Pettiford is born in Oklahoma in a large musical family. He is a
multi-instrumentalist in his family's touring band based in Minneapolis.
Pettiford plays in various small bop ensembles and with the big
bands of Ellington from 1945-48
and Woody Herman in 1949. His abrasive
personality is the downfall of his own occasional big band. From
1950 Pettiford occasionally substitutes a 'cello for bass.
He joins Charlie Barnet's band and travels to New York. He becomes
associated with the new bebop movement
and plays in, and records with, a quintet led by Roy
Eldridge; also with Coleman Hawkins,
Earl Hines and Ben
Webster. He co-leads a small group with Dizzy
Gillespie at the Onyx Club from 1943-44.
Pettiford settles in Copenhagen where he dies suddenly from a viral