Clora Bryant, Trumpeter and Pillar of L.A. Jazz Scene, Dies at 92

Clora Bryant, a trumpeter who was widely considered one of the finest jazz musicians on the West Coast — but who ran into gender-based limitations on how famous she could become — died on Aug. 23 in Los Angeles. She was 92.

Her son Darrin Milton said she died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after suffering a heart attack at home.

A self-described “trumpetiste,” Ms. Bryant came of age in the 1940s, aligning herself with the emerging bebop movement. But she never lost the brawny elocution and gregarious air of a classic big-band player, even as she became a fixture of Los Angeles’s modern jazz scene.

Often faced with sexist discrimination, without support from a major record label or an agent, Ms. Bryant did not come forth as a bandleader until middle age. By that point the jazz mainstream had moved on to fusion, a style she never embraced.

But in 1945, after two years at Prairie View, Ms. Bryant moved with her family to Los Angeles and transferred to U.C.L.A. (Her father had been run out of Texas by a group of white people who accused him of stealing paint.) She immediately found her way to Central Avenue, the bustling nucleus of black life in the city, where jazz clubs abounded.

After hearing the trumpeter Howard McGhee at the Downbeat, she fell in love with bebop. She was underage, so she stood just outside the door, transfixed. But she soon found her way inside.

“I would not go without my horn,” she told Dr. Isoardi, remembering attending nightclubs like the Downbeat and the Club Alabam. “If I knew there was going to be somebody there, I’d have my horn with me, because I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to try to learn something.”

In 1946 Ms. Bryant joined the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the country’s leading all-female swing ensemble, where she was a featured soloist. (Jazz bands led by women had become popular during World War II, and many of these ensembles continued to thrive for years afterward.)

Soon after, she joined the Queens of Rhythm, another large group. When its drummer left, she learned drums to fill the role. A crowd-pleaser, she sometimes played trumpet with one hand while drumming with the other.

Ms. Bryant married the bassist Joe Stone in the late 1940s, and the couple had two children. In one publicity photo with the Queens of Rhythm, she subtly conceals an eight-month pregnancy. She and Mr. Stone eventually divorced, and she raised their children as a single parent, continuing to perform all the while.

Ms. Bryant is survived by her four children — April and Charles Stone, from her marriage to Mr. Stone, and Kevin and Darrin Milton, from her relationship with the drummer Leslie Milton — as well as nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Her brothers, Frederick and Melvin, died before her.

Throughout much of the 1950s she regularly led jam sessions around Los Angeles. She also played in the house band at the Alabam, where she backed up visiting stars like Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. She moved to New York for a brief time but soon returned to Los Angeles, where she would stay for the rest of her life, remaining a well-known performer and a mentor to younger musicians.

By the mid-1950s, Ms. Bryant was performing around the country with various groups and accompanying the vocalist Billy Williams in his popular Las Vegas revue. They appeared together on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and Ms. Bryant contributed a track to Williams’s album “The Billy Williams Revue.”

In the 1970s and ’80s Ms. Bryant stepped forward more as a leader, fronting a combo she called Swi-Bop. She toured internationally and often performed with her brother Melvin, a singer. In the late 1980s and ’90s, her son Kevin was Swi-Bop’s regular drummer.

In 1988, with tensions easing between the United States and Russia, Ms. Bryant wrote a letter to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, saying she hoped to become “the first lady horn player to be invited to your country to perform.” His cultural ministry invited her to the Soviet Union, where she toured the next year.

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