THE BIG SWING BANDS
Big swing bands were all the rage in the 1930's and 1940's and although there were many in the
All the American bands were vying for the public to become fans of their music, and the Bandleader had to find a style the public would like; and since the majority of the work coming in for the band was for playing dance music, the bandleaders constantly had to find original dance tunes and songs the public would accept. The usual way a big band became famous was by introducing a new song or dance number on a local radio broadcast, and if it took off with the public, the Bandleader and his orchestra shot to national fame in a short time.
Famous Bandleaders were the Gods of the dance halls, radio, clubs, and movies
But there was one instrument not normally associated with such fame in bands up to that time that really made it big with the record buying public, and that was the Clarinet. In the hands of a virtuoso it was a wonder to listen to, and the two most famous clarinet playing Band leaders of the time were Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman.
Artie Shaw (1910 ? 2004)
Born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York City, Shaw grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, where his natural introversion was deepened by local antisemitism according to Shaw's autobiography. Shaw began learning the saxophone when he was 13 years old, and by the age of 16, he switched to the clarinet and left home to tour with a band. Returning to
Shaw first gained critical acclaim with his "Interlude in B-flat" at a swing concert at the Imperial Theater in
In addition to hiring Buddy Rich, he signed Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer. However, after recording "Any Old Time" she left the band due to hostility from audiences in the South, as well as from music company executives who wanted a more mainstream singer. His band became enormously successful, and his playing was eventually recognized as equal to that of Benny Goodman: Longtime Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard cited Shaw as his favorite clarinet player. In response to Goodman's nickname, the "King of Swing", Shaw's fans dubbed him the "King of the Clarinet." Shaw, however, felt the titles were reversed. "Benny Goodman played clarinet. I played music," he said.
Shaw did in fact prize innovation and exploration in music more highly than popular success and formulaic dance music, despite a string of hits which sold more than 100 million records. He fused jazz with classical music by adding strings to his arrangements, experimented with bebop, and formed "chamber jazz" groups that utilized such novel sounds as harpsichords or Afro-Cuban music.
The long series of musical groups Shaw formed included such talents as vocalists Billie Holiday, Helen Forrest and, Mel Tormé; drummers Buddy Rich and Dave Tough, guitarists Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney, and Tal Farlow and trombonist-arranger Ray Conniff, among countless others. He composed the morose "Nightmare", with its Hassidic nuances, for his personal theme, rather than more approachable songs. In a televised interview of the 1970s, Shaw derided the often "
During World War II, Shaw enlisted in the United States Navy and later formed a band, which served in the Pacific theater (similar to Glenn Miller's wartime band in
Like Benny Goodman and other leaders of big bands, Shaw fashioned a small group from within the band. He named it the Gramercy Five after his home telephone exchange. The quintet's sound was set apart by band pianist Johnny Guarneri playing a harpsichord on the quintet recordings and Al Hendrickson playing an electric guitar. In time, the quintet would prove another of Shaw's breaking of racial boundaries, when trumpeter Roy Eldridge became part of the group, succeeding Billy Butterfield. The Gramercy Five's biggest hit was "
Throughout his career, Shaw would take sabbaticals, quitting the music business. This included studying advanced mathematics, as cited in Karl Sabbagh's The Riemann Hypothesis. His first interregnum, at the height of his success, was met with disbelief by booking agents. They predicted that Shaw would not only be abandoning a million-dollar enterprise but that nightclub and theater owners would sue him for breach of contract. Shaw's offhand response was, "Tell 'em I'm insane. A nice, young American boy walking away from a million dollars, wouldn't you call that insane?"
In 1954, Shaw stopped playing the clarinet, citing his own perfectionism, which, he later said, would have killed him. He explained to a reporter, "In the world we live in, compulsive perfectionists finish last. You have to be Lawrence Welk, or, on another level, Irving Berlin, and write the same kind of music over and over again. I'm not able to do that." He spent the rest of the 1950s living in
After Canadian filmmaker Brigitte Berman interviewed Shaw, Hoagy Carmichael, Doc Cheatham and others for her documentary film Bix: Ain't None of Them Play LIke Him Yet (1981) about Bix Beiderbecke, she went on to create an Academy Award-winning documentary, Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got (1985), featuring her interviews with Shaw, Buddy Rich, Mel Tormé, Helen Forrest and others. Later in 2003, along with members of his original bands and other music professionals, Shaw was extensively interviewed by Russell Davies for the BBC Television documentary, Artie Shaw ? Quest for Perfection - which became his last major interview. In 1991, Artie Shaw's band library and manuscript collection was donated to the University of Arizona. In 2004, he was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
A self-proclaimed "very difficult man," Shaw was married eight times: Jane Cairns (1932-33); Margaret Allen (1934-37); actress Lana Turner (1940-41); Betty Kern (1942-43), the daughter of songwriter Jerome Kern; actress Ava Gardner (1945-46); Forever Amber author Kathleen Winsor (1946-48); actress Doris Dowling (1952-56); and actress Evelyn Keyes (1957-85). He had one son with Betty Kern, and another son, Jonathan Shaw (a well-known tattoo artist who founded Fun City Tattoo).In 1946, Shaw was present at a meeting of the Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions. Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan, part of a core group of actors and artists who were trying to sway the organization away from communism, presented an anti-communist declaration which, if signed, was to run in newspapers. There was bedlam as many rose to champion the communist cause, and Artie Shaw began praising the democratic standards of the Soviet constitution. In 1953, Shaw was brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee for his leftist activities. The committee was investigating a peace activist organization, the World Peace Congress, which it considered a communist front.
He was a precision marksman, ranking fourth in the
At the height of his popularity, Shaw reportedly earned $60,000 per week. For a comparison, George Burns and Gracie Allen were each making US $5,000 per week during the year (1940-41) the Artie Shaw Orchestra provided the music for their radio show. He also acted on the show as a love interest for Gracie Allen and the sarcastic bandleader who had trouble with South American guitarist Señor Lee, who could not fully grasp English. Shaw made several musical shorts in 1939 for Vitaphone and Paramount Pictures, and he portrayed himself in the Fred Astaire film Second Chorus (1940), which featured Shaw and his orchestra playing "Concerto for Clarinet." The film brought him two Oscar nominations, for Best Score and Best Song ("Love of My Life"). He collaborated on the song "If It's You" for the Marx Brothers' film, The Big Store (1941). In 1950, he was a mystery guest on What's My Line?, and during the 1970s he made appearances on The Mike Douglas Show and The Tonight Show. Many of his recordings have been used in motion pictures. His recording of "Stardust" was used in its entirety in the closing credits of the film "The Man Who Fell to Earth". Also, Martin Scorsese used the Shaw theme song, "Nightmare," in his Academy Award-winning Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator.
He credited his time in the Navy as a period of renewed introspection. He entered psychoanalysis and began to pursue a writing career. His autobiography, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity was published in 1952 (with later reprint editions in 1992 and 2001). Revealing downbeat elements of the music business, Shaw explained that "the trouble with Cinderella" is "nobody ever lives happily ever after." He turned to semi-autobiographical fiction with the three short novels in I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead! (1965, reprinted in 1997), which prompted Terry Southern's comment: "Here is a deeply probing examination of the American marital scene. I flipped over it!" Shaw's short stories, including "Snow White in
Benny Goodman (1909 -1986)
Benny David Goodman was born in Chicago, the ninth of twelve children of poor Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire, who lived in the Maxwell Street neighborhood. His father was David Gutman, a tailor from Warsaw, his mother was Dora Rezinski (from Kaunas) and his actual birth name was Beno. His parents met in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to
When Goodman was 16, he joined one of
Goodman's father, David, was a working-class immigrant about whom Benny said (interview, 'Downbeat', Feb 8, 1956); "Dad worked in the stockyards, shoveling lard in its unrefined state. He had those boots, and he'd come home at the end of the day exhausted, stinking to high heaven, and when he walked in it made me sick. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't stand the idea of Pop every day standing in that stuff, shoveling it around".
On December 9, 1929 David Goodman was killed in a traffic accident shortly after Benny joined the Pollack band and had urged his father to retire, now that he (Benny) and his brother (Harry) were doing well as professional musicians. According to James Lincoln Collier, "Pop looked Benny in the eye and said, 'Benny, you take care of yourself, I'll take care of myself.'" Collier continues: "It was an unhappy choice. Not long afterwards, as he was stepping down from a street car ? according to one story ? he was struck by a car. He never regained consciousness and died in the hospital the next day. It was a bitter blow to the family, and it haunted Benny to the end that his father had not lived to see the success he, and some of the others, made of themselves Benny described his father's death as 'the saddest thing that ever happened in our family?.
Goodman left for New York City and became a successful session musician during the late 1920s and early 1930s. He made a reputation as a solid player who was prepared and reliable. He played with the nationally known bands of Ben Selvin, Red Nichols, Isham Jones, and Ted Lewis. He also recorded musical soundtracks for movie shorts; some fans are convinced that Benny Goodman's clarinet can be heard on the soundtrack of One A. M., a Charlie Chaplin comedy re-released to theaters in 1934.The same year Goodman auditioned for NBC's Let's Dance, a well regarded radio program that featured various styles of dance music. Since he needed new arrangements every week for the show, his agent, John Hammond, suggested that he purchase jazz charts from Fletcher Henderson, an African-American musician from
The combination of Goodman's solid clarinet playing, the
In July 1935, a record of the Goodman band playing the Henderson charts on "King Porter Stomp" backed with "Sometimes I'm Happy," Victor 78 25090, had been released to ecstatic reviews in both Down Beat and Melody Maker. This had made little impact on the tour, and the last scheduled stop came on August 21, 1935 at the Palomar Ballroom in
At the beginning of the next set, Goodman told the band to put aside the stock arrangements and called for charts by Fletcher Henderson and other swing arrangers who were writing for the band. When trumpeter Bunny Berigan played his solos on
Over the nights of the engagement, a new dance labeled the "Jitterbug" captured the dancers on the floor, and a new craze had begun. Onlookers gathered around the edges of the ballroom floor. Within days of the opening, newspapers around the country were headlining stories about the new phenomenon that had started at the Palomar. Goodman was finally a nationally known star, and the Swing Era began, led by Goodman. Following this the big band era exploded.
In bringing jazz to Carnegie, [Benny Goodman was], in effect, smuggling American contraband into the halls of European high culture, and Goodman and his 15 men pulled it off with the audacity and precision of Ocean's Eleven. In late 1937, Goodman's publicist Wynn Nathanson attempted a publicity stunt in the form of suggesting Goodman and his band should play Carnegie Hall in New York City. Benny Goodman was initially hesitant about the concert, fearing for the worst; however, when his film Hollywood Hotel opened to rave reviews and giant lines, he threw himself into the work. He gave up several dates and insisted on holding rehearsals inside Carnegie Hall to familiarize the band with the lively acoustics.
The concert was the evening of January 16, 1938. It sold out weeks before, with the capacity 2,760 seats going for the top price of US$2.75 a seat, for the time a very high price. The concert began with three contemporary numbers from the Goodman band?"Don't Be That Way," "Sometimes I'm Happy," and "One O'Clock Jump." Then came a history of jazz, starting with a Dixieland quartet performing "Sensation Rag." Once again, initial crowd reaction, though polite, was tepid. Then came a jam session on "Honeysuckle Rose" featuring members of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands as guests. It did not go as well as hoped. As the concert went on, things livened up. The Goodman band and quartet took over the stage and performed the numbers that had already made them famous. Some of the later trio and quartet numbers were well-received, and a vocal on "Loch Lomond" by Martha Tilton, though nothing special, provoked five curtain calls and cries for an encore. The encore forced Goodman to make his only audience announcement for the night, stating that they had no encore prepared but that Martha would return shortly with another number.
By the time the band got to the climactic piece "Sing, Sing, Sing," success of the night was assured. Bettering the commercial 12-inch record, this live performance featured playing by tenor saxophonist Babe Russin, trumpeter Harry James, and then Benny Goodman, backed by drummer Gene Krupa in accompaniment. But the really unforgettable moment came when Goodman finished his solo and unexpectedly tossed the ball to pianist Jess Stacy. "At the Carnegie Hall concert, after the usual theatrics, Jess Stacy was allowed to solo and, given the venue, what followed was appropriate. Used to just playing rhythm on the tune, he was unprepared for a turn in the spotlight, but what came out of his fingers was a graceful, impressionistic marvel with classical flourishes, yet still managed to swing. It was the best thing he ever did, and it's ironic that such a layered, nuanced performance came at the end of such a chaotic, bombastic tune.?
This concert has been regarded by some as the most significant in jazz history. After years of work by musicians from all over the country, jazz had finally been accepted by mainstream audiences. While the big band era would not last for much longer, it was from this point forward that the ground work for multiple other genres of popular music was laid. Recordings were made of this concert, but even by the technology of the day the equipment used was not of the finest quality. Acetate recordings of the concert were made, and aluminum studio masters were also cut. The recording was produced by Albert Marx as a special gift for his wife, Helen Ward and a second set for Benny. He contracted Artists Recording Studio to make 2 sets. Artists Recording only had 2 turntables, so they farmed out the second set to Raymond Scott's recording studio. It was Benny's Sister-in-law who found the recordings in Benny's apartment in 1950 and brought them to Benny's attention, and he took the newly discovered recording to his record company,
Charlie Christian was playing at the Ritz in
Charlie was a hit on the electric guitar and remained in the Benny Goodman Sextet for two years (1939-1941). He wrote many of the group's head arrangements (some of which Goodman took credit for) and was an inspiration to all. The sextet made him famous and provided him with a steady income while Charlie worked on legitimizing, popularizing, revolutionizing, and standardizing the electric guitar as a jazz instrument. Christian eventually stayed in
Goodman continued his meteoric rise throughout the late 1930s with his big band, his trio and quartet, and a sextet. He influenced almost every jazz musician who played clarinet after him. However, in time the movement in jazz that he ignited in 1935 began to fade. By the mid-1940s, big bands lost a lot of their popularity. There were several reasons for this decline. In 1941, ASCAP had a licensing war with music publishers. In 1942 to 1944 and 1948, the major musicians union went on strike against the major record labels in the
Goodman's first classical recording dates from April 25, 1938 when he recorded Mozart's Clarinet Quintet. After his bop period, Goodman furthered his interest in classical music written for the clarinet, and frequently met with top classical clarinetists of the day as well. In 1949, when he was 40, Goodman decided to study with Reginald Kell, one of the world's leading classical clarinetists. To do so, he had to change his entire technique: instead of holding the mouthpiece between his front teeth and lower lip, as he had done since he first took a clarinet in hand 30 years earlier, Goodman learned to adjust his embouchure to the use of both lips and even to use new fingering techniques. He had his old finger calluses removed and started to learn how to play his clarinet again--almost from scratch.
Goodman commissioned and premiered works by leading composers for clarinet and symphony orchestra that are now part of the standard repertoire, namely Contrasts by Béla Bartók, Clarinet Concerto No. 2 Op. 115 by Malcolm Arnold, Derivations for Clarinet and Band by Morton Gould and Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto. While Leonard Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs was commissioned for Woody Herman's big band, it was premiered by Goodman. While the Ebony Concerto by Igor Stravinsky is generally also thought to be written for Goodman, it was also written for Woody Herman in 1945, and premiered by him in 1946. "Many years later Stravinsky made another recording, this time with Benny Goodman as the soloist. He twice recorded Mozart's clarinet quintet, once on April 25 1938 with the Budapest String Quartet and once in the middle 1950s with the Boston Symphony Orchestra String Quartet; he also recorded the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart clarinet concerto in A major K 622 of on July 9, 1956, also with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the clarinet concertos from Carl Maria von Weber and Carl Nielsen.
In 1953 Goodman re-formed his classic band for an expensive tour with Louis Armstrong?s All Stars that turned into a famous disaster. He managed to insult Armstrong at the beginning; then he was appalled at the vaudeville aspects of Louis?s act a contradiction of everything Goodman stood for. His big band appeared as a specialty act in major musical features, including The Big Broadcast of 1937, Hollywood Hotel (1938), Syncopation (1942), The Powers Girl (1942), Stage Door Canteen (1943), The Gang's All Here (1943), Sweet and Lowdown (1944) and A Song Is Born (1948). Goodman's only starring feature was Sweet and Low Down (1944). Benny?s success story was told in the 1955 motion picture ?The Benny Goodman Story? with Steve Allen and Donna Reed. A Universal-International production, it was a follow up to 1954's successful The Glenn Miller Story. The screenplay was heavily fictionalized (Benny confessed that he and his wife would look at the finished film and laugh through it), but the music was the real drawing card. Many of Goodman's professional colleagues appear in the film, including Ben Pollack. Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton. and Harry James.
Goodman was regarded by some as a demanding taskmaster, by others an arrogant and eccentric martinet. Many musicians spoke of "The Ray" - Goodman's trademark glare that he bestowed on a musician who failed to perform to his demanding standards. Guitarist Allan Reuss incurred the maestro's displeasure on one occasion, and Goodman relegated him to the rear of the bandstand, where his contribution would be totally drowned out by the other musicians. Vocalists Anita O'Day and Helen Forrest spoke bitterly of their experiences singing with Goodman. "The twenty or so months I spent with Benny felt like twenty years," said Forrest. "When I look back, they seem like a life sentence." At the same time, there are reports that he privately funded several college educations and was sometimes very generous, though always secretly. When a friend asked him why one time, he reportedly said, "Well, if they knew about it, everyone would come to me with their hand out."
Some suggest that Elvis Presley had the same success with rock and roll that Goodman achieved with jazz and swing. Both helped bring black music to a young, white audience. Some suggest that without Goodman there would not have been a swing era. It is true that many of Goodman's arrangements had been played for years before by Fletcher Henderson's orchestra. While Goodman publicly acknowledged his debt to
Goodman is also responsible for a significant step in racial integration in
John Henry Hammond II was born December 15, 1910 in an eight-story mansion in
Hammond and Goodman were so close that
Goodman continued to play on records and in small groups. One exception to this pattern was collaboration with George Benson in the 1970s. The two had met when they taped a PBS salute to John Hammond and re-created some of the famous Goodman-Charlie Christian duets. Benson later appeared on several tracks of a Goodman album released as "Seven Come Eleven." In general Goodman continued to play in the swing style he was most known for. He did, however, practice and perform classical music clarinet pieces and commissioned some pieces for the clarinet. Periodically he would organize a new band and play a jazz festival or go on an international tour.
Despite increasing health problems, he continued to play the clarinet until his death from a heart attack in New York City in 1986 at the age of 77, in his home at Manhattan House,
Glenn Miller (1904 ? 1944)
Glenn Miller's reign as the most popular bandleader in the U.S. came relatively late in his career and was relatively brief, lasting only about three and a half years, from the spring of 1939 to the fall of 1942. But during that period he utterly dominated popular music, and over time he has proven the most enduring figure of the swing era, with reissues of his recordings achieving gold record status 40 years after his death. Miller developed a distinctive sound in which a high-pitched clarinet carried the melody, doubled by a saxophone section playing an octave lower, and he used that sound to produce a series of hits that remain definitive examples of swing music. Miller's approach is not much appreciated by jazz fans, who prefer bands that allow for greater improvisation than was found in his highly disciplined, rigorously rehearsed unit. But he brought the swing style of popular music to a level of sophistication and commercial acceptance it had not previously achieved and would not see again after his untimely passing.
Glenn was the son of Lewis Elmer and Mattie Lou Cavender Miller. He lived in various locations in the
His instrumental "Solo Hop" reached the Top Ten in the summer of 1935. But he did not organize a permanent touring band of his own until 1937, when he signed to Brunswick Records. The group was not a success, and he disbanded it in early 1938, then reorganized a couple of months later and signed to the discount-priced Bluebird subsidiary of RCA Victor Records. Still without any great success, he managed to maintain this orchestra for the next year until he got his big break with an engagement at the Glen Island Casino in
The story was much the same on the recording front in 1942, 11 Top Ten hits and a third straight ranking as the year's top recording artist, the chart-toppers including "A String of Pearls," "Moonlight Cocktail" (vocals by Ray Eberle and the Modernaires), "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)," and "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo" (vocals on the last two by Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, and the Modernaires). "
He organized a service band and began performing at military camps and war-bond rallies while hosting a weekly radio series, Sustain the Wings. Nevertheless, he scored two more Top Ten hits in 1943, including the number one "That Old Black Magic" (vocals by Skip Nelson and the Modernaires). He took his band to
Billy May (1916 ? 2004)
Billy May was born November 10, 1916. He began playing the tuba after a doctor suggested it might help his asthma but eventually switched to trumpet. His professional debut was with Gene Olsen?s Polish-American Orchestra in 1933. He worked in the bands of Al Howard,
In 1940, May joined the Glenn Miller band, where his arrangements included Take the 'A' Train and Serenade in Blue. With Miller, he was perhaps best known for his trumpet playing, notably on I Dreamt I Dwelt In Harlem in 1941 and American Patrol in 1942.
May was also responsible for helping the new Hal McIntyre big band achieve success in the early 1940s. McIntyre, a former reedman in the Glenn Miller band received financial backing from Miller and some fine arrangements from Billy May. Daisy Mae was similar in structure to his arrangement of the same song for the Miller aggregation and a song called Friday remains another May triumph.
Glenn Miller disbanded in 1942, entered the service, and soon formed the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. In addition to doing shortwave radio broadcasts to the troops in Europe during WWII the large orchestra cut many fine sides and May arrangements in the
Billy May began arranging and conducting for a number of pop and jazz vocalists beginning with Nat King Cole in 1951. Both Walkin? and Walkin? My Baby Back Home were recorded on a September of 1951 date, the earliest of the King Cole-Billy May sessions. Also in the early 1950s May began leading his own studio band, scoring several popular successes with his own arrangements and compositions such as Lean Baby recorded in August of 51.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, May proceeded to work as an arranger-conductor for some of the greatest pop and jazz vocalists of all time. Nancy Wilson?s What A Little Moonlight Can Do (1960), Johnny Mercer and Bobby Darin?s Two Of A Kind (1960), Sammy Davis Jr.?s Sam?s Song (1960), Anita O? Day?s Just One Of Those Things (1959), Ella?s It?s Only A Paper Moon (1960), Keely Smith?s On The Sunny Side Of The Street (1958) and Peggy Lee?s Boy From Ipanema (1964) are just a few of the fine swinging Billy May arrangements of music from the songs of Tin Pan Alley writers such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others that became known as The Great American Songbook. He also recorded Latin dance music under the name Rico Mambo.
In 1957 May gathered together several musicians from the original Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. Coupled with a number of great players like Joe Mondragon, Jimmy Rowles, Ted Nash, and Pete Candoli former Lunceford alumni such as Willie Smith, Trummy Young, and Joe Thomas did a masterful job of playing some of the original tunes of the Lunceford Orchestra with arrangement refinements by May. The record called Jimmie Lunceford In Hi-Fi was a success and soon led to other ?Big Band Era in Hi-Fi? type recreations by a number of musicians and record labels. The busy Billy May also continued to record his big band Jazz compositions and arrangements instrumentally, with his own band. The Grammy Award winning release Billy May?s Big Fat Brass, recorded in May of 1958, contains several interesting sides like Ping Pong and Solving The Riddle.
Jazz Pianist George Shearing made further use of Billy May?s musical ideas beginning with his 1958 release Burnished Brass. So successful was the record that the formula of coupling the Shearing Quintet with Billy May?s orchestras and arrangements was used on subsequent Shearing records for Capitol, some complete with lush string arrangements, like White Satin, Satin Affair, and The Shearing Touch.
Certainly the most commercially popular of all May affiliations was his work with Frank Sinatra. May had first met Sinatra in a bar in 1939 while the former was working with Charlie Barnet, the latter with his first important boss Harry James. The 1957 release Come Fly With Me, nominated for several Grammy Awards in the 1958 ceremony, was just a steppingstone to the Grammy award winning Come Dance With Me recorded in 58. Some of the other many fine Sinatra?Billy May albums are Come Swing With Me (1961), Swing Along With Me (1961), and Softly, As I Leave You (1963). When Sinatra and Ellington were to record together for the first time in 1967 Billy May was called upon to contribute. The album was recorded at a low point for Ellington and his men as they had just lost their much loved band mate and the Duke?s friend and collaborator Billy Strayhorn. Still May did his best to work up some arrangements for the session, which still stands as the only collaboration of the two behemoths. In comparing the arranging styles of Billy May and Nelson Riddle Sinatra said, ?Recording with Billy May is like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face. Riddle will come to a session with all the arrangements carefully and neatly worked out beforehand. With Billy you sometimes don?t get copies of the next number until you?ve finished the one before. Billy and Nelson both work better under pressure. I myself work better under pressure. If there?s too much available I don?t like it ? not enough stimulus?Billy May is always driving .....?
May began a series of albums for Time-Life beginning in 1969. The Swing Era was released in fourteen volumes, which incorporated some of the great players of the Big Band era doing Billy May charts. In later times he wrote arrangements for Diane Schuur on her Timeless release of 1986 and the In Tribute album of 1992 on which May used the wah-wah of Redskin Rhumba as an underlying theme for a magnificent score of the Cole Porter tune Love For Sale. In 1994 he contributed two arrangements for the Brian Setzer orchestra and in 1996 surfaced again by offering some bright big band arrangements for comic Stan Freeberg?s United States Of America Vol. 2 album, 25 years after his contributions to Vol. 1.
Billy May also did extensive scoring for commercials, films, and television. His television work included composing, with Milton Raskin, the theme song for
May was survived by his wife, Doris; daughters Cynthia May, Laureen Mitchell, Joannie Ransom and Sandra Gregory; and a brother, John.
Woody Herman (1913 - 1987)
Without a doubt Woody Herman was one of the most talented bandleaders of the twentieth century. With numerous hits and an ear for staying contemporary he remained active and vital long after most of his contemporaries had hung up their batons. Today he is best remembered for such songs as ''Woodchopper's Ball,'' ''Blue Flame,'' and ''Blues in the Night.'' Other hits included ''Caldonia'' and ''
Buddy Rich (1917-1987)
Arguably the greatest jazz drummer of all time, the legendary Buddy Rich exhibited his love for music through the dedication of his life to the art. His was a career that spanned seven decades, beginning when Rich was 18 months old and continuing until his death in 1987. Immensely gifted, Rich could play with remarkable speed and dexterity despite the fact that he never received a formal lesson and refused to practice outside of his performances. Born Bernard Rich to vaudevillians Robert and Bess Rich on September 30, 1917, the famed drummer was introduced to audiences at a very young age. By 1921, he was a seasoned solo performer with his vaudeville act, "Traps the Drum Wonder." With his natural sense of rhythm, Rich performed regularly on Broadway at the age of four. At the
Rich's jazz career began in 1937 when he began playing with Joe Marsala at
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rich toured with his own bands and opened two nightclubs, Buddy's Place and Buddy's Place II. Both clubs were regularly filled to capacity by fans of the great master drummer. After opening Buddy's Place II, Rich introduced new tunes with elements of rock into his repertoire, demonstrating his ability to adapt to his audience's changing tastes and establishing himself as a great rock drummer.
Known for his caustic humour, Rich was a favourite on several television talk shows including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the Mike Douglas Show, the Dick Cavett Show and the Merv Griffin Show. During these appearances, audiences were entertained by Rich's constant sparring with the hosts and his slights of various pop singers.
This famed musician received outstanding recognition throughout his career. The Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame Award, the Modern Drummer Magazine Hall of Fame Award and the Jazz Unlimited Immortals of Jazz Award are just a few of his numerous honours.
Buddy Rich gained international attention for such master compositions as his 10-minute West Side Story medley. During his lengthy career, Rich toured around the globe, performing for millions of fans and several world leaders including the King of Thailand, King Hussein of Jordan the Queen of England, and
On April 2, 1987, Rich died of heart failure following surgery for a malignant brain tumour. Long time friend, Frank Sinatra, spoke a touching eulogy at Rich's funeral. Today, Buddy Rich is remembered as one of history's greatest Jazz drummers. According to jazz legend Gene Krupa, Rich was "The greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath."
visit the dedicated website to Buddy's music at; http://www.buddyrich.com
TOMMY DORSEY (1905 (?) 1956)
Known as the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing, he and his older brother Jimmy where joint leaders of 'Dorsey's Novelty Six' in the 1920's, and were members of the Scranton Sirens before moving to New York, where they played with several orchestras, including those of Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman. In the early 1930s they kept busy as studio musicians and occasionally co-led an orchestra, backing such singers as the Boswell Sisters, Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey. In 1934 they officially formed the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. Glenn Miller was an early member of the outfit. Kay Weber was the group's only female vocalist. Bob Crosby was the first male vocalist. Bob Eberly replaced Crosby as male vocalist when
Though the two brothers shared leadership Tommy fronted the band and did most of the work. Jimmy was content to sit with the orchestra and was perfectly happy letting Tommy take charge. Tommy, though, was well-known for his temper. He had tremendous drive and often expected too much from those who worked for him. He often resented Jimmy, who was easy-going and well-liked by the band members. Jimmy was everybody's pal, while Tommy often kept distant.
Tensions boiled, and in June of 1935 they came to a head. One night, on the bandstand, Tommy counted off the tempo for their next number, and Jimmy interrupted him. "Isn't that little too fast, Mac?'' asked the elder brother. Tommy didn't say a word but grabbed his trombone and walked off stage, never to return. Everyone asked him to come back but he refused. Intent on starting his own band and showing up his brother, he soon took over the Joe Haymes Orchestra.
Tommy's orchestra soon became the top band in the country, a title it held throughout most of the swing era. It featuring at one time or another such musicians as Bunny Berigan and Charlie Shavers, arrangers Paul Weston, Axel Stordahl, and Sy Oliver, singers Frank Sinatra, Jack Leonard, Jo Stafford, Edythe Wright, Connie Haines, Anita Boyer and the vocal group the Pied Pipers. The orchestra is considered the greatest dance band of all time and was second to none when it came to ballads. In 1942 he hired the string section of the Artie Shaw Orchestra and expanded his sound even further.
Tommy also indulged in many outside business endeavors, including his own music publishing firm, his own magazine, his own booking agency and a ballroom. In 1945 and 1946 he served as Director of Popular Music at the Mutual Radio Network.
As the popularity of big band music began to wane in 1946 Tommy decided to quit the music business. He couldn't stay away for long, however, and he reformed his orchestra the following year as he and brother Jimmy began to reconcile during the filming of their quasi-biographical movie, The Fabulous Dorseys. Tommy struggled to keep the new group going. Finally, in 1953, Jimmy rejoined him to form a new Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, though the band was technically under Tommy's name and leadership. With the help of Jackie Gleason, they landed their own popular television program on CBS in 1954, one episode of which featured a then unknown Elvis Presley.
The end came unexpectedly. Tommy died in 1956, shortly after his fifty-first birthday, choking to death in his sleep. Jimmy never recovered from his brother's death and did not outlive him very long. He passed away seven months later, after losing a bout with cancer.
STAN KENTON (1911 - 1979)
Stanley Newcomb Kenton was born in
He studied piano and composition, first with his mother, Stella, who sparked his profound interest in the impressionists; then with Frank Hurst, a theater organist; and with Earl "Fatha" Hines, whose piano lessons were often conducted in Hines's hotel room, using a cane-backed chair with a Masonite seat for a keyboard (both had good enough sense of pitch that they didn't need the actual piano).
In 1933 Everett Hoagland offered Stan the piano chair in his band, which played at the Rendezvous Ballroom in
Hoagland, realizing audiences would respond more lucratively to a society band sound than to his current progressive sound, changed course and went on the road. Stan stayed behind with Hoagland's successor, Russ Plummer.
After piano jobs with Gus Arnheim, Vido Musso, the NBC house band, and the orchestra for Earl Carroll's "Vanities", he decided the only way to realize his creative ambitions was to start his own band. In 1941 he holed up in a cabin in Idyllwild in the
Kenton's bands, or orchestras, as he perferred to present them to the public (privately, they were always "The Band"), produced a string of alumni whose influence on jazz is incalculable, from folks everyone knows as alumni (June Christy, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Maynard Ferguson, Kai Winding) to folks who you'd never associate with Stan Kenton's music (Stan Getz and Laurindo Almeida).
Indeed, Kenton is so well known for his alumni and for the arrangers who wrote for the band that it's often forgotten that his own compositions and arrangements were the cornerstone on which all his arrangers built. As Noel Wedder remarked, "At no time could any of the material written for the Band in the 60s & 70s be attributed to any other group than Kenton's."
And, though the very best musicians in the world sat in his band, Kenton's playing was good enough that he could have easily won the audition for his chair. His modesty and desire to show off the other musicians in the band seldom permitted him to play up to his abilities, but every now and then he let it slip out, and we pianists treasure those moments.
It's significant that Stan's music is found in the jazz section, and not the "big band" section of most record shops even today. By constantly pushing audiences to accept more challenging music, and by hiring the very best musicians and pushing them even harder, Kenton made it clear that his heart was always in the future of jazz, not in its nostalgic past. And in the process, he reaffirmed something too few musical directors, from rock through classical music, understand: audiences like good music.
With only the occasional years off to regain his health or his bankroll, or when he became fed up with the state of music (declaring at one point "Jazz is dead") and the 12 months when his final illness forced him to disband his orchestra for good, Stan kept a band on the road, pursuing and largely attaining his artistic visions, until his passing on August 25, 1979.
COUNT BASIE (1904 ? 1984)
Born William James Basie, the "Count" started out playing piano and organ for theatre and vaudeville in the 1920s. Influenced by Fats Waller, Basie formed his own big band, playing swing jazz and emphasizing hot soloists like saxophonist Lester Young.
During the 1940s and '50s, Basie and his orchestra were one of the most popular big bands in the
The story goes that a radio announcer dubbed him "Count," figuring there was already a King (of swing, Benny Goodman), a Duke (Ellington) and an Earl (Hines)... The popular 1966 live album Sinatra at the Sands featured Basie and his orchestra (conducted by Quincy Jones) with Frank Sinatra in
Visit the dedicated website www.swingmusic.net/Count_Basie.html
Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
Born Edward Kennedy Ellington, the Duke started as a pool hall piano player and grew to become one of the great figures in American jazz. Ellington was one of the first to use classical themes in jazz, and is still considered one of the most innovative composers in jazz history.
(Many of his later numbers were written with his long time collaborator Billy Strayhorn, who wrote Ellington's signature tune "Take the 'A' Train.") At the height of his career Ellington toured the world with his orchestra and composed such standards as "Mood Indigo," "In A Sentimental Mood," and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing."
According to the official site of his estate, "Ellington got his nickname of "Duke" from a childhood friend who commented on his elegant manners, bearing, and dress"... Stevie Wonder's pop hit "Sir Duke" is a tribute to Ellington.
Ted Heath (1900 - 1969)
Forty years before the Beatles led the British Invasion of the American musical scene, there was a similar American musical invasion of the
Heath caught the jazz bug and kept it for the rest of his life. He spent the late twenties and most of the thirties playing with most of the biggest British big bands: Jack Hylton, Ambrose (for nearly ten years), and Geraldo. Inspired by Glenn Miller's big band sound, Heath formed his own group in 1944, and it became the dominant swing group in the
Heath attracted many of the best performers and arrangers. Johnny Dankworth, trumpeter Kenny Baker, Stanley Black, Ronnie Scott (who went on to own the most famous jazz club in
Heath was successful enough, both commercially and critically, to be invited to tour the
Heath suffered from a heart condition in the late 1960s and retired from performing. Trombonist Don Lusher took over the lead of the band, though, and it continued to record and perform for over 20 years, finally retiring with a gala concert at
Great Jazz Artists
Sidney Bechet (1897 - 1959)
Sidney Bechet was a child prodigy in
He played lead parts that were usually reserved for trumpets and was a master of improvisation. In 1917 he moved to
Bechet played in an early version of Duke Ellington's Washingtonians but unfortunately never recorded with them. From 1925 to 1929 Bechet lived and played in Europe, playing in
He could not stay in
In the Forties Bechet worked regularly in
Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong (1901-1971)
Louis Armstrong was the greatest of all Jazz trumpet players in his youth, and although he started out on the Cornet, he moved over to the trumpet later. He defined what it was to play Jazz. His amazing technical abilities, the joy and spontaneity, and amazingly quick, inventive musical mind earned him the respect of many of his contemporaries in jazz through his lifespan.
Only Charlie Parker (Alto Saxophone) comes close to having as much influence on the history of Jazz as Louis Armstrong did. Like almost all early Jazz musicians, Louis was from
He was from a very poor family and was sent to reform school when he was twelve after firing a gun in the air on New Year's Eve. At the school he learned to play the cornet. After being released at age fourteen, he worked selling papers, unloading boats, and selling coal from a cart. He didn't own an instrument at this time, but continued to listen to bands at clubs like the Funky Butt Hall. Joe "King" Oliver was his favourite player, and the older man acted as a father to Louis, even giving him his first real cornet and instructing him on the instrument.
By 1917 he was good enough to play in an Oliver inspired group at dive bars in
Louis stayed with Marable until 1921 when he returned to
In 1922 Louis received a telegram from his mentor Joe Oliver, asking him to join his Creole Jazz Band at
Whilst playing in Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Armstrong met Lillian Hardin, a piano player and arranger for the band. In February of 1924 they were married. Lil was a very intelligent and ambitious woman who felt that Louis was wasting himself playing in Oliver's band. By the end of 1924 she pressured Armstrong to reluctantly leave Joe
. He then briefly worked with Ollie Powers' Harmony Syncopators before he moved to
He also recorded with Clarence Williams and the Red Onion Jazz Babies. In 1925 Armstrong moved back to
Armstrong recorded his first Hot Five records that same year. This was the first time that Armstrong had made records under his own name and the records made by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven are considered to be absolute jazz classics and speak volumes of Armstrong's creative powers. The band never played live, but continued recording until 1928. While working at the Sunset, Louis met his future manager, Joe Glaser.
Glaser managed the Sunset at that time. Armstrong continued to play in Carrol Dickenson's Orchestra until 1929. He also led his own band on the same venue under the name of Louis Armstrong and his Stompers. For the next two years Armstrong played with Carroll Dickerson's Savoy Orchestra and with Clarence Jones' Orchestra in
By 1929 Louis was becoming a very big star. He toured with the show "Hot Chocolates" and appeared occasionally with the Luis Russell Orchestra, with Dave Peyton, and with Fletcher Henderson. Armstrong moved to
Armstrong was greeted as a hero, but racism marred his return when a White radio announcer refused to mention Armstrong on the air and a free concert that Louis was going to give to the cities' African-American population was cancelled at the last minute.
Louis and Lil also separated in 1931. In 1932 he returned to
Glaser remained Armstrong's manager until his death in 1969. Glaser took care of the business end of things, leaving Armstrong free to concentrate on his music. He also hired the Luis Russell Orchestra as Louis' backup band with Russell as the musical director. This was like going home for Armstrong, because Russell's Orchestra was made up of predominantly
Glaser put the band to work and they toured constantly for the next ten years. During this period Armstrong became one of the most famous men in
For the next nine years the Louis Armstrong Orchestra continued to tour and release records, but as the 1940s drew to a close the public's taste in Jazz began to shift away from the commercial sounds of the Swing era and big band Jazz. The so-called Dixieland Jazz revival was just beginning and Be Bop was also starting to challenge the status quo in the Jazz world. The Louis Armstrong Orchestra was beginning to look tired and concert and record sales were declining. Critics complained that Armstrong was becoming too commercial. So, in 1947 Glaser fired the orchestra and replaced them with a small group that became one of the greatest and most popular bands in Jazz history. The group was called the Louis Armstrong All Stars and over the years featured exceptional musicians like Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden,
He band went through a number of personnel changes over the years but remained extremely popular worldwide. They toured extensively travelling to Africa, Asia, Europe and
This number one single even knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts. In 1968 he recorded another number one hit with the touchingly optimistic "What A Wonderful World". Armstrong's health began to fail him and he was hospitalized several times over the remaining three years of his life, but he continued playing and recording. On July 6th 1971 one of the world's greatest Jazz trumpet players died in his sleep at his home in
Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)
John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, ushered in the era of Be-Bop in the American jazz tradition. He was born in
He eventually began experimenting and creating his own style which would eventually come to the attention of Mario Bauza, the Godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz who was then a member of the Cab Calloway Orchestra. Joining Calloway in 1939, Gillespie was fired after two years when he cut a portion of Calloway's buttocks with a knife after Calloway accused him of throwing spitballs (the two men later became lifelong friends and often retold this story with great relish until both of their deaths). Although noted for his on- and off-stage clowning, Gillespie endured as one of the founding fathers of the Afro-Cuban &/or Latin Jazz tradition.
Influenced by Bauza, known as Gillespie's musical father, he was able to fuse Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to form a burgeoning CuBop sound. Always a musical ambassador, he toured Africa, the Middle East and
Among his proteges and collaborators are Chano Pozo, the great Afro-Cuban percussionist; Danilo Pérez, a master pianist and composer originally from Panama; Arturo Sandoval, trumpeter, composer and music educator originally from Cuba; Mongo Santamaría, an Afro-Cuban conguero, bonguero and composer; David Sanchez, saxophonist and composer; Chucho Valdés, an Afro-Cuban virtuoso pianist and composer; and Bobby Sanabria, a Bronx, NY-born Nuyorican percussionist, composer, educator, bandleader and expert in the Afro-Cuban musical tradition.
Indeed, many Latin jazz classics such as "
URBIE GREEN (1926-)
Urban Clifford "Urbie" Green (born August 8, 1926) is an American professional jazz trombonist who toured with Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Jan Savitt, and Frankie Carle. He appears on over 250 recordings and has released more than two dozen albums as a soloist and is highly respected by his fellow trombonists. Green's trombone sound is especially noted for its warm, mellow tone, even in the higher registers where he is more fluent than most trombonists. His technique is considered flawless by many in the music industry and has appeared in major jazz festivals, motion pictures, concert halls, nightclubs, radio, television and the White House. He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1995.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, USA, Green was taught the piano as a child by his mother, jazz and popular tunes from the beginning. He picked up the trombone, which both older brothers played, when he was about 12. Although he listened to such trombone greats as Tommy Dorsey, J. C. Higginbotham, Jack Jenny, Jack Teagarden and Trummy Young he has said that he was more influenced by the styles of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young. Urbie's trombone style was also influenced by vocalists such as Perry Como, and the vocal style of Louis Armstrong. Green's father died when he was 15 and Urbie went straight into professional music, first joining the Tommy Reynolds Band in California before moving on to stints with Bob Strong, Jan Savitt, and Frankie Carle. Green also played with the Auburn Knights, a college big band based at Auburn University.
In 1947, Green joined Gene Krupa's band and quickly moved up to Woody Hermans third "Thundering Herd" Big Band in 1950 to play with his brother, Jack. In 1954 he was awarded the "New Star" Critics Award from Down Beat International. Moving to New York City in 1953 and established himself as the premier trombonist in demand for the booming recording industry. He was voted "Most Valuable Player" several times by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Some have even proposed that he may be the most recorded musician of all time. He recorded with virtually all of the major jazz musicians of the 1950s and 1960s and led his own groups while also joining tours as a featured performer, including a three-month tour helming the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the unusual job of fronting the Tommy Dorsey orchestra after Dorsey's death in 1956. He collaborated with innovative producer Enoch Light for the Command and Project 3 labels, producing what are probably his most notable recordings, such as the two-volume sets "The Persuasive Trombone of Urbie Green" and "21 Trombones."
In the 1970s Green began making strides in innovations with his instrument. He designed a signature mouthpiece for Jet Tone and collaborated with Martin Brass on practical improvements to trombone design, including modifications of the hand brace and slide, water valve, and finish. Urbie's also began experimenting with the "Green Monster", a King trombone using a King Vox Amp pickup in the mouthpiece connected to an octave doubler and reverb unit. Some of his best recordings of the 70s were with Enoch Light and the Light Brigade, Dick Hyman, Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinsen. After the very productive Enoch Light years, Urbie's style changed a bit. His recordings under the CTI label contained much more music by Urbie's band and fewer solos by Urbie.
The 1980s and beyond saw a slowing down of Urbie Green's recording career. Both albums recorded by Urbie during this period are live, straight Jazz works; Just Friends, and Sea Jam Blues.
He now spends most of his time with his second wife Kathy, a jazz singer, at their home in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. Urbie still plays live at the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts (COTA) Festival every September, just miles down the road from his home. Urbie and Kathy have two children, Jesse and Casey. Jesse is a noted jazz pianist and lives nearby, while Casey is a director/editor in Los Angeles, California. Urbie's first wife was Darlein Dietz and they had two children, Urban Clifford Green and James Preston Green. Urban has a daughter, Gretchen Alexandra Pöelker-Green, and lives in Sea Cliff,
Read more about Urbie at www.trombonesonline.com
BILL WATROUS (1939-)
Bill Watrous was born on June 8, 1939 in Middletown, Connecticut. He was introduced to the jazz trombone at an early age by his father, also a trombonist. While serving in the military, Watrous studied with jazz pianist and composer Herbie Nichols. His first professional performances were in Billy Butterfield's band.
Watrous' career blossomed in the 1960's. He played and recorded with many jazz luminaries, including Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Quincy Jones, Johnny Richards, and fellow trombonist Kai Winding. He also played in the house band on the Merv Griffin Show from 1965 - 1968.
In 1971, he played with the jazz fusion group Ten Wheel Drive. Also in the 1970s, Watrous formed his own band, "The Manhattan Wildlife Refuge Big Band," and recorded two albums with the band on the Columbia Records label. The band was later renamed "Refuge West" when Watrous relocated to southern
He has continued to work actively since the 1980s as a band leader, studio musican, and performing at various jazz clubs. In 1983, Watrous published Trombonisms, an instructional manual covering various performance techniques for the trombone. He has recorded as a solo artist, band leader and in various small ensembles on a number of different labels. These recordings include an 2001 album with Carl Fontana, whom Watrous has cited as his favorite trombonist. This may be so, but Bill is regarded as the finest jazz trombonist ever, with his inovative, and amazing technique, plus his lovely rich tone is admired by thousands of trombonists around the World.
You can visit his official website at; www.billwatrous.com/recordings.asp
John Coltrane (1927-1967)
Despite a relatively brief career (he first came to notice as a sideman at age 29 in 1955, formally launched a solo career at 33 in 1960, and was dead at 40 in 1967), saxophonist John Coltrane was among the most important, and most controversial, figures in jazz. It seems amazing that his period of greatest activity was so short, not only because he recorded prolifically, but also because, taking advantage of his fame, the record companies that recorded him as a sideman in the 1950s frequently reissued those recordings under his name and there has been a wealth of posthumously released material as well. Since Coltrane was a protean player who changed his style radically over the course of his career, this has made for much confusion in his discography and in appreciations of his playing. There remains a critical divide between the adherents of his earlier, more conventional (if still highly imaginative) work and his later, more experimental work. No one, however, questions Coltrane's almost religious commitment to jazz or doubts his significance in the history of the music.
Coltrane was the son of John R. Coltrane, a tailor and amateur musician, and Alice (Blair) Coltrane. Two months after his birth, his maternal grandfather, the Reverend William Blair, was promoted to presiding elder in the
While taking jobs outside music, Coltrane briefly attended the Ornstein School of Music and studied at Granoff Studios. He also began playing in local clubs. In 1945, he was drafted into the navy and stationed in
During the year, he switched from alto to tenor saxophone. One account claims that this was as the result of encountering alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and feeling the better known musician had exhausted the possibilities on the instrument; another says that the switch occurred simply because Coltrane next joined a band led by Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, who was an alto player, forcing Coltrane to play tenor. He moved on to Jimmy Heath's band in mid-1948, staying with the band, which evolved into the Howard McGhee All Stars until early 1949, when he returned to
At some point during this period, Coltrane became a heroin addict, which made him more difficult to employ. He played with various bands, mostly around
This unit immediately began to record extensively, not only because of the Columbia contract, but also because Davis had signed with the major label before fulfilling a deal with jazz independent Prestige Records that still had five albums to run. The trumpeter's
Coltrane's association with
Coltrane tried and failed to kick heroin in the summer of 1956, and in October
In June 1957, Coltrane joined the Thelonious Monk Quartet, consisting of Monk on piano, Wilbur Ware on bass, and Shadow Wilson on drums. During this period, he developed a technique of playing several notes at once, and his solos began to go on longer. In August, he recorded material belatedly released on the Prestige albums Lush Life (1960) and The Last Trane (1965), as well as the material for John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio, released later in the year. (It was later reissued under the title Traneing In.) But Coltrane's second album to be recorded and released contemporaneously under his name alone was cut in September for Blue Note Records. This was Blue Train, featuring trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Kenny Drew, and the Miles Davis rhythm section of Chambers and "Philly" Joe Jones; it was released in December 1957. That month, Coltrane rejoined
. In May, he again recorded for Prestige as a leader, though the results would not be heard until the release of Black Pearls in 1964.
Coltrane appeared as part of the Miles Davis group at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1958. The band's set was recorded and released in 1964 on an LP also featuring a performance by Thelonious Monk as Miles & Monk at
Coltrane's next Prestige session as a leader occurred later in July 1958 and resulted in tracks later released on the albums Standard Coltrane (1962), Stardust (1963), and
. In March and April 1959, Coltrane participated with the
In October 1960, Coltrane recorded a series of sessions for Atlantic that would produce material for several albums, including a final track used on Coltrane Jazz and tunes used on My Favorite Things (March 1961), Coltrane Plays the Blues (July 1962), and Coltrane's Sound (June 1964). His soprano version of "My Favorite Things," from the Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II musical The Sound of Music, would become a signature song for him. During the winter of 1960-61, bassist Reggie Workman replaced Steve Davis in his band, and saxophone and flute player Eric Dolphy gradually became a member of the group.
In the wake of the commercial success of My Favorite Things, Coltrane's star rose, and he was signed away from
Between April and June 1962, Coltrane cut his next Impulse! studio album, another release called simply Coltrane when it appeared later in the year. Working with producer Bob Thiele, he began to do extensive studio sessions, far more than Impulse! could profitably release at the time, especially with Prestige and
1966 saw the release of the albums Kulu Se Mama and Meditations, Coltrane's last recordings to appear during his lifetime, though he had finished and approved release for his next album, Expression, the Friday before his death in July 1967. He died suddenly of liver cancer, entering the hospital on a Sunday and expiring in the early morning hours of the next day. He had left behind a considerable body of unreleased work that came out in subsequent years, including "Live" at the Village Vanguard Again! (1967), Om (1967), Cosmic Music (1968), Selflessness (1969), Transition (1969), Sun Ship (1971), Africa/Brass, Vol. 2 (1974), Intersteller Space (1974), and First Meditations (For Quartet) (1977), all on Impulse! Compilations and releases of archival live recordings brought him a series of Grammy nominations, including best jazz performance for the Atlantic album The Coltrane Legacy in 1970; best jazz performance, group, and best jazz performance, soloist, for "Giant Steps" from the Atlantic album Alternate Takes in 1974; and best jazz performance, group, and best jazz performance, soloist, for Afro Blue Impressions in 1977. He won the 1981 Grammy for best jazz performance, soloist, for Bye Bye Blackbird, an album of recordings made live in
Visit his official website (turn on your sound!) www.JohnColtrane.com
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Wynton Marsalis (1961-)
"I wanted to make somebody feel like Coltrane made me feel listening to him"
Wynton Marsalis was born in
Still in his teens, the young trumpeter joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the great finishing school of many jazz musicians. Drummer Blakey was often called the Lion Tamer, because of his dedication to discovering and training the best young instrumentalists.
By age 19, Marsalis had signed a recording contract with CBS Records. He made his recording debut as a leader in 1982, and over the next 17 years produced close to 40 jazz and classical recordings for Columbia Jazz and Sony Classical.
After leaving the Art Blakey band, Marsalis struggled for some years to hold his own group together. Many players found it more lucrative to play pop or rock music than to adhere to Marsalis' uncompromising vision. His criticism of rock and fusion music alienated some critics and listeners, but he persevered, taking time out on the road to visit schools and instruct young people all over America on the traditions of jazz and its place in American life.
In 1983 he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz Grammy Awards in the same year, a feat he immediately repeated. To date he has won six Grammy awards for his jazz recordings and two for recordings of classical music. He has received five ?Musician of the Year? awards, and his recordings regularly sell hundreds of thousands of copies; one album stayed on the charts for 39 weeks.
His recordings include Black Codes (From the Underground) the series Standard Time which includes the albums The Resolution of Romance and Intimacy Calling, both of which feature his father on piano, and an epic meditation on the blues entitled Soul Gestures in Southern Blue. The three volumes of Soul Gestures are: Thick in the South, Uptown Ruler and Levee Low Moan. Marsalis' Sony Classical recordings include concert, chamber and solo music for trumpet from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th-century repertoires.
In 1987 Wynton Marsalis co-founded Jazz at the Lincoln Centre to sponsor jazz performance and educational programs at
Beginning in 1993, Marsalis has composed music for ballet and modern dance, creating works for the New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, in collaboration with choreographers such as Peter Martins, Judith Jamison, Garth Fagan and Twyla Tharp. In 1994, he published his first book, Sweet Swing Blues on the Road (Norton Publications).
In 1997, Wynton Marsalis received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his oratorio Blood in the Fields. Marsalis was the first jazz musician ever to be so honoured. The year 2000 saw the release of the eight-volume CD series Swinging Into the 21st. The series includes a seven-disc boxed set of live performances from the Village Vanguard and seven other volumes including works by Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonious Monk and Igor Stravinsky and new works by Marsalis himself, including At the Octoroon Balls: String Quartet No. 1, A Fiddler's Tale, Reel Time and Sweet Release and Ghost Story: Two More Ballets by Wynton Marsalis.
In addition to his busy schedule of composing and performing, Marsalis produces music education programs for public radio and television. His four-part, Peabody Award-winning TV series Marsalis on Music, introduces young viewers to the adventure of making music. The
In 2004, Marsalis presided over the long-awaited opening of Jazz at
Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Miles Davis is more than a jazz musician: he is a cultural icon, known even to people who can't tell bebop from fusion. That may seem strange considering that
Miles was born in
Next, Miles hooked up with a group of musicians who were doing something completely different. This group included J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Max Roach. While all were excellent bop players, they were developing a style that was less volatile and more relaxed, which suited
The early 50s were an erratic time for
When the quintet broke up,
In the 1960s
As the 1970s beckoned, Miles realized that rock had replaced jazz as the music of choice for the younger generation. In order not to get left behind, he began to perform with an electronic band: electric guitar, electric bass, banks of electronic keyboards, and even an amplified trumpet. The sound was bubbling, dark, and dense, and it further alienated some jazz fans and many critics as well. There was no denying the power of the music
CHARLIE PARKER (1920 - 1955)
Charlie Parker was recognized as the greatest influence in jazz improvising, and a central figure in the development of ?bop? in the 1940s. his ear for music was incredible, and he knowledge of chords was astounding. Great jazz players who played with him swear that Charlie never repeated any phrase, and everything he improvised was original and new. A legendary figure in his own lifetime, he was idolized by those who worked with him and he inspired several generations of jazz performers and composers.
Parker was the only child of Charles and Addle Parker. In 1927, the family moved to
From 1935 to 1939, he worked mainly in
Parker's name first appeared in the music press in 1940, and from this date his career is more fully documented. From 1940 to 1942 he played in Jay McShann's band, with which he toured the Southwest,
These recordings, and several made for broadcasting from the same period, document his early, swing-based style, and at the same time reveal his extraordinary gift for improvisation. In December 1942, he joined Earl Hines' big band, which then included several other young modernists such as Dizzy Gillespie. By May 1944 they, with Parker, formed the nucleus of Billy Eckstine's band.
During these years, Parker regularly participated in after-hours jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse and
Unfortunately, a strike by the American Federation of Musicians silenced most of the recording industry from August 1942, causing this crucial stage in Parker's musical evolution to remain virtually undocumented. Though there are some obscure acetate recordings of him playing tenor saxophone dating from early 1943.
When the recording ban ended, Parker recorded as a sideman (from September 15, 1944) and as a leader (from November 26, 1945), which introduced his music to a wider public and to other musicians.
The year 1945 marked a turning point in Parker's career: in
Parker continued to work in
Charlie returned to
He worked in a wide variety of settings (nightclubs, concerts, radio, and recording studios) with his own small ensembles, a string group, and Afro-Cuban bands, and as a guest soloist with local musicians when travelling without his own group.
In July 1951, Parker's
Sporadically employed, badly in debt, and in failing physical and mental health, he twice attempted suicide in 1954 and voluntarily committed himself to
Mark Nightingale (1967 -)
Mark is regarded as one of the finest jazz trombonists in the World, and is currently in great demand as both jazz soloist and sideman. Born in 1967, Mark started playing the trombone at the age of nine, and at fifteen, won the coveted Don Lusher Award in the BBC National Rehearsal Band Competition.
A year later he became the lead trombonist with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, a position he held for six years. During this time he not only graduated from Trinity College of Music,
In 1990, Mark was chosen as the sole British representative for the European Broadcasting Union Big Band. Since that time he has had the opportunity to work as a soloist with many of the Radio Orchestras and Jazz Orchestras across
The Mark Nightingale Trombone has been featured with artists as musically diverse as Frank Sinatra, Sting, Henry Mancini, Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, Urbie Green, Cleo Laine, London Brass and the BBC Radio Big Band.
In 1993, Mark was voted "Rising Star" at the British Jazz Awards, and the following year received the prize for "Best Trombonist".
Hear him play at this website at; www.trombone-usa.com/nightingale_mark.htm
Also visit www.trombonesonline.com a brilliant website that lists thousands of trombone players the World over. Read about the greats of the instrument, past, and present.
Jimi Hendrix (1945-1976)
Jimi Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendrix at 10:15 in the morning on November 27th, 1945 in
Al recognized his son?s obsession and bought him a cheap guitar when he was 16. Jimi learned to play by playing along with the hot tunes of the day. He joined a band, the Rocking Kings, a year after he got his first guitar. Pretty soon he was playing with a variety of local bands. In May 1961 he quit
His musical ambitions were properly focused, however, when he reached
In 1966 Jimi formed a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames and elected to sing for the first time. The band had a regular spot in
On September 24, 1966 Hendrix arrived in
The Jimi Hendrix Experience? was formed on October 6, 1966. Three weeks later they recorded "Hey Joe". It was released December 13th, 1966 and by February it was number four on the singles charts. Jimi Hendrix was officially the hottest new name in
?Purple Haze? and the following "The Wind Cries Mary" were massive hits to say the least. They created maximum anticipation for the album "Are You Experienced?", released in May, 1967. It took quality opposition to stop the album from reaching number one: The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper took the top place while "Are You Experienced?" was number two in
The time had come to introduce
The following February the band was back in
The start of 1969 was spent in
Jimi Hendrix's new Band, "The Band of Gypsys" first show was the August festival in upper
On the night of September 17, 1970, Jimi decided to take some sleeping pills. The idea was to sleep through the next day and leave for
The night before Jimi had been working on a new song. It was the called "The Story of Life". The closing lines were: The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye.The story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again... ?
After Jimi's death a flood of albums - everything from old jams to live recordings to unreleased work -has been released, including an attempt on finishing the album that Jimi was working on when he died, 'First Rays of the New Rising Sun'. Everything from tapes, notes, interviews, and song lists were used to help complete the album. Jimi Hendrix is now by far, the artist most successful after death with well over 300 albums released since he passed away.
visit the tribute magazine to Jimi at; www.jimi-hendrix.com/magazine/604/index.html
Brian May (1947-)
Founding member of British Rock Band Queen along with Freddy Mercury
Dr. Brian Harold May, Phd. CBE (born July 19, 1947) is a British born musician and astrophysicist most widely known as the lead guitarist in the British rock band Queen. He built (with his father) his own guitar, called the "Red Special" with wood from a mantelpiece. He wrote some of Queen's most famous songs and biggest hits, including "We Will, We Will Rock You", "Fat Bottomed Girls", "Tie Your Mother Down", "Who Wants to Live Forever" and "I Want It All". He is described as a virtuoso by music critics. He is also well renowned for his long-term interest in astrophysics, having recently completed his doctoral thesis in the subject.
In 2007 Brian was elected to the post of Chancelor of John Moors University in
Eric Clapton (1945-)
Eric Clapton was born in Ripley,
Great Jazz Singers
Bessie Smith (1894(?) ? 1937)
The prestigious title of the "Empress of the Blues" eternally rests on the graceful shoulders of Bessie Smith, a pioneer in the vocal side of the blues music genre. With her distinctively potent voice and eye-catching delivery and appearance, she set trends in music entertainment that live on along with her own recordings. Bessie Smith was born into a poverty stricken black family in the segregated south. The precise date of her birth is unknown, and while most accounts list 1894, others state 1898 or 1900; however, April 15 remains the same as her birthday. She began singing at the age of nine on the street corners of
After performing in saloons and small theaters throughout the south, Bessie signed with Columbia Records and scored a major hit with the records "Down Hearted Blues" and "Gulf Coast Blues." Her more than 150 recordings that followed, some of which sold 100,000 copies in a week, propelled her to fame and immortality. She toured regularly in 1920s, particularly in vaudeville, often with such jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Fletcher "Smack" Henderson, James P. Johnson, and Benny Goodman. Although she primarily performed to black audiences, Bessie did find popularity among whites as well. Among her other successful songs were "Jealous Hearted Blues," "Jailhouse Blues," "Cold in Hand Blues," and a version of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Most of her songs had themes of poverty, oppression, and unrequited love, that her rich voice was perfect to deliver the mournfulness of and strike a chord in the heart of the listener.
As well as singing, Bessie, with her tall, upright, and strikingly beautiful features, was effective at acting, appearing in the 1929 motion picture short St. Louis Blues. It was unfortunate that at this time her career fell into a sharp decline. This was mostly the result of changing trends in music; however, Bessie's long-standing alcoholism played its part as record producers found her very difficult to work with. Nonetheless, her singing ability remained as exceptional as always. This was exemplified in a recording session (her last) in 1933 during which she created another signature song entitled "Gimme a Pigfoot." Then in 1935 she appeared to great acclaim at the Apollo Theater in
On Sept. 26, 1937, she was critically injured while on her way to a singing engagement, when the car being driven by her boyfriend Richard Morgan in which she was a passenger crashed into a truck on a road in
Billie Holiday 1915 -1959)
Considered by many to be the greatest jazz vocalist of all time, Billie Holiday lived a tempestuous and difficult life. Her singing expressed an incredible depth of emotion that spoke of hard times and injustice as well as triumph. Though her career was relatively short and often erratic, she left behind a body of work as great as any vocalist before or since.
Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, Billie Holiday spent much of her young life in
Desperate for money, Holiday looked for work as a dancer at a
It was not, however, until 1939, with her song ?Strange Fruit,? that
By the late 1940s, after the death of her mother,
Ella Fitzgerald (1917 -1996)
Ella Fitzgerald was born in 1917 and raised in
Shortly thereafter, Chick Webb sent his vocalist out to find a pretty lady singer to help push his orchestra to the popular heights that Webb desired. He brought back Fitzgerald to Webb. Webb initially refused to let her sing, thinking that she lacked the looks he was seeking. The vocalist threatened to quit if she wasn't given a chance. She was an instant hit. The Chick Webb Orchestra took off and turned out hit after hit. The song A-Tisket, A-Tasket remained at #1 for 17 weeks. Her voice had not fully matured, but she was blessed with an uncanny sense of rhythm and swing, as well as the ability to scat sing unlike any other woman. Fitzgerald was voted top female vocalist over Billie Holiday by both of the top jazz magazines.
When Webb died the following year, she took over the orchestra. She continued recording in the Fourties, but in the Fifties, she took off. At this point in her career, her voice had reached full maturity and she had a creamy richness in her voice. Though she lacked the emotional drama of Billie Holiday, she had mastered the ballad. She signed with Verve records and Verve impresario Norman Granz set her up with her classic songbook series, in which she recorded separate records, each dedicated to a different composer, such as Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Duke Ellington. She also recorded with Louis Armstrong.
From the mid-sixties onwards her voice declined somewhat, but she continued to record and toured until poor health overtook her and she stopped recording in 1989. She died in 1996.
Mel Torme (1925 - )
Full name Melvin Howard Torme; born September 13, 1925, in Chicago, Ill.; son of William (a retail merchant) and Sarah Sopkin (a sheet music demonstrator) Torme; married Candy Toxton (an actress) 1949 (divorced 1955); married Arlene Mills (a model) 1956 (divorced 1966); married Janette Scott (an actress) 1966 (divorced 1977); children: five in total. Addresses: Agent-- c/o Dale Sheets & Associates,
Singer-songwriter Mel Torme, often referred to as "the Velvet Fog," has had a long and varied career. He sang with big bands during the 1940s but became more jazz-oriented in the 1950s; his more recent concert appearances have included a mixture of both jazz and old ballad standards. Torme has played in the best clubs in the
Torme was born September 13, 1925, in
Torme also served as a radio actor during his childhood, giving voice to characters in programs such as "The Romance of Helen Trent," "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy," and "Lights Out." Perhaps because of this early fame, he did not fare well with his classmates; he confessed to Whitney Balliet in the New Yorker that he "got beaten up regularly." Torme also credits his life-long aversion to smoking to some bullies who forced him to eat tobacco as a child. But he was happier in high school. He played drums in a group that included future entertainer Steve Allen on the piano; the two became good friends.
While still in high school, Torme began to audition for more mature spots with big bands. When he was fifteen, he almost made the cut for the famed Harry James band, but his age would have meant an added expense for the group--by law they would have had to hire a tutor for him. Nevertheless, James decided to record the song that Torme auditioned with--Torme's own composition, "Lament for Love." The song proved so successful that other big bands recorded it, and it was performed on the radio show "Your Hit Parade."
A few years later, in 1942, Torme won a place with the West Coast-based Chico Marx band; he served as rhythm singer and arranged the band's vocal performances. Though the band broke up eleven months after he joined it, Torme was spotted in its farewell appearance by an executive from the RKO motion picture studios, who signed him for his first film role. Torme acted with famed singer Frank Sinatra in the 1943 movie Higher and Higher. More film rolls followed, and he appeared in pictures such as Pardon My Rhythm, Let's Go Steady, Good News, and Words and Music during the 1940s.
At about the same time as his film career took off, Torme was recording with a backup group called the Mel-Tones and performing in the better clubs, and, as Albertson reported, was saddled with the nickname, "the Velvet Fog." The crooner now feels this was a misnomer, and explained to Albertson that "that whole 'velvet fog' sound, that sort of head-toney, creamy, wispy sound, was--well, I can't say manufactured, because I was singing legitimately, but not as robustly as I could have been." Torme added that later, during the 1950s he "was able to relax and open up, and sing like I really like to sing .... My whole range has gained at least an octave, and I just don't sing like I used to.... The 'Velvet Fog' ... simply does not fit."
In addition to a change in his vocal stylings during the 1950s, Torme moved away somewhat from the big band sound in favor of a more purely jazz repertoire. While singing jazz in small clubs, Torme also continued to make his mark on other media. A stint as substitute host on fellow entertainer Perry Como's television show garnered him his own daytime talk show on CBS. Torme acted for television, too--his performance in the 1958 CBS television film The Comedian won him an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor. Torme's big-screen films during the 1950s included
Despite Torme's long-lived popularity as a performer, he has not been terribly successful in terms of making hit records. His disc of his self-composed classic "The Christmas Song," was overshadowed by singer Nat King Cole's smash-hit version of the same. In fact, Torme only made it into the top forty on the charts with a single once--"Comin' Home, Baby," which he released in 1962. Yet during the 1960s he won more critical claim for his talents, which he put to use as music writer and adviser to "The Judy Garland Show," among other projects. Torme also wrote for television, and was involved with the NBC series "The Virginian" and "Run for Your Life." In 1971 he was the host for ABC's documentary series "It Was a Very Good Year," and during the 1980s he has made several guest appearances on the NBC comedy series "Night Court."
During the 1970s--and well beyond--Torme's musical popularity has experienced a new vitality because of a renewed interest in the jazz genre. He has received two Grammy Awards for the albums he recorded with pianist George Shearing, and he has told interviewers, including Albertson, that he is proudest of the discs he has recorded since 1976, when he released Mel Torme Live at the Maisonette. Torme is also justifiably proud of the mixed composition of his fans; he boasted to Albertson: "My audience is filled with extremely young yuppies, not just a mass of snow-white heads."
Singer, songwriter, piano, drums, ukelele; jazz, big band, ballads; has sung professionally with bands off and on since the age of four; was a child actor in radio shows, including "The Romance of Helen Trent," "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy," and "Lights Out"; began writing songs while still in high school; appeared in over twenty films, including Higher and Higher, RKO, 1943, Pardon My Rhythm, Universal, 1944, Let's Go Steady, Columbia, 1945, Good News, MGM, 1947, Words and Music, MGM, 1948, Girls Town, MGM, 1959, The Big Operator, MGM, 1959, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Universal, 1960. Appeared in television programs, including "The Comedian," 1957, and the series "Night Court"; had own television talk show during 1950s, has written and produced for television, served as musical writer and advisor for "The Judy Garland Show," 1963-64. Mel has also written books including a novel, an autobiography, and an account of his experiences with
Ray Charles (1930 - 2004)
The great Ray Charles was an explorer who returned time and again from expeditions across musical boundaries to give us, in his own unique way, melodious stories and charts of his adventures. In so doing he changed what had previously been only a black and white territorial paper map of American music into a 3-D, solid terrain model, full of colour.
Ray was born during the Great Depression in the
He recalled how poor his family was in his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray": "Even compared to other blacks...we were on the bottom of the ladder looking up at everyone else. Nothing below us except the ground.'' Although it was a poor existence, and his father was "hardly ever around", he described himself as a "happy kid". The tragedy and painful memories of the next several years however would change him forever.
At just five years old Charles had to endure the trauma of witnessing the drowning death of his younger brother in his mother's large portable laundry tub. Soon after the death of his brother he gradually began to lose his sight and by 7 years of age Ray Charles was blind. Although it is presumed that untreated glaucoma was the cause, no official diagnosis was ever made. His mother refused to let him wallow in self-pity however and since the sight loss was gradual, she began to work with him on how to find things and do things for himself.
Ray had shown an interest in music since the age of 3, encouraged by a cafe owner who played the piano. At 7, he became a charity student at the state-supported school for the deaf and blind in
In the South in 1945 the opportunities and outlook for any young black musician, just getting started and hoping for a career in music, would have been bleak. Add Mr. Charles' loss of site and new found love for heroin (a habit he did not kick for nearly 20 years) and one would think the situation to be nearly hopeless. But Charles would not be denied and rather than give up, he made a significant geographical relocation to
Ray Charles Robinson dropped his last name to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and patterned himself in his early career after Nat "King" Cole. His first 3 recordings were made in
In 1952, Atlantic Records signed him to a contract although his first recordings with the label were not made until May of the next year. Charles got his first taste of commercial success in 1953, when he arranged and played piano on bluesman Guitar Slim's recording of The Things That I Used to Do, which sold more than a million copies. In 1994 he told the San Jose Mercury News, "When I started to sing like myself - as opposed to imitating Nat Cole, which I had done for a while - when I started singing like Ray Charles, it had this spiritual and churchy, this religious or gospel sound. It had this holiness and preachy tone to it. It was very controversial. I got a lot of criticism for it."
The real Ray Charles emerged in 1954 on a record called I Got A Woman. The recording reached #1 on the R&B chart in 1955. More significantly it brought together elements of gospel music in a secular setting, in a way they had never been married before, and served to spawn a whole new genre later to become known as Soul. On this record Charles began singing with inner emotional intensity like never before by way of hoots, hollers and other genuinely enthusiastic voicings. He had finally put to use the advice his mother had given him years before to "just be yourself."
Much the same as his early idol Nat King Cole achieved fame with his vocals, so Ray Charles finally broke through to white
By the late 1950s Charles was being called "The Genius." In September of 1957 he recorded an album called Soul Meeting with members of the Modern Jazz Quartet and featuring vibraphonist Milt Jackson. In April of 1958 he got together with
This foray into jazz landed Charles, accompanied by his rhythm section, David Fathead Newman, his back-up vocal group The Raelets, Bennie Crawford, Marcus Belgrave and Lee Harper, smack dab in the middle of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in July of 1958. Whilst this success would be enough to make some settle down into a particular style or genre and rest on their laurels; such was not the case for the ramblin' Ray Charles. In February of the same year he recorded a song combining a Latin-esque blues riff, with gospel call-and-response vocals between himself and the Raelets, and blatantly suggestive and playful lyrics and attitude. What resulted was a million selling monster hit called What'd I Say, which ran more than six minutes in its LP form. The song became one of Charles' signature tunes and was his first crossover hit, reaching #6 on the Pop chart and #1 on the R&B chart in 1959.
Still Charles turned back to jazz and big band again for two sessions in May and June of 1959. These sessions were combined together for the release The Genius Of Ray Charles. Half of the album featured backing instrumentation by Quincy Jones who directed an all-star big band consisting of numerous Count Basie alumni for the release. This combination of talents provided Charles with a hip and swinging backdrop on a number of standards and cover tunes. The release garnered Charles two of his first four Grammy Awards in 1960; one in the Best Rhythm & Blues Performance category for Let The Good Times Roll (a cover tune of one of his early influences Louis Jordan); and another in the Best Vocal Performance Album, Male category. On June 26th, 1959 Charles cut his first country cover when he recorded the song I'm Movin' On, originally done by Hank Snow. Perhaps it was irony that this would be his last session for
One of the chief attractions of the ABC deal for Charles was a much greater degree of artistic control of his recordings. His first session with ABC in December of 1959 produced just three recordings but his next session in March of 1960 was a superb success. The album that resulted was a geographical theme album called The Genius Hits The Road. One of the twelve songs on the original pressing of the LP (ABC 335) was a Hoagy Carmichael tune. The Ray Charles version of the piece was declared the official song of the state of
With Charles achieving commercial success with his ballads like Georgia On My Mind and Ruby you would think that, like Nat King Cole, he might abandon recording jazz or R&B tunes. But in December of 1960, little more than two weeks after Ruby had peaked on the chart, he was in the ABC Paramount studios again. What resulted was arguably his best jazz album ever. This one found "The Genius" singing and playing Hammond B3. Once again he received expert backing by a number of Count Basie alumni on several Quincy Jones arrangements. The release was called Genius+Soul=Jazz and yet again the public responded. The cut, One Mint Julep went to #8 on the pop chart and #1 on the R&B chart in 1961. Although One Mint Julep may have been the hit, the album featured other tastefully swinging tunes like Mr. C., Stompin' Room Only, From The Heart, and a Ralph Burns arrangement of a blues called I've Got News For You.
His next chart hit in 1961 was even bigger. Hit The Road Jack topped both the Pop chart, where it stayed at #1 for two weeks in October, and the R&B chart for 5 weeks beginning October 2nd. The recording also won a Grammy in 1961 for the Best Rhythm and Blues Recording. Amazingly, it was yet to be released on an LP when it garnered such high accolades, evidence of the power of the 45 RPM record medium in 1961. Hit The Road Jack was originally released on just a two-song 45 RPM (ABC-Paramount 10244) and a four song extended play 7" jukebox 45 RPM called The Genius Hits The Road (ABC Paramount Records EP19), not to be confused with the LP bearing the same name. It was not until 1962 that the song was released on an LP (ABC 415) called Ray Charles Greatest Hits.
Then Charles did what, to many, was the unthinkable; he tackled country and western music. And not only did he tackle it, he conquered it and forever changed its face when on June 1st, 1962 the landmark album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was released. On this LP Charles re-interpreted some of the greatest songs written in the country music field, filling them with newfound energy and soul. In doing so, he inspired other artists to reconsider their thoughts and assessments of country tunes. It also beckoned to a wide range of music fans to come in and sit a spell and hear what country music and country songwriters had to offer.
Although he had a hit in 1959 with the aforementioned single cover of Hank Snow's I'm Movin' On, his decision to record a full album of country songs was initially discouraged by his record label and by others around him. Charles said later that he knew it was risky business recording a country album. "I didn't know what was going to happen," he said, "because all my friends and people around me was telling me I was making a big mistake because 'you're doing country-western music. Oh, man you're going to ruin your career 'cause everybody know you're from rhythm and blues, and you're going to go out, oh, you've got to be nuts." The album covered a broad spectrum of what the country music song book had to offer at the time including the Everly Brothers' Bye Bye, Love, Hank Williams Sr.' Half As Much, You Win Again and Hey, Good Lookin', Don Gibson's hit of I Can't Stop Loving You, and Eddy Arnold's Just a Little Lovin' and You Don't Know Me. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was #1 on the Billboard Pop Album chart for three and a half months and stayed on that chart for two years. The album's producer, ABC-Paramount A&R director Sid Feller, said about the album's initial splash, "I didn't know that a Pop artist could do country songs and become a national monument. You know how unimportant it seemed? I put I Can't Stop Loving You in the number 5 position on the B-side of the album." Four singles from the album were released. Born to Lose, Careless Love and You Don't Know Me all charted Pop, but I Can't Stop Loving You was a #1 Pop hit for five weeks.
After the phenomenal success of the first country album, another one was inevitable. Enter Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume 2 recorded in September of 1962. Surprisingly enough the sequel was just as solid as the original, and more varied. It went to #2 on the Album chart, powered by two singles: the ancient standard You Are My Sunshine, redone as a powerhouse R&B, and a soul filled, slow reading of Take These Chains From My Heart. One of the surprising facts about Charles' forays into the world of country and western music was the success of many of the songs on the R&B chart. You Are My Sunshine, maxed out at #7 on the Pop chart, but went all the way to #1 on the R&B chart in 1962. In 1963, Take These Chains From My Heart went to #8 Pop and #7 R&B.
On July 10th and 13th of the following year the release Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul was recorded and Charles had another hit single on his hands with Busted. Country songwriter Harlan Howard wrote the song however it was not done in a style resembling country and western. Instead it was given treatment by one of the greatest big band arrangers and jazz songwriters of all time, himself a consummate player and genius in his own right, the great Benny Carter. Carter created a bluesy big band backdrop for Charles' soulful reading of the piece, as was the case with a number of scores for the LP. In 1963, Busted made it to #4 on the Pop chart and was voted best Rhythm And Blues Recording by the Grammy committee.
Sixteen songs were recorded on the incredibly productive aforementioned July 13th session. Of the sixteen, several other recordings featuring Benny Carter arrangements were laid down as well as some Gerald Wilson and Johnny Parker scores. Although some of the songs were somewhat trite in lyrical content, nine were used on a 1964 release called Have A Smile With Me. Also appearing on the LP (but recorded a year later in July of 1964) was a single, which the great Benny Carter again arranged, called Smack Dab In The Middle. Smack Dab In The Middle, with its Raelets backing, was one of the highlights of the LP. However the song that makes the album worth owning is Charles' cover of an old Hank Williams tune. The peppy, humorous and carefree Move It On Over is a song about a man who is cast (literally) into the doghouse by his "little baby." Mr. Charles sounds in high spirits on the whole album, with an excellent swinging big band behind him, but on Move It On Over the energy and mood both come together in a roaring climax. In the 1980s George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers rather dryly covered the song, scoring a hit on AOR stations. Even with all of its amplification, the Thoroughgood version didn't come close to the big bang of energy emitted on this swinging Ray Charles gem.
During the 60s Charles became involved in films, appearing in the 1962's Swinging Along and recording soundtracks for several more. By 1964 he seemed on top of the world with his own label, an ABC imprint called Tangerine Records (which would release albums by Charles and his productions of vocalist-writer Percy Mayfield and singer Jimmy Scott). He also controlled his publishing and his masters. And he had opened his own
On Oct. 31, 1964, he was busted in a
The 1970s began with a release on his Tangerine label called My Kind Of Jazz with longtime friend Quincy Jones. It was the source of his last Pop chart hit, intriguingly titled Booty Butt, which reached number 36 on the chart. Also in the 1970s Charles made a stirring guest shot on Aretha Franklin's album Live at the Fillmore, and a hallmark pure-funk rendition of America the Beautiful on his 1972 collection A Message From the People. His output during this period also included work with singers Randy Newman and Stevie Wonder. In 1976, he collaborated with English vocalist Cleo Laine on an interpretation of Gershwin's Porgy & Bess. The following year, he returned to
Charles moved to Warner Bros. Records in 1990. I'll Be Good to You, his duet with Chaka Khan for his old
Mr. Charles recorded a number of commercials, many of which were self-produced. His Diet Pepsi commercial, which features his singing "You got the right one baby-uh-huh," was rated most memorable commercial in 1991. Although many saw the commercial as selling out, it is said to have boosted his popularity among a younger audience. In his well-traveled career, Charles won 12 competitive Grammys, earned three Emmy nominations, scored the Kennedy Center Honors, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts and inductions into the Rock, Jazz and Rhythm and Blues halls of fame.
From his website www.raycharles.com Mr. Charles' take on jazz is as follows; "I cannot understand how we as Americans, possessing such a rich heritage of music and the artists who play it, don't recognize all those talented people. It's a shame that so many of today's young people don't know the work of Art Tatum or Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker or Clifford Brown, to name a few. They are the creators; they are the artists who helped form the backbone of our country's popular music.... When you talk about, say, classical music, you're talking about a form that came from
On Thursday June 10th, 2004 the leader of a great expedition through the pages of American music history made his final journey. Ray Charles died from acute liver disease. He was 73. He left behind a long list of hits and Grammy awards and the musicians he influenced are as diverse in genre as the music he wrote, arranged, performed and recorded. This time he crossed a boundary of a different sort, a boundary of which he cannot cross back over and bring us songs and tales of his adventure. Simple cliches cannot aptly describe the passing of Ray Charles; just as a simple swing, gospel, soul, R&B, country and western, or jazz biography could ever cover his career.
Stevie Wonder (1950 -)
Blind from birth and raised in inner-city
But Wonder was much more than a freakish prepubescent imitation of Ray Charles, as audiences discovered when he demonstrated his prowess with piano, organ, harmonica, and drums. By 1964 he was no longer described as ?Little,? and two years later his fervent delivery of the pounding soul of ?Uptight (Everything's Alright),? which he also had written, suggested the emergence of both an unusually compelling performer and a composer to rival Motown's stable of skilled songwriters. (He had already cowritten, with Smokey Robinson, ?The Tears of a Clown.?)
Over the next five years Wonder had hits with ?I Was Made to Love Her,? ?My Cherie Amour? (both co-written with producer Henry Cosby), and ?For Once in My Life,? songs that suited dancers as well as lovers. Where I'm Coming From, an album released in 1971, hinted not merely at an expanded musical range but, in its lyrics and its mood, at a new introspection. Music of My Mind (1972) made his concerns even more plain.
In the interim he had been strongly influenced by Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, the album in which his Motown stablemate moved away from the label's ?hit factory? approach to confront the divisive social issues of the day. Any anxieties Gordy may have felt about his protégé's declaration of independence were amply calmed by the run of recordings with which Wonder obliterated the competition in the mid-1970s. Those albums produced a steady stream of classic hit songs, among them ?Superstition,? ?You Are the Sunshine of My Life,? ?Higher Ground,? ?Living for the City,? ?Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing,? ?Boogie On Reggae Woman,? ?I Wish,? and ?Sir Duke.? Although still only in his mid-20s, Wonder appeared to have mastered virtually every idiom of African-American popular music and to have synthesized them all into a language of his own.
His command of the new generation of electronic keyboard instruments made him a pioneer and an inspiration to rock musicians, the inventiveness of his vocal phrasing was reminiscent of the greatest jazz singers, and the depth and honesty of his emotional projection came straight from the black church music of his childhood. Such a fertile period was unlikely to last forever, and it came to an end in 1979 with a fey and overambitious extended work called Stevie Wonder's Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.
Thereafter his recordings became sporadic and often lacked focus, although his concerts were never less than rousing. The best of his work formed a vital link between the classic rhythm-and-blues and soul performers of the 1950s and '60s and their less commercially constrained successors. Yet, however sophisticated his music became, he was never too proud to write something as apparently slight as the romantic gem ?I Just Called to Say I Love You? (1984). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2005.