Harry Howell Carney was a jazz legend who played the baritone saxophone and influenced generations of musicians. Carney is best known for his 45-year tenure in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra.
Carney was born in 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts. By the age of six, he was playing the piano which later led to the clarinet and alto saxophone.
He played a variety of gigs in New York City during his teen years and later eventually joined Ellington in Boston in 1927. Carney initially played alto and soprano saxes, doubling on clarinet while Otto Hardwick handled the baritone parts.
After Otto Hardwick left Ellington in 1928 to go to Europe, Carney took over the lead alto parts with Johnny Hodges taking over the main alto and soprano parts. Carney focused on the baritone saxophone for the remainder of his career. During the 1940s, Carney temporarily played some clarinet solos. Carney was the longest serving player in Duke Ellington’s orchestra.
Although Carney was not the first baritone saxophonist in jazz, he produced a sound that influenced several musicians. Harry Carney died on October 8, 1974, at the age of 64, four months after his best friend, Duke Ellington’s death.