I am deeply saddened to report the death of Gordon “Whitey” Mitchell, who died of cancer on January 18th. JazzLegends.com visitors are more than familiar with Whitey’s work with The Gene Krupa Jazz Quartet. That particular edition of Gene’s group, which lasted through much of 1955, included Gene, Whitey, Bobby Scott and Eddie Shu. It was one of Krupa’s finest small units and fortunately, their concert sets at Jazz at the Philharmonic are well-preserved on CD.

Whitey performed with a bunch of other greats through the years, including Andre Previn, Mat Matthews, Gene Quill, Herbie Mann, Tony Scott and J.J. Johnson. He recorded one session as a leader in 1956, and two years later, recorded with his brother, bassist Red Mitchell, and trumpeter Blue Mitchell on something aptly called “The Mitchells. He left music in 1965 to work full time as a comedy writer.

As the story goes, several letters he wrote to Down Beat magazine came to the attention of no less than Lenny Bruce, who encouraged him to go into comedy writing. Starting in the mid-1960s, he began writing for some of the legendary programs in television history, such as “Get Smart,” “The Jeffersons,” “All in the Family,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Good Times,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” If you ever wondered why several of those shows seemed to be so hip, “Get Smart” in particular, now you know.

He moved to Palm Desert in the mid-1990s and began playing bass again. He was even better and more swinging than he was in 1955.

Some seasons back, I got a call from Whitey, who heard that I had some rare audio of the Krupa Quartet. We began talking on the telephone frequently, and I found him to be one of the most intelligent and literate folks I ever met. At the same time, I was thinking about going out to Palm Springs to do some archival video interviews with a bunch of industry people who relocated out there, including Marie Rich and Frankie Randall. Whitey spoke of how nice the jazz scene was in Palm Springs and Palm Desert, and that he had a great gig at a club there, which, if memory serves, was owned by a one-time Playboy Bunny. He said, “When you come out, get in touch and you’ll sit in.”

“Sit-in,” to me, were and are the magic words. My long-time personal and professional colleague (and jazz singing great) Joy Adams and I decided to get out there as soon as possible. Whitey and his wife, Marilyn, were charming. We spent a good deal of time in their lovely home, and also a good deal of time in the jazz club where he was playing with a certifiably swinging group.

One night at the club, it seemed that the creme de la creme of Palm Desert celebrity were seated at the table along with The Mitchells and us, including the legendary agent, Norby Walters and the equally legendary singer, Jack Jones.

I remember specifically that Jones didn’t crack a smile all night. Until, that is, Joy Adams sang. He told me later on in the evening, knowing that I wrote and co-produced the videos on Buddy Rich, that he never really got over Buddy’s death and was never the same afterward.

To be asked to guest at the drums with Whitey Mitchell, a giant of a player , was a singular honor, especially because he had played with Krupa and always said how much he loved Gene’s playing. He later told me how much he liked my playing and that there would always be work for Joy and me if we ever decided to move out to the desert.

After that, we lost touch. A month or two ago, someone told me he had written his autobiography, and I thought that would be an appropriate time to look him up again. I didn’t, and I’m sorry about it.

I’ll miss him. And so will jazz.


  1. Bruce Long Says:

    I was both a friend and colleague of Gordon, “Whitey” Mitchell, and I wanted to share what a funny, beautiful person he was. I produced television with Gordon, early in my career, and he was generous and funny, and epitomized what the “real Hollywood” is about: he wanted to tell stories that touched people’s lives, that made them laugh AND made them think. The world has lost a treasure. The fact that he had two amazing careers, in Jazz and in Television is a tribute to his positive attitude and his amazing gifts! Gordon got it- and I learned allot from him. But his friendship and comradeship , is what I will always treasure.


    Bruce K. Long

  2. Eric Brown Says:

    Gordon was a golfing buddy of mine – when I was a young out of work actor I somehow got invited to join the “Hollywood Hackers” – a group of show bizzers who hung out and play golf. He was a prince of a man, a very successful writer, and who knew about his gifts as a musician? We got together whenever we could to play golf. I was just thinking about him the other day and made a note to myself to look him up to say hello, but I see that I just missed him. Goodbye, Gordon, we’ll all miss you.

  3. Joseph Puma Says:

    My late dad,jazz guitarist Joe Puma played and recorded many times with Whitey Mitchell,as well as his brother Red,and my father had great admiration for both of them.I never got to meet Whitey,but having known since I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, that he was a renaissance man of sorts with his bass playing and comedy writing,I greatly admired him also.Here it is the 18th of September,2009,and I just found out he passed away in January,what a shame.My 11 year old daughter shares my love for classic t.v.,and I hope my 6 year old girl will too,anyway anytime Whitey’s name shows up in the credits I’m always going on about “that’s grandpa’s friend who became a legendary writer after being a stellar musician”,etc.In fact,we stumbled on a “Good Times” episode that I somehow missed growing up with Robert Guillaume of “Benson” and “Soap” fame portraying a wino,and it had that classic Gordon Mitchell touch about it.My kid loves “Mork and Mindy”,and forever more seeing that and other shows,or listening to my albums that he’s on will be bittersweet,but nevertheless he will be honored and appreciated in my house.Say hello to Dad for me Whitey,here’s wishing the two of you can play some tunes from “Wild Kitten”in that big club in the sky.Peace.

  4. Bruce Klauber Says:

    Great to hear from you. Your father was indeed a heavyweight. I always enjoyed his work with Chris Connor, Morgana King, etc. Where is Morgana these days, anyway?

    Whitey was something. My colleague, jazz singer Joy Adams, and I, travelled specifically out to Palm Spings some years back just for the pupose of hanging with Whitey. He and his wife made us most welcome, and we did a lot of playing together, ended up at dinners with Jack Jones and the gang, etc. We’ll not see those days again. — Bruce Klauber

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