On December 13, 1903, William Alexander “Sonny” Greer was born in Long Branch. Mr. Greer was the original drummer and played for more than 30 years in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. He was a contemporary of fellow jazz legend William “Count” Basie of Red Bank. Mr. Basie at one time had aspirations of his own to become a drummer, but changed his mind after hearing Mr. Greer, who was so obviously superior on drums that Mr. Basie returned his focus to the piano. The men became friends and formed a duo for a time. Mr. Greer died on March 23, 1982.
Sources: Wilson, John S. (1982.) Sonny Greer, 78, Ellington Drummer, is Dead. The New York Times, March 25, 1982, Section D, Page 21.