Earl May

Earl May

Acoustic Bass icon Acoustic Bass

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January 4, 2008 (Age 80) died

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New York, New York, U.S. Birthplace

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Earl May was one of the busiest bassists of the 1950s. He played with jazz legends including John Coltrane, Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as leading his own groups. From 1951 to 1959 May was a member of the Bill Taylor Trio and a sought after side-man. In 1959 he left Taylor to serve as musical director for vocalist Gloria Lynne. May remained first-call session musician throughout the decades playing with Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott, and Lou Donaldson. He released his final album in 2006 and continued playing until his death of a heart attack in 2008 at the age of 80.


Earl May played the bass left-handed with a string set up for a right-handed player. During the mid-1960s May took up the electric bass. In the 1980s May worked on Broadway musicals including "Sophisticated Ladies" and "Big Deal".

Early Life

Earl May was born in New York City in 1927. As a child he played the drums but switched to the double bass around age 14. Early in his career he worked in insurance by day and played the New York clubs at night. He played with Connie Kay and Lester Young before finally quitting his day job in 1951 to join Bill Taylor's band. Taylor also introduced May to legendary bass player Charles Mingus. May began studying with Mingus becoming his protege.