Miff Mole at Nick's Tavern, c. June 1946; photo by William P. Gottlieb
|Irving Milfred Mole|
March 11, 1898|
Roosevelt, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 29, 1961(aged 63)|
|Miff Mole and his (Little) Molers|
Irving Milfred Mole, known professionally as Miff Mole (March 11, 1898 – April 29, 1961) was a jazz trombonist and band leader. He is generally considered one of the greatest jazz trombonists and credited with creating "the first distinctive and influential solo jazz trombone style."
His major recordings included "Slippin' Around", "Red Hot Mama" in 1924 with Sophie Tucker on vocals, "Miff's Blues", "There'll Come a Time (Wait and See)", on the film soundtrack to the 2008 movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and "Toddlin' Blues" and "Davenport Blues", recorded in 1925 with Bix Beiderbecke and Tommy Dorsey as Bix Beiderbecke and His Rhythm Jugglers.
Miff Mole was born in Roosevelt, Long Island, New York. He studied violin and piano as a child and switched to trombone when he was 15. He played in Gus Sharp's orchestra for two years and in the 1920s went on to become a significant figure of the New York scene: he was a member of the Original Memphis Five (1922), played with Ross Gorman, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, Ray Miller and many others. His other activities, like those of many jazz musicians at the time, included working for silent film and radio orchestras. In 1926-29, he and trumpeter Red Nichols led a band called Miff Mole and His Little Molers. They recorded frequently until 1930.
Mole and his band backed Sophie Tucker, who was known as "The Last of the Red Hot Mammas" and who was one of the most popular singers of the 1910s and 1920s. They accompanied her on her 1927 Okeh recordings of "After You've Gone", "Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong", "I Ain't Got Nobody", and "One Sweet Letter from You". Mole and his band, which included Eddie Lang, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, and Vic Berton, also accompanied her for live performances.
From 1925 to 1929 Mole was identified with bands led by cornetist Red Nichols: The Red Heads, The Hottentots, The Charleston Chasers, The Six Hottentots, The Cotton Pickers, Red and Miff's Stompers, and especially Red Nichols and His Five Pennies. These bands recorded for the labels Perfect, Domino, Pathé, Edison, OKeh and Victor, though the Five Pennies name was used only for their recordings on Brunswick. The original Five Pennies band consisted of Nichols on cornet, Mole on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Eddie Lang on guitar, Arthur Schutt on piano, and Vic Berton (who came up with the name for the group) on drums, but over time the personnel changed and expanded. Among the musicians who passed through the Five Pennies were clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, violinist Joe Venuti, bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini, tuba and bass player Joe Tarto, trombonist Glenn Miller, and extra trumpeters such as Leo McConville and Charlie Teagarden.
When Jack Teagarden arrived in New York in 1928, he replaced Mole as the role model for trombonists, with a more legato, blues-oriented approach. Having started working for radio in 1927 (at WOR), Mole changed his focus to working with NBC (1929–38). In 1938–40 he was a member of Paul Whiteman's orchestra, but his style by then had changed under the influence of Teagarden. In 1942–3 Mole played in Benny Goodman's orchestra, and between 1942–7 he led various dixieland bands. He worked in Chicago in 1947–54.
Due to bad health, Mole played sporadically during his last years. He died in New York City on April 29, 1961. A benefit to raise money for his medical expenses was scheduled too late. He was interred in the family plot in Greenfield Cemetery, Hempstead, Long Island, New York.
Mole's solo style, which included octave-leaps, shakes, and rapid-fire cadenzas, had a profound effect on jazz trombone playing in his time. Among those who emulated Mole's playing were white trombonists Bill Rank, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey, and black trombonist Jimmy Harrison.
Miff Mole's compositions included "Slippin' Around", "There'll Come a Time (Wait and See)" with Wingy Manone, "Hangover" with Red Nichols, "Worryin' the Life Out of Me" with Frank Signorelli and Sidney Keith 'Bob' Russell, and "Miff's Blues".