This bassist is one of the few jazz musicians to emerge from Winnemuca, NV -- and this is a dusty place that a person truly does emerge from. He is also one of the only players whose last name answers the question of where the sidemen should meet for a smoke break. Neither fact is of that much interest to bassists, who would react much more strongly, positively or negatively, to
's status as one of the first players to use the electric bass. This happened sometime in 1940 when he was working in the
's discography. He is of singular importance to the San Francisco jazz scene, where he was apparently one of the first players in his genre to settle down, and where he was consistently active in various musical happenings. In 2002, he received the Presidential Medal from San Francisco State University in recognition for his contributions to a swinging San Francisco.
He was only a bit more than a year old when his family moved there from Nevada, so any claim that Winnemuca has over him is fleeting at best. While changing musical styles can truly be said to have caused unemployment for many a jazzman since 1916, Alley
is one player who has consistently been active, a first-call player who hosted a pair of popular radio programs as well as a television series. He grew into an active member of the city's arts establishment, serving as the arts commissioner of San Francisco in the '80s. Alley
was still performing several times each month as he edged toward his ninetieth birthday.
At least he gave up football, which was another of his great talents when he was young. He was an all-star fullback and linebacker in high school and in college tackled both the ball and the bass. His brother, Eddy Alley, played drums and the pair frequently gigged together. In 1937, the bassist played with the Wes People's Band and finished out the decade with underrated guitarist Saunders King
. The latter band is credited with helping to shatter the color barrier in San Francisco that prevented black musicians from working in certain parts of town, or particular venues. Alley
briefly had his own unit before joining Hampton
from 1940 through 1942. A short stint with Count Basie
in 1942 resulted in a film appearance for Alley
, the largely forgotten Reveille with Beverly. During the Second World War he was in the U.S. Navy Band, then put his own combo together back in San Francisco, picking up frequent work backing visiting musical dignitaries. As jazz leaders from the East Coast often want to save the cost of flying in their own rhythm section, a good bassist such as Alley
was able to keep busy. In interviews he has stressed the advantage of being a big fish in a small pond, enjoying the renown that goes along with being considered "the Godfather of the San Francisco scene." This anecdote involving the world's grouchiest drummer, told by Alley
in an 2002 interview, leaves a nice impression of the man. "I used to walk down Market Street with Buddy Rich
, and say hello to the people I grew up with, and he'd get mad, he said, 'C'mon, you're with me!' And I said, 'Who are you? I live here, and you're gonna be gone'."