Danny Turner, Jazz Musician

Posted: April 20, 1995

Danny Turner, a member of the Count Basie Orchestra whose musical prowess and melodic improvisations earned him the title of "saxologist," died Friday. He was 75 and lived in West Philadelphia.

"A lot of times, jazz is a misnomer - people call everything jazz. Like fusion - that's just confusion. I like the melodic," Turner told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992.

He was with the Count Basie Orchestra for the past 23 years. During his time as lead alto saxophone player, Turner played for - and recorded with - music-industry superstars on both coasts.

His performances included sessions with Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Peggy Lee, Pearl Bailey, George Benson, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne.

The third of seven children, Turner's father encouraged his sons to sing in four-part harmony like the Mills Brothers. Turner grew up in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

"We always had a piano in our home and I used to pick up the notes by ear, but I didn't study music - piano and clarinet - until junior high school," recalled Turner.

Turner, who died of colon cancer at Presbyterian Hospital, continued to tour until two months before his death, crisscrossing America in a winter tour that ended in late February.

"Since the news of his death, friends and admirers have been calling from all over the world. Calling from countries like Sweden, Australia and Japan," said his wife of 49 years, Ruth Mosley Turner.

As widely known as the name Danny Turner was, it wasn't his formal name. ''His first name was James, the one he used on legal papers," said his wife. "He preferred to go by Danny, his middle name."

The two met in Philadelphia in 1943, when Turner was one of the "Kings" in a jazz trio which billed itself as the "Four Kings and a Queen."

"He had the sweetest face. My heart skipped a beat. After we fell in love, we never fell out of love. We bonded closer and closer throughout the years," continued Ruth Turner.

Before joining the Count Basie Orchestra, Turner, who loved Latin music and was proficient on the piccolo, played with Frank Grillo, a Cuban band leader who billed himself as "Machito."

While touring South America with Grillo's troupe, which, in addition to musicians, included three flamenco dancers and a midget comedian, Turner found

himself stranded in Peru.

Since Grillo was only able to bring troupe members back to the U.S. a few at a time, Turner spent his days in Peru, "eating fish and beans because it was cheap," he recalled. "Ain't no hitchhiking home from South America."

Turner approached music with an intensity that radiated from the bandstand.

From the first note on, neither his concentration nor intensity wavered.

"I don't believe there is such a thing as warming up. I don't try to hit a peak. I try to play at the same level throughout," he explained.

David Gibson, a Basie Orchestra drummer from Philadelphia who played with Turner, described Turner's improvisations as "so skillfully (crafted that) you would think somebody wrote it that way . . .

"He gives a piece a new demension. He can add a complete run, and it's done so smoothly it doesn't change the composition."

Ruth Turner said one of her husband's favorite solo pieces was "Angel Eyes." It was a tune he owned, so to speak, she said.

"When Danny played 'Angel Eyes,' he could freeze a room in place. He would have absolute control of the room, followed by a standing ovation," she continued.

In her 49 years with Danny, Ruth Turner says she has one regret. "We'll never get to celebrate our 50th year, our Golden Anniversary," she explained.

"We were planning for the 50th, but God has a hand in everything, so I don't ask questions. It just was not to be."

Turner also is survived by a brother, Leo Turner, and two sisters, Vivian and Mildred Turner.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the West Philadelphia Seventh Day Adventist Church, 46th Street and Haverford Avenue, where friends may call after 9 a.m.

Burial will follow in Northwood Cemetery, 15th and Haines streets.

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