All the jazz history books list him as being born in Worcester, but thereâ€™s very little information available about that. Most, like Leonard Featherâ€™s bible, The Jazz Encyclopedia, typically mention him like this: 1918 Robert “Bobby” Dukoff, tenor sax, b: Worcester, MA, USA. – raised in Sioux City, IA, USA.
Now, the question is how long did he stay in town and do we have anything more to claim of him other than being the place of his birth?
Dukoff is a giant in the world of saxophone playing. Hereâ€™s a quick biography sketch taken from his companyâ€™s Website: â€œBobby is well-known to record buyers around the world having started the style of lush tenor stylings with voices. His Sax in Silk album for R.C.A. Victor started the trend by being a best seller. Many albums followed.â€
There was a series of these records, including Swingy Saxy Sound, Sax in Satin and Sweet Swinginâ€™ Sax in Stereo, among others. It also should be noted that Dukoff was a veteran of the Big-Band era, logging time with such notables as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Jimmy Dorsey.
His playing career is one that any professional would be proud of, but as Craig Harris points out in All Music Guide, â€œDukoff has made his greatest contribution to jazz as a designer and manufacturer of the world’s leading saxophone mouthpieces. Designed in 1943 and first marketed two years later, the mouthpiece has provided saxophone players with greater facility to play their instruments.â€
Dukoff was married to singer Anita Boyer, who worked with Tommy Dorsey, Jerry Wald and Harry James. She died in 1984.
Dukoffâ€™s Website bio goes into even more detail about his inventions: â€œBobby has always been fascinated with the mechanics of mouthpieces as he realized that “the sound started there.” While playing top shows in California he started experimenting in his garage and soon all his friends from the Big Band days were coming around to have Bobby just “touch up” their mouthpieces. This naturally led to his own mouthpiece business and today those early California models are collectorsâ€™ items. Bobby’s natural curiosity has kept him constantly experimenting to come up with a better product. Mouthpieces to Bobby have a character of their own and it is his desire to fit the correct mouthpiece to the style of the player. Bobby is still a playing musician and well aware of the problems to be met on every job.â€
Dukoff recently celebrated his 89th birthday. He now makes his home in Miami. Getting back to the Worcester connection, that same article in All Music Guide lists Dukoff as a native of Sioux City, IA. Hereâ€™s where things get confusing. In 1987, Dukoff gave an interview with Arthur Woodbury that appeared in the Fall edition of Saxophone Journal (Vol. 12 Number 3, Dorn Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 206, Medfield, MA 02052 USA.
After an introduction citing Dukoffâ€™s accomplishment, Woodbury asked him about his past, saying, â€œHow do you look back on those early days?â€ To which, Dukoff responded, â€œIâ€™ll give you a little fast bio, okay? I was born in Sioux City, Iowa and the first time I saw a saxophone was in a music store in Sioux City. I was seven years old.â€
Whoa, wait a minute. What about all the jazz history books citing Dukoff as being born in Worcester? Well, according to the City Clerkâ€™s office at City Hall, there was a Robert C. Dukoff born in Worcester on October 11, 1918. His father was Harry D. Dukoff, from an â€œunknownâ€ origin in Russia.
Harry D. is listed in the 1917 edition of the Worcester Directory as a floorwalker (a person who is employed in a retail store to oversee clerks and aid customers) at a long gone department store at 474 Main Street. He is also listed as a boarder at 7 Murray Ave. His mother was Esther King.
Bobby has often said that his earliest inspiration was his mother’s piano-playing. After seeing his first saxophone, Dukoff also says that from that moment on he had a love affair with the horn. â€œIâ€™d never seen anything like it in my life,â€ he told Woodbury. â€œThatâ€™s all I ever thought about was owning a saxophone. I asked my father to please buy me a saxophone. He bought me a violin instead. Can you beat it?â€
The 1918 edition of the Worcester Directory lists Harry D. Dukoff as removed from the cityâ€™s population to Rochester, NY. Which means, if this was Bobbyâ€™s dad, his mother gave birth to him that year and soon after the family moved temporarily to NY, before heading out west.
It may be interesting to note that at the age of 10, Bobby moved with his family to Mt. Vernon, NY, which means he probably had extended family there. Thatâ€™s where young Bobby started playing the horn he loved. â€œWhen I was 14 I bought my own saxophone,â€ he told Woodbury. â€œIt was summer vacation and I worked at a delicatessen delivering orders. I saved $45, and this was during the Depression! I went to a little music store up on the second floor on 4th Avenue and bought the horn.â€
Okay, these City Hall records must hold the truth to the mystery of one Bobby Dukoff from Worcester. I figured, heâ€™s still alive, I call him. According to All Music Guide, Dukoff moved to Kendall, FL, a suburb of Miami, and â€œopened his own recording studio, Dukoff Recording in 1956. He continued to run the studio until the early ’70s.â€
Heâ€™s still in the phonebook. I called him and requested an interview. Iâ€™ve yet to talk with the man directly, but he did send me an email.
This is all he wrote: â€œDear Chet, I was born in Worcester, Mass.; however, we moved to Sioux City when I was 6 months old.
I would like to see a copy of your column, and would appreciate it if you would send a copy to me. Thank you very much for your interest. Sincerely, Bobby.â€