Instruments: Saxophone
Place of Birth: Eutaw, Alabama

Unlike many of his jazz peers, Colvin did not spend his youth longing for a career in music. When he was growing up in Birmingham's Whlam neighborhood, Colvin's parents, Rev. W.F. and Carrie Colvin, kept him under close watch. That meant he couldn't do much teenage prowling in the clubs at Tuxedo Junction, the black west Birmingham neighborhood that eventually was immortalized in an Erskine Hawkins' song.

At Birmingham's Industrial High School (now Parker), Colvin was in the same class as Herman "Sonny" Blount, who later changed his name to Sun Ra and was heralded as a improvisational jazz pioneer. Although interested in music, Colvin wasn't eager to study under the school's stern music teacher, Fess Whatley.

"Oh, man, Professor Whatley was rough," he says. "If you messed up, your knuckles would be swollen for a week. I was already getting several whippings a day from my Mama. So I wasn't going to fool with him."

Colvin taught himself on the soprano saxophone his parents bought for him. By his third year at Miles College, he was itching to join Hawkins, Bount and other young Alabama musicians who were making their mark in Harlem's clubs.

With his parents' permission, Colvin dropped out of school and caught a freight train north. In New York, he worked a variety of menial jobs before landing his first music gig with the Rhythm Maniacs, a hard-living ensemble that played New York City and the outlying resorts.

In the early '40s, Colvin left the group and headed West. For the next 20 years, he played saxophone full time with the Bill Mason Trio and his own combos. Mason was the great-grandson of the Alabama-born blues pioneer W.C. Handy. His group toured the West and Midwest, performing on bills that often included Charlie Parker and jazz pianist Art Tatum. Colvin also filled in when Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Armstrong or one of the other big boys needed another sax man.

Tired of the road by the mid-1950s, Colvin settled in Milwaukee. There, he ran a dry cleaning business by day and played jazz most nights in the local clubs. By the early '60s, he was thinking about forming another touring band and hitting the road. But Colvin's mother put a stop to that. "She told me to get a job with a pension. And when my mother talked, I jumped." So he spent 13 years as a Milwaukee police officer, playing saxophone as a second job.

After retiring in the mid-1970s from his job as a police officer in Milwaukee, Colvin returned to his native Birmingham and embarked on a new career - as a volunteer participant in the Foster Grandparents program and, in recent years, as a full-time, paid teacher's aide, or parapofessional, working with special education students at Jess Lanier High School.

Several times a month, he and his four-piece Jimmy Colvin Combo play traditional jazz at weddings, receptions and other private functions. Until about five years ago, Colvin was a fixture on the local nightclub scene in Birmingham. He recorded his last album, "Live at Joe's with the Jimmie Colvin Combo" in 1982.

Taken from Birmingham Post-Herald article
by Kathy Kemp
Oct.9, 1996

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

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