Tommy Turk

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Tommy Turk
Tommy Turk.jpg
Background information
Birth nameThomas Eugene Turk
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, US
DiedAugust 4, 1981 (aged 53)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Genres Jazz

Thomas Eugene Turk (1927 – August 4, 1981) was an American jazz trombonist.


Early life

Tommy Turk was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1927. [1] His father, Joseph, [2] was a coal miner and self-taught trumpeter. [1] Tommy got his first trombone when he was in fourth grade of school. [2] His elder brother, Rob, was also a trumpeter. [1] The three of them played in a band with two neighbors, and Tommy developed some fast-playing technique when playing polkas in the band. [2] He had further musical experience in the Conemaugh High School band, [2] and graduated from the same school [1] in 1944. [2] The brothers then continued playing together in a University of Michigan campus band, but Tommy soon joined the army, where he also led bands. [2]

Later life and career

Turk left the army and then moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1947. [2] He became established there as part of the Deuces Wild quintet. [1] Their playing helped Turk develop a reputation, and when promoter Norman Granz heard him play, he invited Turk to appear with his touring group of major jazz figures when they performed at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. [2] His appearance was a success, and Granz recruited Turk to play in Chicago, and for several months in 1948 as part of Jazz at the Philharmonic. [2]

Turk can be heard on several CDs with Charlie Parker. In 1949 he was a member of Flip Phillips and His Orchestra, together with John D'Agostino, Buddy Morrow, Kai Winding, Sonny Criss, Mickey Crane, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, [3] and on December 1, 1949, he led a group including Ray Brown and Buddy Rich that recorded four tunes under the name "Tommy Turk and His Orchestra". [4] Nevertheless, he decided to stay in Pittsburgh, where he could control what he played and enjoyed life [2] – in the 1950s he continued playing with Deuces Wild. [5]

In 1954, The Pittsburgh Press reported that Turk was considering leaving the area because his annual earnings of less than $5,500 from leading Deuces Wild were inadequate. [2] At the time, he had a wife, Mary, and two sons – Tommy Turk Jr, aged three, and Charles, aged two. [2]

Turk also recorded with Billie Holiday, [6] Ella Fitzgerald and Flip Phillips around the same time. [3] In 1972 he performed at the Pittsburgh jazz festival with a band led by Roy Eldridge. [7]

For many years Turk led a quartet that played at the Point View Hotel in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. [8] He later moved to Las Vegas, to play in house bands. [9] The Brentwood band reformed in 1976, and later recorded the album The-Truth!!! as a quintet. [9]


Years later, Turk was living and performing in Las Vegas. On August 4, 1981, he was fatally shot by robbers at a tavern in that city. [10] The Pittsburgh Press reported that Turk was "shot in the head for no apparent reason as he and other patrons lay on the floor of a tavern liquor store during a holdup." [10] One eyewitness reported that Turk had difficulty lying flat and did not take out his wallet quickly enough for the killer. [11] Four gang members were charged in relation to the killing. [10] The 15-year-old who shot Turk was made eligible for parole in 2005. [11] Turk, who was 53, [12] was survived by his wife and two sons. [1]


As leader



  • "Two By Four" / "Encore" Mercury. [13] Recorded December 1, 1949 [14]
  • "Bye Bye Blues" / "The Beat" Mercury. Recorded December 1, 1949 [14]

As sideman

With Jazz at the Philharmonic

Further reading

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Leonard, Vince, "Trombonist Turk Slain in Las Vegas" Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, August 6, 1981, p. 6.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Kohler, Roy (April 11, 1954). "Does It Pay to Play?". The Pittsburgh Press . pp. 3–4.
  3. 1 2 Verve Records Discography 1949
  4. Jazz Records, 1942-1965: A Discography By Jørgen Grunnet Jepsen
  5. Peña, Carlos E., Pittsburgh Jazz Records and Beyond, 1950–1985, "Pittsburgh University Master's Thesis" (PDF). Archived from the original on June 9, 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-02.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. Lady Sings the Blues at
  7. Garland, Hazel (June 24, 1972) "Jazz Festival Was Great But Attendance Could Be Better" Pittsburgh Courier, p. 16.
  8. Frushell, Richard (December 12, 2010) "The Next Page / An Upright City: Pittsburgh and the jazz bass" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  9. 1 2 McHugh, Roy (December 8, 1977). "Turk Scales to 'The-Truth!!!'". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 2.
  10. 1 2 3 "Tommy Turk Killer Gets Life" (May 14, 1982) The Pittsburgh Press, p. A-7.
  11. 1 2 "After 24 years, Las Vegas murderer has chance for parole" (December 15, 2005) Las Vegas Sun.
  12. "Trombonist Killed During Bar Hold Up". The Daily News. August 6, 1981. p. 2. Retrieved August 16, 2014 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  13. Milsop, Joe (April 20, 1950). "Juke Box Review". The Progress. p. 11. Retrieved August 16, 2014 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
  14. 1 2 "Tommy Turk Discography". Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  15. Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (1996). The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (3rd ed.). Penguin. p. 1021. ISBN   978-0-14-051368-4.
  16. Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 774. ISBN   978-0-141-03401-0.