He was never the greatest timekeeper, but Sonny Greer was perfect for Duke Ellington's Orchestra, adding color and class to the rhythm section.
Born Dec 13, 1895 in Long Beach, NJ, Sonny Greer was with Duke Ellington's Orchestra during 1924-51. With the Ellington orchestra, Sonny formed one of the most powerful rhythm sections of all time with bass player Jimmy Blanton. Every jazz drummer and bass player has at one time or another referenced their beats. He met Ellington in 1919 when he was a member of the Howard Theatre's orchestra in Washington, D.C. Greer visited New York for the first time with Elmer Snowden and was an original member of Duke's Washingtonians which was a five-piece group at its start. He was with the orchestra until 1951 when, after a few arguments with Duke over his drinking and increasing unreliability, Greer left to join Johnny Hodges's new group.
He later worked with Red Allen, Tyree Glenn, and J.C. Higginbottham. In 1967 Sonny led his own band and played with Brooks Kerr's trio in the 1970s. Greer had a large array of sounds beyond using the drum kit to generate funky beats. Sonny was one of the first drummers to use other percussion instruments, such as gongs and cymbals and instruments from other cultures; creating the first jungle music. He died Mar 23, 1982 in New York, NY.