Marion “Buddy” Childers, who played lead trumpet in the big bands of such jazz luminaries as Stan Kenton and Tommy Dorsey and later led his own ensemble, died Thursday at his Woodland Hills home from complications of cancer, his son Jeffrey said. He was 81.
A self-taught performer, arranger and composer, Childers was only 16 years old when he landed a spot in the Kenton band. Other band members couldn’t believe “that a young guy could play like that,” Childers recalled in a 1996 interview with The Times, but they also resented the boy because “I hadn’t paid my dues.”
Childers, who was born and raised in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis, was not only young in their eyes, he was also a “hick.” Still, during those years with Kenton -- on and off from 1942 until 1954 -- Childers made a name for himself, developing as a player and a composer.
“So now if I write something that comes out sounding like Stan, I don’t mind,” he told The Times in 1995.
“You can’t have those early life experiences, like playing with Stan at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, and not expect them to show up someplace,” he said.
In the late 1940s, Childers married Jan Belardes, and the couple had five children before divorcing.
In addition to his son Jeffrey of Mira Loma, Childers is survived by James of Las Vegas; Brian of Woodland Hills; Karen Young of Las Vegas; and Janice Simmonds of Cal-Nev-Ari, Nev. His second wife, Carol, died in 2002.
Big bands were a mainstay of Childers’ career. Often he held the position of lead trumpet, a role that required him to provide the main melodic line and to play higher and louder than anyone else. In later years he sometimes played fluegelhorn. His airy, delicate sound on the instrument demonstrated that “he can play with both subtlety and persuasion,” a Times music critic wrote in 1985.
Over the years Childers played with such notables as Benny Carter, Les Brown and Woody Herman. He also recorded with the Lew Tabackin-Toshiko Akiyoshi orchestra and released his own albums.
In the 1980s, Childers served as musical director for Frank Sinatra Jr. and went along when Sinatra Jr. was asked to lead the Frank Sinatra orchestra.
“He’s the best boss I’ve ever had in the music business,” Childers said of Sinatra Jr. in the 1996 Times article, “a person who really treats musicians with respect.” The older Sinatra, he said, “doesn’t know I exist.”
In 1993, Childers left the Sinatras, formed a big band, and for years continued to perform. In 2005 he finished his last, still unreleased CD, “Haunted Ballroom,” said his son Jeffrey.
Even as his performances decreased, Childers continued to find joy in music.
“To play a good solo is a joy, but to hear one of my arrangements played as well as these guys play is an indescribable thrill,” he told The Times in 1995.