organized a head arrangement, which defined the role of the three instruments.” LBP e-mail communication with AB (June 28, 2010).

[9] All four Commodore volumes were reviewed in, for example: Atlantic Monthly, April 1953, 81. See also Billboard, April 4, 1953, 16: “The latest manufacturer to be victimized by the sale of masters is Commodore. The jazz label bought and re-issued several sides cut by another firm now inactive, of a 1945 Town Hall concert featuring Red Norvo and Stuff Smith. A sideman who played the date squawked that he received no pay for the disc, and Commodore has since had to pay disc date fees, despite the fact that the masters had been purchased with the understanding that all obligations had been met.” There are no liner notes with this release.

[10] “Advance Record Releases.” Billboard, January 17, 1948, 107, lists the Ventura 12-inch Disc 2500, which was reviewed in Billboard, February 21, 1948, 117. “Advance Record Releases.” Billboard, July 10, 1948, 112, lists the Norvo two-part “Seven Come Eleven” 10-inch Disc 6089, which was reviewed in the same issue, 111, even though advance listings normally appeared approximately two weeks before release. There is no mention of Disc 2501, coupling Norvo’s “Ghost of a Chance” with Don Byas–Slam Stewart’s “I Got Rhythm”, in Billboard, but it and the Ventura disc were reviewed in Down Beat, February 25, 1948, 19. Bankruptcy meant 1948 was the last year for releases on the Moses Asch Disc label. See Peter D. Goldsmith, Making People’s Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), 171–223, for an account of “The Disc Era and Bankruptcy”—but note that references, pp. 203, 207, to the two discs with Norvo are garbled, giving the erroneous impression that Byas was part of Norvo’s group.

[11] Harry Mackenzie, The Directory of the Armed Forces Radio Service Series (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), 1. A copy of the disc is held in the AB Fable Archive.

[12] Viewed by AB when the collection was housed at the Danish Jazz Institute, curated by Arnvid Meyer. Copies of the Baronet and Selmer 78s are held in the AB Fable Archive.

[13] Byas and Harris were members of the Coleman Hawkins orchestra, which also included Thelonious Monk, at Kelly’s Stable and the Downbeat Club in 1944. Harris next worked with Byas in Byas’s band at the Three Deuces from a point in 1945 believed to be after Town Hall Concert, continuing into the autumn.

[14] Savoy’s new EP series was reported in Billboard, March 28, 1953, 17: “The new Savoy EP series contains 36 discs, with 24 more to come [...] Lubinsky expects to have the wax on the market shortly.” Thus XP 8030, the disc with “Donby”, was among the first batch of releases. See also John Levy with Devra Hall, Men, Women, and Girl Singers: My Life as a Musician Turned Talent Manager (Silver Spring, MD: Beckham, 2000), 62, for a brief account of the session and its release history.

[15] The original 78 take and an alternative take of “Perdido”, by Dave Lambert and Buddy Stewart with Red Rodney’s Be-boppers, are included on The Essential Keynote Collection 3: Early Bebop, Mercury CD 830 922-2, 1987.

[16] “Advance Record Releases: Hot Jazz.” Billboard, March 1, 1946, 31.

[17] Released on George [sic] Auld, Red Rodney, Chazzer LP 2001 .

[18] The date is discussed in Leif Bo Petersen and Theo Rehak, The Music and Life of Theodore “Fats” Navarro: Infatuation (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 283–284.

[19] Grateful thanks to Peter Losin for providing access to several of the Parker performances, including those from California with Howard McGhee’s band.

[20] Noted in “Vox Jox.” Billboard, December 25, 1948, 37. The session, incidentally, was photographed by Herman Leonard.

[21] Released in Italy on Mythic Sound LP MS 6001-1 and CD MS 6001-2 Earl Bud Powell, vol. 1, Early Years of a Genius, 44–48.

[22] Bud Powell–Francis Paudras Duo made a home recording of “Wahoo” in Paris, between 1962 and 1964, released in France on Fontana 688 318 TL Bud Powell At Home, Strictly Confidential. Powell is present on the Parker May 1950 Birdland “Wahoo”, and the December 19, 1948 Royal Roost “Perdido” with the line which includes Benny Harris. Mary Lou Williams plays the line in the “c” version on a January 23, 1953 recording of “Perdido” in London for English Vogue. She plays “Perdido” in the opening chorus and the “Wahoo” line in A1 and A2 of the out chorus.

[23] Requests to BMI and Sickler for the date of registration have not been answered.

[24] Library of Congress Copyright Office. November 8, 1952, EU283886. Grateful thanks to Bertrand Überall for onsite research at Library of Congress.

[25] “Record Reviews: Hot Jazz.” Billboard, November 8, 1952, 89.

[26] The originally released 78 take was BN446-3, cumulative session take 9. The alternative was BN446-2, cumulative session take 8. See Michael Cuscuna and Michel Ruppli, The Blue Note Label, 2nd ed. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), 32. Grateful thanks to Laura Gayle Green, Music/Media Library, University of Missouri–Kansas City, Chuck Haddix, Kelley Martin, and Scott Middleton, Marr Sound Archives, University of Missouri–Kansas City, for providing access to the Blue Note and Mosaic releases of “Lion’s Den”, and to Michael Fitzgerald for facilitating this.

[27] Complete LP reissues, variously titled Town Hall Jazz Concert or Town Hall Concert, are, in USA: Mainstream 56004 -1, -2 (1965), Atlantic SD2-310 (1973); in UK: 77 Records LA12/10, LA12/11 (1958), London HMC5002, HMC5003 (1974). 77 releases were licensed directly from Timme Rosenkrantz by Doug Dobell of 77 Charing Cross Road. The London releases were licensed from Atlantic but a UK commentator was substituted for Leonard Feather and a short paragraph by Milt Gabler omitted. The Mainstream release has no useful liner note. Grateful thanks for assistance to Michael and Pamela Stephens at Record Relics (U.S.A.), Alan Ross at Jazz House Records (UK), Jazz Museum Bix Eiben (Hamburg).

[28] Although this particular production includes all three tracks by the Stuff Smith Trio it is not a reissue of the complete concert. It does not, for example, include the two Byas–Stewart duets and the trio track by them with Teddy Wilson. The complete concert is included in Mosaic’s multi-volume The Complete Commodore Jazz Recordings. Smith’s tracks are included on Stuff Smith, 1944–1946 Studio, Broadcast, Concert and Apartment Performances, AB Fable ABCD2-007/8.

[29] Stuff Smith was also invited to join the Redman European tour but declined (AB conversations with Stuff Smith and Timme Rosenkrantz, London and Copenhagen, 1965). The tour, the first by an American orchestra after the war, was put together by Rosenkrantz. It included transitional swing and bop musicians. Trumpeter Peanuts Holland, Smith’s companion in the Alphonso Trent Orchestra in the 1920s, was also a member. Smith and Redman were cousins on the side of Smith’s mother, whose maiden name was Redman. See Smith’s certificate of birth, reproduced in Anthony Barnett, Desert Sands: The Recordings and Performances of Stuff Smith (Lewes, E. Sussex: Allardyce Book, 1995), 54.

[30] Billy Taylor, interview by Mr. Brown and Eugene Holly, November 19, 1993, transcript p.67, Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

[31] Billy Taylor in Paul Matthews, “Interview, Part 3.” Cadence Magazine 21, no. 12 (1995): 7.

[32] For example, Ira Gitler, Jazz Masters of the Forties (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 90; Gitler in Feather and Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Oxford, 1999), 296. Note that Steven Strunk/Barry Kernfeld in New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (New York: Grove’s Dictionaries, 2002), also accessible to institutional subscribers at Oxford Music Online, credit Harris with “[...] ‘Lion’s Den’, and the standard riff on ‘Perdido’” seemingly in the mistaken belief that the two are different. The title “Wahoo” is not given.

[33] Billy Taylor in Ira Gitler, Swing to Bop (New York, Oxford, 1985), 109.

[34] Phil Schaap, liner note to Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, PolyGram Records 837 141-2, 1988. Schaap confirms that his source is his interview with Sturgis over Station WKCR-FM, probably on Sturgis’s birthday, April 25, 1987, in the context of the Bird Flight series of broadcasts about Parker. “I have good reason to trust him, as his story—Dizzy fired him for asking why the band didn’t just play the root/original tunes instead of the bebop counter melodies—did not reflect too positively on Ted.” (e-mail communication with Anthony Barnett, June 9, 2010). Robert Campbell, who listened to the interview, of which a tape has not been located, recollects that Sturgis spoke of socializing with Parker (e-mail communication with Barnett, June 8, 2010). Gillespie in To Be or Not to Bop (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979), 231, gives only Curley [sic] Russell, later replaced by Ray Brown. Note that Schaap’s liner assertion that Sturgis played in the Earl Hines Orchestra with Gillespie and Parker—Benny Harris was also a member—is in error; that bassist was Jesse Simpkins. The error, which has begun to gain currency, may have arisen from confusion with Sturgis’s sojourn alongside Gillespie in the Teddy Hill Orchestra.

[35] “Encores and Echoes.” Baltimore Afro-American, April 17, 1945, 8, gives opening “Thursday”; “Off the Cuff.” Billboard, April 21, 1945, 28, gives opening “this week”. Thus the correct date is either April 19 or 26, 1945.

[36] Richard Crawford, “George Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ (1930)” in The American Musical Landscape (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), reprinted in Robert Wyatt and John Andrew Johnson, The George Gershwin Reader (New York: Oxford, 2004), 164, in considering recordings of “I Got Rhythm”, is among those who assert in error that Byas and Stewart were obliged to play as a duo at Town Hall Concert because “only two musicians had shown up”. The concert program, reproduced in Anthony Barnett, Desert Sands: The Recordings and Performances of Stuff Smith (Lewes, E. Sussex: Allardyce Book, 1995), 145, confirms that the Byas–Stewart duets were planned for performance to be just that right from the outset, during the first half of the concert. The calumny may have arisen because Byas and Stewart were also scheduled to play during the second half of the concert as members of the Erroll Garner Quartet, but Garner had been called out of town and was unable to participate.

[37] Extra time was made available for Smith because of the absence of Erroll Garner and also Billie Holiday. Holiday was appearing opposite Coleman Hawkins at the Downbeat Club at the time but giving cause for concern. See John Chilton, Billie’s Blues: The Billie Holiday Story, 1933–1959 (New York: Stein and Day, 1975), 99–100. A trio including Charlie Ventura and Gene Krupa was a last minute substitution. It is, then, ironic that two titles by them were among the very few performances from the concert released on 78 in 1948 on the Disc label.

[38] Phil Schaap, liner note to Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, PolyGram Records 837 141-2, 1988.

[39] New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (New York, Grove’s Dictionaries, 2002). Also accessible to institutional subscribers at Oxford Music Online.

[40] A Jubilee broadcast and a Times Hall concert recording of “Perdido” by the 1944 Trio with Jones and Levy are included on Stuff Smith, 1944-1946 Studio, Broadcast, Concert and Apartment Performances, AB Fable ABCD2-007/8.

[41] Of released Smith performances in Europe from 1965, there is the inconclusive illusion that Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen may fleetingly allude to the line in his bass solo on a March 4, 1965 broadcast from Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen, including Kenny Drew, released as an adjunct track on CD Swingin’ Stuff, Storyville 101 8397. However, Smith prominently features the line early on in his own melodic statement in an inferior broadcast performance from Salle Wagram, Paris, December 18, 1965 (the January 18, 1965 date given by France’s Concert FC120 and FCD120, both titled Stuff Smith Live in Paris, 1965, is incorrect), on which Smith has to endure a dysfunctional rhythm section as well as bad amplification. In retrospect, there is the sense that Smith may have resorted to the line in order to establish a groove for his accompanists. Smith does not play the line on earlier extant unreleased Paris performances: an ORTF concert broadcast from May 8, 1965 and a private recording from Les Trois Mailletz, July 3, 1965. Among unreleased 1966 private Danish location recordings, Smith plays the line as part of his melodic statement on a good performance with Pony Poindexter and Kenny Drew—Ørsted Pedersen is not the bassist here—January 28, 1966, East Park Jazz Club, Skovdalen, Aalborg. An uptempo unreleased broadcast performance by Smith from L’Onyx Club, New York, May 4, 1953, emceed by Leonard Feather, including a bass solo by John Brown, does not use the line; nor does an unreleased broadcast performance by Smith and Buck Hill from the Showboat Lounge, Washington, D.C., April 1959. Grateful thanks to Frank Büchmann-Møller, Alain Antonietto, and Per Leerberg for access to the unreleased European performances.

[42] “Father a full-blooded San Blas Indian” according to Leonard Feather, Inside Bebop (1949), 85. The San Blas Indians inhabit Islands near Panama, so “Wahoo” may better refer to wahoo fish, living in the seas there, than to the Indian word for a kind of war cry, as well as a shrub, that presumably gave its name to the city of Wahoo founded by white settlers in Nebraska.

[43] Nevertheless, it remains an unanswered question why Feather took so many years to acknowledge Sturgis, apart from his audacity in claiming co-credit for “Lion’s Den”, to which he made no contribution whatsoever except, presumably, bringing it to the session. Significantly, he used an alias on the record label and at BMI, though he used his real name for the Library of Congress copyright. Around May 1954 Feather was one of those appointed A&R at the reactivated Commodore label. See Billboard, May 29, 1954, 40, and Galen Gart, ARLD: The American Record Label Directory and Dating Guide, 1940–1959 (Milford, NH: Big Nickel Publications, 1989), 51. Feather, who had worked for Commodore before, and was also oft-times most supportive of Smith, must have known the back catalogue and, indeed, is likely to have attended Town Hall Concert.

Author Information: 
Anthony Barnett is a writer and jazz violin historian. His books include Desert Sands: The Recordings and Performances of Stuff Smith: An Annotated Discography and Biographical Source Book and Black Gypsy: The Recordings of Eddie South: An Annotated Discography and Itinerary and Listening for Henry Crowder. He produces CDs of rare recordings on his AB Fable label. His liner notes include Mosaic’s The Complete Verve Stuff Smith Recordings. He played percussion with John Tchicai from 1969 into the 1970s and occasionally with such as Derek Bailey, Don Cherry, Evan Parker, Leo Smith. His website is

Leif Bo Petersen was born in 1942 in Copenhagen, Denmark and received his candidate degree in 1974 from the University of Copenhagen in Social Sciences and History. He started playing trumpet at the age of 13 and became interested in jazz music and its history. He has since played trumpet on an amateur basis. In the late 1990s he began serious research on bebop history and joined efforts with American Theo Rehak in writing The Music and Life of Theodore “Fats” Navarro: Infatuation (Studies in Jazz 59, Scarecrow Press, 2009).

For some sixty years or more, it has been ubiquitous to ascribe the addition of a frequently played riff to the tune “Perdido” to bop trumpeter Benny Harris, though a few, including pianist Billy Taylor, believed this not to be the case. The authors have documented the history of this misattribution and show that the line was indeed written by bassist Ted “Mohawk” Sturgis and first introduced by the Stuff Smith Trio with Sturgis and Taylor at the famous Town Hall Concert, June 9, 1945.

Wahoo, Perdido, Ted Sturgis, Benny Harris, Stuff Smith, jazz, composition

How to cite this article:

  • Chicago 15th ed.: Barnett, Anthony and Leif Bo Petersen “The Perdido Wahoo Line: Ted Sturgis and Benny Harris.” Current Research in Jazz 2, (2010).
  • MLA 7th ed.: Barnett, Anthony and Leif Bo Petersen “The Perdido Wahoo Line: Ted Sturgis and Benny Harris.” Current Research in Jazz 2 (2010). Web. [date of access]
  • APA 6th ed.: Barnett, A. and L. B. Petersen (2010). The Perdido Wahoo Line: Ted Sturgis and Benny Harris. Current Research in Jazz, 2. Retrieved from

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