by Leo Ball
Jazz Master and Honor Member Bobby Pring
If there’s any one phrase that captures the playing of trombonist Robert Edward Pring – known to most of us as Bobby Pring – it is “smooth as satin.” The epiphany that determined his musical direction occurred prior to World War II when Bobby heard the Jack Jenny recording of “Stardust” for the first time. He recalls, to this day, saying to himself, “That’s the way I want to sound!”
Bobby, an honor member of 802, was born in New Bedford, Mass., where the two main industries were the textile mills and the fishing industry. New Bedford was the harbor for the most famous whaling ships in history, inspiring Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
Bobby’s parents bestowed on him a racial mix of Portuguese, English and Irish. His dad was a pianist, who supplemented his income from the mill by playing with a local band named the Lincoln Melody Boys.
His mom was even more talented. She was untrained but could sing hip harmonies when the family had one of their many songfests. Bobby must have inherited her ears, because he’s certainly a natural jazz player.
Bobby’s Uncle Ed was the area’s most talented percussionist and had the gig at Boston’s famous Metropolitan Theatre. He had studied with George Lawrence Stone, widely considered at that time as the granddaddy of all drummers.
Uncle Ed was highly successful and took on the fashions of the day. He was always impeccably dressed, ultra hip, and had no lack of female companionship. Understandably, Bobby’s head was turned and decided this was the life for him!
Uncle Ed started him on drums and Bobby’s precocious talent earned him gigs as a youngster in 1936.
He soon tired of banging away at the skins, and desperately wanted a melody instrument. Uncle Ed once again obliged and in 1939 bought Bobby his first trombone, spending two dollars of his hard-earned money for the horn, and setting Bobby up with his first teacher, a wonderful local trombonist named Jimmy Hanrahan.
Bobby’s progress was phenomenal. He joined the union in 1941, and was soon busy playing at all the local venues, including a live radio show. In 1942, the year he graduated high school, he was with the Gene Marshall organization, the house band at the famous Lincoln Park Ballroom, a one-night stopover for all the name bands of the day.
Immediately after graduation, he joined the top New England territory band fronted by Rudy Wallace, who, a few months later, turned the band over to violinist Mal Hallett. Mal was a heavy imbiber of the spirits, and the more he drank, the worse he played. One day, the band stopped at a garage, and Mal, feeling no pain, embarked on a search for the men’s room, which resulted in his falling into a grease pit, breaking his arm, and, to the delight of the band, ending his violin playing forever.
In June 1943, with the war in full gallop, Bobby was drafted into the Air Force, and stationed as a band member at Greensboro, North Carolina, where he stayed until discharge in February 1946. He immediately accepted the jazz chair on the Tony Pastor band, and the next few years traveled with many of the name bands of the day, finally ending up joining Les Brown in 1950. The band was heavy into the road, doing all the Bob Hope overseas tours, and Bobby, after six years, finally tired of all the travel and in 1956 accepted the house band gig at Hollywood’s famous Moulin Rouge.
He shortly became one of the busiest freelance players on the Los Angeles scene, doing movie soundtracks, all kinds of studio work, and accepting short stints with the best bands of the day. His band credits include Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, Charlie Barnet, Bob Florence, the Commanders and David Rose. Also, he fronted his own organization for a number of years.
Bobby was a marrying man, and over the course of his career had a series of wives, mostly singers he was working with. He was good at getting them to the altar, but terrible about keeping them out of the divorce courts, a common problem with many of the cats on the road those days. As Bobby says, “I loved being married, but I guess I wasn’t very good at it.”
Also, during this time, Bobby was getting heavier and heavier into booze, and after a couple of near death experiences, got with the program, and has been dry now for many decades.
He migrated to New York in 1977, and besides working steady Sundays with trumpeter Max Kaminsky at Jimmy Ryan’s, he also did many weekday subs for trombonist Bobby Pratt with the house band fronted by the incredible Roy Eldridge. In a short time, he was in demand as a club dater for many of the major New York offices.
Bobby has been with a companion, Anita Berman, for the last ten years, having given up on the marriage merry-go-round and tells me he’s finally with the right lady. He’s known her since fourth grade in New Bedford!
About two and a half years ago, Bobby and Anita decided to take their cold bones down to Florida. He had been commuting to New York twice a year, playing with Bobby Short’s band at the Carlyle. Since Bobby Short died this year, it may be a long time before he visits again.
I’m happy when he arrives, and sad when he leaves – a wonderful musician, and a great cat to hang with.