He worked around Detroit and Toledo a couple of years before going to Chicago in 1933. There he played for Jimmy Noone and Erskine Tate., and a few weeks with Louis Armstrong. He made his first recordings during the latter engagement. He went to New York in 1934 where he worked for Benny Carter and Will Bryant. He first attracted national attention through his work on the Benny Goodman Trio recordings. He was featured with the Goodman trio and quartet for three years starting in 1936. He formed his own dance band in 1939. Later he cut the cut the unit to a seven-piece group.
A skilled technician, he gets variety and contrast through his unusual ability to create interesting melodic passages. His pleasant stimulating style has had a marked influence on contemporary musicians. He spends much time in the study of serious music and is partial to the works of Scarlatti and Debussey for the improvement of technique.