In the early 1960s, Columbus backed Wild Bill Davis's organ combo, and he recorded with Duke Ellington in 1967. He worked again as a leader in the 1970s, in addition to doing tours of Europe with Davis. While in France he played with Al Grey, Milt Buckner, and Floyd Smith. Prior to a stroke which partially paralyzed him in 1993, Columbo was the oldest working musician in Atlantic City. Columbo got his first professional gig playing with Fletcher Henderson in 1921. Between the 1920s and the 1960s, he played at most of the city's nightclubs, and led the Club Harlem orchestra for 34 years until 1978, when the club shut its doors.
Thereafter, Columbo's band went on to perform at practically every Atlantic City casino hotel. At the time of his stroke, he was playing regularly at the Showboat. Columbo worked, recorded, and toured with such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Wild Bill Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald. Columbo did an album on the Strand label called Chris Columbo Quintet including a version of "Summertime" featuring organist Johnny "Hammond" Smith. This record (flip side an uptempo minor blues called "Minerology" [sic]) was fairly successful on radio in the early 1960s.
Columbo flipped his sticks in the air, bounced them off the floor and often leaped from a motorcycle seat which was his drum throne. His son was the Count Basie Orchestra drummer Sonny Payne. Columbo died in 2002 at the age of 100, having outlived all his contemporaries. In 2005, in recognition of his historic importance to the city, a section of Kentucky Avenue, home of Club Harlem, was renamed Chris Columbo Lane. Read more on Last.fm.
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