American born Millard G. Thomas was a blues pianist, who immigrated to Montreal, Quebec, circa 1918. He took up position as pit band leader at local Vaudeville theatres from 1919 to 1924. The Compo Company, Lachine, Quebec, had just launched its race record in the United States under the Ajax label in 1923. The band made five records for the Ajax label, between March 7, 1924 and August 12, 1924, and continued to play the Vaudeville circuit in Canada until 1926. On May 21, 1926 the announcement of the new amusement park in Ottawa, Royal Park, contained the news that the Millard G. Thomas Chicago Orchestra would be performing.
|Birth name||William Gary Johnson|
|Also known as||Bunk|
|Born||December 27, 1879|
|Died||July 7, 1949|
|Associated acts||George Lewis
Bunk gave the year of his birth as 1879, although there is speculation that he may have actually been younger by as much as a decade.
Education and early musical career
Bunk received lessons from Adam Olivier and began playing professionally in Olivier’s orchestra. Bunk probably played a few adolescent jobs with Buddy Bolden, but was not a regular member of Bolden’s Band for any length of time (contrary to Bunk’s claim). Bunk was regarded as one of the top trumpeters in New Orleans in the years 1905–1915, in between repeatedly leaving the city to tour with minstrel shows and circus bands. After he failed to appear for a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade job in 1915, he learned the krewe members intended to do him bodily harm, and so he left town, touring with shows and then settling in New Iberia, Louisiana. In 1931 he lost his trumpet and front teeth when a violent fight broke out at a dance inRayne, Louisiana, putting an end to his playing. He thereafter worked in manual labor, occasionally giving music lessons on the side when he could.
Career revival and first recordings
In 1938 and 1939 the researchers/writers of the first book of jazz history, Jazzmen, interviewed several prominent musicians of the time, includingLouis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Clarence Williams, who spoke very highly of Bunk in the old days in New Orleans. The writers tracked down Bunk’s address, and traded several letters with him, where Bunk recalled (and possibly embellished) his early career. Bunk stated that he could play again if he only had new teeth and a new trumpet. A collection was taken up by writers and musicians, and Bunk was fitted with a set of dentures (by Bechet’s dentist brother, Leonard) and given a new trumpet, and in 1942 made his first recordings.
Bunk (left) with Lead Belly in New York City, 1946
Later touring career
These first recordings propelled Bunk (along with clarinetist George Lewis) into public attention, attracting a cult following. Bunk and his band played in New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, and New York City and made many more recordings. Bunk’s work in the 1940s show why he was well regarded by his fellow musicians—on his best days playing with great imagination, subtlety, and beauty—as well as suggesting why he had not achieved fame earlier, for he was unpredictable, temperamental, with a passive-aggressive streak and a fondness for drinking alcohol to the point of serious impairment.
Death and legacy
Bunk suffered from a stroke in late 1948 and died in New Iberia the following year.
Jazz fans and historians still debate Bunk’s legacy, and the extent to which his colorful reminiscences of his early career were accurate, misremembered, exaggerated, or untrue.
The majority of his recordings remain in print on CD reissues, and his playing is an important influence on many contemporary traditional jazz musicians. Johnson plays a small, but significant, role in Alan Schroeder’s picture book “Satchmo’s Blues.” In that book, Johnson serves as a source of musical inspiration to the young Louis Armstrong.
The Compo Company recording ledgers from 1934 to 1937.
Today we continue our series of segments from the recording ledgers from the Compo Company, from 1932 to 1934.
The ledgers cover the years 1931 and 1932.
J. C. Higginbotham
He was born on May 11, 1906. In the 1930’s and 1940’s he played with some of the premier swing bands, including Luis Russell‘s, Benny Carter‘s, Red Allen‘s, and Fletcher Henderson‘s. He also played with Louis Armstrong, who had taken over Russell’s band, from 1937 to 1940. From 1947 on he chiefly led his own groups. He recorded extensively both as a sideman and as a leader. He played for a long period in the forties with his ideal partner Red Allen, and then disappeared from the scene for several years.
Higginbotham led several bands in the Fifties in Boston and Cleveland, appeared regularly at the Metropole in New York between 1956 and 1959, and led his own Dixieland band there in the Sixties. He also appeared on the DuMont series Jazz Party (1958), aired on WNTA-TV.
During the tenure with Luis Russell, on February 5, 1930, a single session was issued under the name of J.C. Higgenbotham and His Six Hicks was issued on OKeh 8772, featuring “Give Me Your Telephone Number” and “Higgenbotham Blues”. Musicians included Henry Allen, Higgenbotham, Charlie Holmes, Luis Russell, Will Hognson, Pops Foster and Paul Barbarin, all member of Russell’s band.
He went on his first European tour with Sammy Price, appearing in Scandinavia, and worked once again briefly in 1964 with Louis Armstrong.
He died on May 26, 1973 in New York.
Higginbotham was considered to be the most vital of the swing trombone players. His strong, raucous sound on the trombone and wild outbreaks on stage were characteristic. Along with Jimmy Harrison and Jack Teagarden, Higginbotham contributed to the acceptance of the trombone in jazz music as a melodically capable instrument.
|Birth name||Edward Kennedy Ellington|
|Born||April 29, 1899
Washington, D.C., United States
|Died||May 24, 1974 (aged 75)
New York City, New York, United States
|Genres||Orchestral jazz, swing, big band|
|Occupations||Bandleader, pianist, composer|
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and jazz-orchestra leader. His career spanned more than 50 years: Ellington led his orchestra from 1923 until his death.
Though widely considered to have been a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington himself embraced the phrase “beyond category” as a “liberating principle,” and referred his music to the more much more general category of “American Music,” rather than to a musical genre such as “jazz.” Born in Washington, D.C., he was based in New York City from the mid-1920s onwards, and gained a national profile through his orchestra’s appearances at the Cotton Club. In the 1930s they toured in Europe.
Some of the musicians who were members of Ellington’s orchestra, such as saxophonist Johnny Hodges, are still, in their own right, considered to be among the best players in jazz, but it was Ellington who melded them into the best-known jazz orchestral unit in the history of jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained members for several decades. A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm record format, Ellington often composed specifically for the style and skills of his individual musicians, such as “Jeep’s Blues” for Hodges, and “Concerto for Cootie” for trumpeter Cootie Williams, which later became “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” with Bob Russell‘s lyrics.
Ellington originated over 1,000 compositions, often in collaboration with others; his extensive oeuvre is also the largest recorded legacy in jazz, with much of his extant work having passed into standards. Ellington also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such asJuan Tizol‘s “Caravan” and “Perdido” which brought the “Spanish Tinge” to big-band jazz.
After 1941, Ellington collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his “writing and arranging companion”. With Strayhorn, he composed many extended compositions, or “suites”, as well as further shorter pieces. Following an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1956, he enjoyed a major career revival and, with his orchestra, now embarked on world tours. Ellington recorded for most American record companies of his era at some point, and appeared in several films. scoring several, and composed stage musicals.
Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999.
Gunther Schuller wrote in 1989: “Ellington composed incessantly to the very last days of his life. Music was indeed his mistress; it was his total life and his commitment to it was incomparable and unalterable. In jazz he was a giant among giants. And in twentieth century music, he may yet one day be recognized as one of the half-dozen greatest masters of our time.”
Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. Daisy and J.E. were both pianists. Daisy primarily played parlor songs and J.E. preferred operatic arias. They lived with his maternal grandparents at 2129 Ida Place (now Ward Place), NW in the West End neighborhood of Washington, D.C. His father, James Edward Ellington, was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina on April 15, 1879 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1886 with his parents. Daisy Kennedy was born in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 1879, and was the daughter of a former American slave. James Ellington made blueprints for the United States Navy.
At the age of seven, Ellington began taking piano lessons from Marietta Clinkscales. Daisy surrounded her son with dignified women to reinforce his manners and teach him to live elegantly. Ellington’s childhood friends noticed that “his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman”, and began calling him Duke. Ellington credited his “chum” Edgar McEntree for the nickname. “I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke.”
Though Ellington took piano lessons, he was more interested in baseball. “President Roosevelt (Teddy) would come by on his horse sometimes, and stop and watch us play”, he recalled. Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C. He got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games.
In the summer of 1914, while working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Cafe, he wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag” (also known as the “Poodle Dog Rag”). Ellington created “Soda Fountain Rag” by ear, because he had not yet learned to read and write music. “I would play the ‘Soda Fountain Rag’ as a one-step, two-step, waltz, tango, and fox trot”, Ellington recalled. “Listeners never knew it was the same piece. I was established as having my own repertoire.” In his autobiography, Music is my Mistress (1973), Ellington wrote that he missed more lessons than he attended, feeling at the time that playing the piano was not his talent. Ellington started sneaking into Frank Holiday’s Poolroom at the age of fourteen. Hearing the poolroom pianists play ignited Ellington’s love for the instrument and he began to take his piano studies seriously. Among the many piano players he listened to were Doc Perry, Lester Dishman, Louis Brown, Turner Layton, Gertie Wells, Clarence Bowser, Sticky Mack, Blind Johnny, Cliff Jackson, Claude Hopkins, Phil Wurd, Caroline Thornton, Luckey Roberts, Eubie Blake, Joe Rochester, and Harvey Brooks.
Ellington began listening to, watching, and imitating ragtime pianists, not only in Washington, D.C., but in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, where he vacationed with his mother during the summer months. Dunbar High School music teacher Henry Lee Grant gave him private lessons in harmony. With the additional guidance of Washington pianist and band leader Oliver “Doc” Perry, Ellington learned to read sheet music, project a professional style, and improve his technique. Ellington was also inspired by his first encounters withstride pianists James P. Johnson and Luckey Roberts. Later in New York he took advice from Will Marion Cook, Fats Waller, and Sidney Bechet. Ellington started to play gigs in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C. and his attachment grew to be so strong that he turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1916. Three months before graduating he dropped out of Armstrong Manual Training School, where he was studying commercial art.
Working as a freelance sign-painter from 1917, he began assembling groups to play for dances, and in 1919 met drummer Sonny Greer from New Jersey who encouraged Ellington’s ambition to become a professional musician. Through his day job, Ellington’s entrepreneurial side came out: when a customer would ask him to make a sign for a dance or party, he would ask them if they had musical entertainment; if not, Ellington would ask if he could play for them. He also had a messenger job with the U.S. Navy and State Departments. Ellington moved out of his parents’ home and bought his own as he became a successful pianist. At first, he played in other ensembles, and in late 1917 formed his first group, “The Duke’s Serenaders” (“Colored Syncopators”, his telephone directory advertising proclaimed). He was not only a member, but also the booking agent. His first play date was at the True Reformer’s Hall, where he took home 75 cents.
Ellington played throughout the Washington, D.C. area and into Virginia for private society balls and embassy parties. The band included childhood friend Otto Hardwick, who started on string bass, then moved to C-melody sax and finally settled on alto saxophone; Arthur Whetsol on trumpet; Elmer Snowden on banjo; and Sonny Greer on drums. The band thrived, performing for both African-American and white audiences, a rarity at the time.
When his drummer Sonny Greer was invited to join the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra in New York City, Ellington made the fateful decision to leave behind his successful career in Washington, D.C., and move to Harlem, becoming one of the figures of the Harlem Renaissance. New dance crazes like the Charleston emerged in Harlem, as well as African-American musical theater, including Eubie Blake‘s Shuffle Along. After the young musicians left the Sweatman Orchestra to strike out on their own, they found an emerging jazz scene that was highly competitive and hard to crack. They hustled pool by day and played whatever gigs they could find. The young band met stride pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith who introduced them to the scene and gave them some money. They played at rent-house parties for income. After a few months, the young musicians returned to Washington, D.C., feeling discouraged.
In June 1923, a gig in Atlantic City, New Jersey, led to a play date at the prestigious Exclusive Club in Harlem. This was followed in September 1923 by a move to the Hollywood Club – 49th and Broadway – and a four-year engagement, which gave Ellington a solid artistic base. He was known to play the bugle at the end of each performance. The group was initially called Elmer Snowden and his Black Sox Orchestra and had seven members, including trumpeter James “Bubber” Miley. They renamed themselves “The Washingtonians”. Snowden left the group in early 1924 and Ellington took over as bandleader. After a fire, the club was re-opened as the Club Kentucky (often referred to as the “Kentucky Club”).
Ellington made eight records in 1924, receiving composing credit on three including “Choo Choo”. In 1925, Ellington contributed four songs to Chocolate Kiddies starring Lottie Gee and Adelaide Hall, an all-African-American revue which introduced European audiences to African-American styles and performers. Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra grew to a group of ten players; they developed their own sound by displaying the non-traditional expression of Ellington’s arrangements, the street rhythms of Harlem, and the exotic-sounding trombone growls and wah-wahs, high-squealing trumpets, and sultry saxophone blues licks of the band members. For a short time soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet played with them, imparting his propulsive swing and superior musicianship to the young band members.
Cotton Club engagement
In October 1926, Ellington made a career-advancing agreement with agent-publisher Irving Mills, giving Mills a 45% interest in Ellington’s future. Mills had an eye for new talent and early on published compositions by Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, and Harold Arlen. After recording a handful of acoustic titles during 1924-1926, Ellington’s signing with Mills allowed him to record prolifically, although sometimes he recorded different versions of the same tune. Mills often took a co-composer credit. From the beginning of their relationship, Mills arranged recording sessions on nearly every label including Brunswick, Victor, Columbia, OKeh, Pathê (and its Perfect label), the ARC/Plaza group of labels (Oriole, Domino, Jewel, Banner) and their dime-store labels (Cameo, Lincoln, Romeo), Hit of the Week, and Columbia’s cheaper labels (Harmony, Diva, Velvet Tone, Clarion) labels which gave Ellington popular recognition. On OKeh, his records were usually issued as “The Harlem Footwarmers”, while the Brunswick’s were usually issued as The Jungle Band. “Whoopee Makers” and the “Ten Black Berries” were other pseudonyms.
In September 1927, King Oliver turned down a regular booking for his group as the house band at Harlem’s Cotton Club; the offer passed to Ellington after Jimmy McHughsuggested him and Mills arranged an audition. Ellington had to increase from a six to eleven-piece group to meet the requirements of the Cotton Club’s management for the audition, and the engagement finally began on December 4. With a weekly radio broadcast, the Cotton Club’s exclusively white and wealthy clientele poured in nightly to see them. At the Cotton Club, Ellington’s group performed all the music for the revues, which mixed comedy, dance numbers, vaudeville, burlesque, music, and illegal alcohol. The musical numbers were composed by Jimmy McHugh and the lyrics by Dorothy Fields (later Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler), with some Ellington originals mixed in. Weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave Ellington national exposure, while Ellington also recorded Fields-JMcHugh and Fats Waller-Andy Razaf songs.
Although trumpeter Bubber Miley was a member of the orchestra for only a short period, he had a major influence on Ellington’s sound. An early exponent of growl trumpet, his style changed the “sweet” dance band sound of the group to one that was hotter, which contemporaries termed “jungle” style. In October 1927, Ellington and his Orchestra recorded several compositions with Adelaide Hall. One side in particular, “Creole Love Call” became a worldwide sensation and gave both Ellington and Hall their first hit record. Miley had composed most of “Creole Love Call” and “Black and Tan Fantasy”. An alcoholic, Miley had to leave the band before they gained wider fame. He died in 1932 at the age of 29, but he was an important influence on Cootie Williams, who replaced him.
In 1929, the Cotton Club Orchestra appeared on stage for several months in Florenz Ziegfeld‘s Show Girl, along with vaudeville stars Jimmy Durante, Eddie Foy, Jr., Ruby Keeler, and with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Gus Kahn. Will Vodery, Ziegfeld’s musical supervisor, recommended Ellington for the show, and, according to John Hasse’sBeyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, “Perhaps during the run of Show Girl, Ellington received what he later termed ‘ valuable lessons in orchestration from Will Vodery.’ In his 1946 biography, Duke Ellington, Barry Ulanov wrote:
From Vodery, as he (Ellington) says himself, he drew his chromatic convictions, his uses of the tones ordinarily extraneous to the diatonic scale, with the consequent alteration of the harmonic character of his music, its broadening, The deepening of his resources. It has become customary to ascribe the classical influences upon Duke – Delius, Debussy and Ravel – to direct contact with their music. Actually his serious appreciation of those and other modern composers, came after his meeting with Vodery.
Ellington’s film work began with Black and Tan (1929), a nineteen-minute all-African-American RKO short in which he played the hero “Duke”. He also appeared in the Amos ‘n’ Andy film Check and Double Check released in 1930. That year, Ellington and his Orchestra connected with a whole different audience in a concert with Maurice Chevalier and they also performed at the Roseland Ballroom, “America’s foremost ballroom”. Australian-born composer Percy Grainger was an early admirer and supporter. He wrote “The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius and Duke Ellington. Unfortunately Bach is dead, Delius is very ill but we are happy to have with us today The Duke”. Ellington’s first period at the Cotton Club concluded in 1931.
The early 1930’s
Ellington led the orchestra by conducting from the keyboard using piano cues and visual gestures; very rarely did he conduct using a baton. As a bandleader, Ellington was not a strict disciplinarian; he maintained control of his orchestra with a combination of charm, humor, flattery, and astute psychology. A complex, private person, he revealed his feelings to only his closest intimates and effectively used his public persona to deflect attention away from himself.
Ellington signed exclusively to Brunswick in 1932 and stayed with them through late 1936 (albeit with a temporary 1933-34 switch to Victor), when Irving Mills moved him from Brunswick to Mills’ new Master label. As the Depression worsened, the recording industry was in crisis, dropping over 90% of its artists by 1933. Ivie Anderson was hired as their featured vocalist in 1931, she is the vocalist on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” (1932) among other recordings. Sonny Greer had been providing occasional vocals and continued to do in a cross-talk feature with Anderson. Radio exposure helped maintain popularity as Ellington and his orchestra began to tour. The other records of this era include: “Mood Indigo” (1930), “Sophisticated Lady” (1933), “Solitude” (1934), and “In a Sentimental Mood” (1935)
While the band’s United States audience remained mainly African-American in this period, the Ellington orchestra had a huge following overseas, exemplified by the success of their trip to England in 1933 and their 1934 visit to the European mainland. The English visit saw Ellington win praise from members of the “serious” music community, including composer Constant Lambert, which gave a boost to Ellington’s interest in composing longer works. Those longer pieces had already begun to appear. He had composed and recorded Creole Rhapsody as early as 1931 (issued as both sides of a 12″ record for Victor and both sides of a 10″ record for Brunswick), and a tribute to his mother, “Reminiscing in Tempo”, took four 10″ record sides to record in 1935 after her death in that year. Symphony in Black (also 1935), a short film, featured his extended piece ‘A Rhapsody of Negro Life’. It introduced Billie Holiday, and won an Academy Award as the best musical short subject. Ellington and his Orchestra also appeared in the features Murder at the Vanitiesand Belle of the Nineties (both 1934),
For agent Mills the attention was a publicity triumph, as Ellington was now internationally known. On the band’s tour through the segregated South in 1934, they avoided some of the traveling difficulties of African-Americans by touring in private railcars. These provided easy accommodations, dining, and storage for equipment while avoiding the indignities of segregated facilities. Competition was intensifying though, as swing bands like Benny Goodmans, began to receive popular attention. Swing dancing became a youth phenomenon, particularly with white college audiences, and “danceability” drove record sales and bookings. Jukeboxes proliferated nationwide, spreading the gospel of “swing”. Ellington’s band could certainly swing, but their strengths were mood and nuance, and richness of composition; hence his statement “jazz is music; swing is business”.
The later 1930s
From 1936, Ellington began to make recordings of smaller groups (sextets, octets, and nonets) drawn from his then-15-man orchestra and he composed pieces intended to feature specific instrumentalist, as with “Jeep’s Blues” for Johnny Hodges, “Yearning for Love” for Lawrence Brown, “Trumpet in Spades” for Rex Stewart, “Echoes of Harlem” for Cootie Williams and “Clarinet Lament” for Barney Bigard. These small groups within Ellington’s band recorded on Mills’ Variety label. In 1937, Ellington returned to the Cotton Club which had relocated to the mid-town Theater District. In the summer of that year, his father died, and due to many expenses, Ellington’s finances were tight, although his situation improved the following year.
After leaving agent Irving Mills, he signed on with the William Morris Agency. Mills though continued to record Ellington. After his Master and Variety labels collapsed in late 1937, Mills placed Ellington back on Brunswick and those small group units on Vocalion through to 1940. Well known sides continued to be recorded, “Caravan” in 1937, and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” the following year.
Billy Strayhorn, originally hired as a lyricist, began his association with Ellington in 1939. Nicknamed “Swee’ Pea” for his mild manner, Strayhorn soon became a vital member of the Ellington organization. Ellington showed great fondness for Strayhorn and never failed to speak glowingly of the man and their collaborative working relationship, “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine”. Strayhorn, with his training in classical music, not only contributed his original lyrics and music, but also arranged and polished many of Ellington’s works, becoming a second Ellington or “Duke’s doppelganger”. It was not uncommon for Strayhorn to fill in for Duke, whether in conducting or rehearsing the band, playing the piano, on stage, and in the recording studio. The 1930s ended with a very successful European tour just as World War II loomed in Europe.
Ellington in the early to mid-1940’s
Some of the musicians who joined Ellington at this at time created a sensation in their own right. The short-lived Jimmy Blantontransformed the use of double bass in jazz, allowing it to function as a solo rather than a rhythm instrument alone. Terminal illness forced him to leave by late 1941 after only about two years. Ben Webster, the Orchestra’s first regular tenor saxophonist, whose main tenure with Ellington spanned 1939 to 1943, started a rivalry with Johnny Hodges as the Orchestra’s foremost voice in the sax section.
Trumpeter Ray Nance joined, replacing Cootie Williams who had “defected”, contemporary wags claimed, to Benny Goodman. Additionally, Nance added violin to the instrumental colors Ellington had at his disposal. Recordings exist of Nance’s first concert date on November 7, 1940, at Fargo, North Dakota. Privately made by Jack Towers and Dick Burris, these recordings were first legitimately issued in 1978 as Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live; they are among the earliest of innumerable live performances which survive. Nance was also an occasional vocalist, although Herb Jeffries was the main male vocalist in this era (until 1943) while Al Hibbler (who replaced Jeffries in 1943) continued until 1951. Ivie Anderson left in 1942 after eleven years: the longest term of any of Ellington’s vocalists.
Once again recording for Victor (from 1940), with the small groups recording for their Bluebird label, three-minute masterpieces on 78 rpm record sides continued to flow from Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s son Mercer Ellington, and members of the Orchestra. “Cotton Tail“, “Main Stem”, “Harlem Airshaft”, “Jack the Bear”, and dozens of others date from this period. Strayhorn’s “Take the “A” Train” a hit in 1941, became the band’s theme, replacing “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo”. Ellington and his associates wrote for an orchestra of distinctive voices who displayed tremendous creativity. Mary Lou Williams, working as a staff arranger, would briefly join Ellington a few years later.
Ellington’s long-term aim though was to extend the jazz form from that three-minute limit, of which he was an acknowledged master. While he had composed and recorded some extended pieces before, such works now became a regular feature of Ellington’s output. In this, he was helped by Strayhorn, who had enjoyed a more thorough training in the forms associated with classical music than Ellington. The first of these, “Black, Brown, and Beige” (1943), was dedicated to telling the story of African-Americans, and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Ellington debuted Black, Brown and Beige in Carnegie Hall on January 23, 1943, beginning an annual series of concerts there over the next four years. While some jazz musicians had played at Carnegie Hall before, none had performed anything as elaborate as Ellington’s work. Unfortunately, starting a regular pattern, Ellington’s longer works were generally not well received.
A partial exception was Jump for Joy, a full-length musical based on themes of African-American identity, debuted on July 10, 1941 at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles. Hollywood luminaries like actors John Garfield and Mickey Rooney invested in the production, and Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles offered to direct. At one performance though, Garfield insisted Herb Jeffries, who is light skinned, should wear make-up. Ellington objected in the interval, and compared Jeffries to Al Jolson. The change was reverted, and the singer later commented that the audience must have thought he was an entirely different character in the second half of the show.
Although it had sold-out performances, and received positive reviews, it ran for only 122 performances until September 29, 1941, with a brief revival in November of that year. Its subject matter did not make it appealing to Broadway; Ellington had unfulfilled plans to take it there. Despite this disappointment, a Broadway production of Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday, his sole book musical, premiered on December 23, 1946 under the direction of Nicholas Ray.
The settlement of the first recording ban of 1942–43, leading to an increase in royalties paid to musicians, had a serious effect on the financial viability of the big bands, including Ellington’s Orchestra. His income as a songwriter ultimately subsidized it. Although he always spent lavishly and drew a respectable income from the Orchestra’s operations, the band’s income often just covered expenses.
The music industry’s focus was shifting away from the big bands to the work of solo vocalists such as the young Frank Sinatra gaining popularity. Ellington’s wordless vocal feature “Transblucency” (1946) with Kay Davis was not going to have a similar reach. The new small-group form of jazz, bebop allowed club owners of smaller venues to draw in the jazz audience at a fraction of the cost of hiring a big band.
Ellington continued on his own course through these tectonic shifts. While Count Basie was forced to disband his whole ensemble and work as an octet for a time, Ellington was able to tour most of Western Europe between 6 April and 30 June 1950, with the orchestra playing 74 dates over 77 days. During the tour, according to Sonny Greer, the newer works were not performed, though Ellington’s extended composition, Harlem (1950) was in the process of being completed at this time. Ellington later presented its score to music-loving President Harry Truman.
In 1951, Ellington suffered a significant loss of personnel: Sonny Greer, Lawrence Brown, and most importantly Johnny Hodges left to pursue other ventures, although only Greer was a permanent departee. Drummer Louie Bellson replaced Greer, and his “Skin Deep” was a hit for Ellington. Tenor player Paul Gonsalves had joined in December 1950 after periods with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie and stayed for the rest of his life, while Clark Terry joined in November 1951.
Although Ellington’s career was generally at a low ebb in the early 1950s, Ellington’s reputation did not suffer in comparison with younger figures of the time. André Previn said in 1952: “You know, Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, ‘‘Oh, yes, that’s done like this.’’ But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don’t know what it is!” However by 1955, after three years of recording for Capitol, Ellington lacked a regular recording affiliation.
Ellington’s appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956 returned him to wider prominence and exposed him to new audiences. The feature “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” comprised two tunes that had been in the band’s book since 1937 but largely forgotten until Ellington, who had abruptly ended the band’s scheduled set because of the late arrival of four key players, called the two tunes as the time was approaching midnight. Announcing that the two pieces would be separated by an “interlude” played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Ellington proceeded to lead the band through the two pieces, with Gonsalves’ 27-chorus marathon solo whipping the crowd into a frenzy, leading the Maestro to play way beyond the curfew time despite urgent pleas from Festive organizer George Wein to bring the program to an end.
The concert made international headlines, led to one of only four Time magazine cover stories dedicated to a jazz musician (Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, and Wynton Marsalis are the others) and resulted in an album produced by George Avakian that would become the best-selling long-playing recording of Ellington’s career.
Ironically though, much of the music on the vinyl LP was, in effect, “simulated”, with only about 40% actually from the concert itself. According to Avakian, Ellington was dissatisfied with aspects of the performance and felt the musicians had been under rehearsed. The band assembled the next day to re-record several of the numbers with the addition of artificial crowd noise, none of which was disclosed to purchasers of the album. Not until 1999 was the concert recording properly released for the first time. The revived attention brought about by the Newport appearance should not have surprised anyone, Johnny Hodges had returned the previous year, and Ellington’s collaboration with Strayhorn had been renewed around the same time, under terms more amenable to the younger man.
The original Ellington at Newport album was the first release in a new recording contract with Columbia Records which yielded several years of recording stability, mainly under producer Irving Townsend, who coaxed both commercial and artistic productions from Ellington.
In 1957, CBS (Columbia Record’s parent corporation) aired a live television production of A Drum Is a Woman, an allegorical suite which received mixed reviews. His hope that television would provide a significant new outlet for his type of jazz was not fulfilled. Tastes and trends had moved on without him. Festival appearances at the new Monterey Jazz Festival and elsewhere provided venues for live exposure, and a European tour in 1958 was well received. Such Sweet Thunder (1957), based on Shakespeare’s plays and characters, and The Queen’s Suite (1958), dedicated to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, were products of the renewed impetus which the Newport appearance helped to create, although the latter work was not commercially issued at the time. The late 1950s also saw Ella Fitzgerald record her Duke Ellington Songbook (Verve) with Ellington and his orchestra—a recognition that Ellington’s songs had now become part of the cultural canon known as the ‘Great American Songbook‘.
Ellington at this time (with Strayhorn) began to work directly on scoring for film soundtracks, in particular Anatomy of a Murder(1959), with James Stewart, in which Ellington appeared fronting a roadhouse combo, and Paris Blues (1961), which featuredPaul Newman and Sidney Poitier as jazz musicians. Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker concludes that the work ofBilly Strayhorn and Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder, a trial court drama film directed by Otto Preminger, is “indispensable, [although] . . . too sketchy to rank in the top echelon among Ellington-Strayhorn masterpiece suites like Such Sweet Thunderand The Far East Suite, but its most inspired moments are their equal.”
Film historians have recognized the soundtrack “as a landmark – the first significant Hollywood film music by African Americans comprising non-diegetic music, that is, music whose source is not visible or implied by action in the film, like an on-screen band.” The score avoided the cultural stereotypes which previously characterized jazz scores and rejected a strict adherence to visuals in ways that presaged the New Wave cinema of the ’60s”. Ellington and Strayhorn, always looking for new musical territory, produced suites for John Steinbeck‘s novel Sweet Thursday, Tchaikovsky‘s Nutcracker Suite and Edvard Grieg‘s Peer Gynt.
In the early 1960s, Ellington embraced recording with artists who had been friendly rivals in the past, or were younger musicians who focused on later styles. The Ellington and Count Basie orchestras recorded together. During a period when he was between recording contracts, he made records with Louis Armstrong (Roulette), Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane (both for Impulse) and participated in a session with Charles Mingus and Max Roach which produced the Money Jungle (United Artists) album. He signed to Frank Sinatra‘s new Reprise label, but the association with the label was short-lived.
Musicians who had previously worked with Ellington returned to the Orchestra as members: Lawrence Brown in 1960 and Cootie Williams in 1962.
“The writing and playing of music is a matter of intent…. You can’t just throw a paint brush against the wall and call whatever happens art. My music fits the tonal personality of the player. I think too strongly in terms of altering my music to fit the performer to be impressed by accidental music. You can’t take doodling seriously.”
He was now performing all over the world; a significant part of each year was spent on overseas tours. As a consequence, he formed new working relationships with artists from around the world, including the Swedish vocalist Alice Babs, and the South African musicians Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin (A Morning in Paris, 1963/1997).
Ellington wrote an original score for director Michael Langham‘s production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada which opened on July 29, 1963. Langham has used it for several subsequent productions, including a much later adaptation by Stanley Silverman which expands the score with some of Ellington’s best-known works.
Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, but was turned down. His reaction at 67 years old: “Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be famous too young.” The Pulitzer Prize for music was eventually awarded posthumously in 1999.
In September of the same year, the first of his Sacred Concerts was given its premiere. It was an attempt to fuse Christian liturgy with jazz, and even though it received mixed reviews, Ellington was proud of the composition and performed it dozens of times. This concert was followed by two others of the same type in 1968 and 1973, known as the Second and Third Sacred Concerts. This caused controversy in what was already a tumultuous time in the United States. Many saw the Sacred Music suites as an attempt to reinforce commercial support for organized religion, though Ellington simply said it was “the most important thing I’ve done”. The Steinway piano upon which the Sacred Concerts were composed is part of the collection of the Smithsonian‘s National Museum of American History. Like Haydn and Mozart, Ellington conducted his orchestra from the piano – he always played the keyboard parts when the Sacred Concerts were performed.
Ellington continued to make vital and innovative recordings, including The Far East Suite (1966), New Orleans Suite (1970), Latin American Suite (1972) and The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971), much of it inspired by his world tours. It was during this time that Ellington recorded his only album with Frank Sinatra, entitled Francis A. & Edward K. (1967).
Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, an Honorary PhD from the Berklee College of Music in 1971, and the Legion of Honor by France in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country.
Although he made two more stage appearances before his death, Ellington performed what is considered his final “full” concert in a ballroom at Northern Illinois University on March 20, 1974.
|Birth name||Ida Prather|
|Born||February 25, 1896|
|Origin||Toccoa, Habersham County,Georgia, United States|
|Died||November 10, 1967 (aged 71)
Ida Cox (February 25, 1896 – November 10, 1967) was an African American singer andvaudeville performer, best known for her blues performances and recordings. She was billed as “The Uncrowned Queen of the Blues”.
Life and career
Cox was born in February, 1896 as Ida Prather in Toccoa, Habersham County, Georgia,United States (Toccoa was in Habersham County, not yet Stephens County at the time), the daughter of Lamax and Susie (Knight) Prather, and grew up in Cedartown, Georgia, singing in the local African Methodist Church choir. She left home to tour with travelingminstrel shows, often appearing in blackface into the 1910s; she married fellow minstrel performer Adler Cox.
After the success of Mamie Smith‘s pioneering 1920 recording of “Crazy Blues”, record labels realized there was a demand for recordings of race music. The classic female blues era had begun, and would extend through the 1920’s. From 1923 through to 1929, Cox made numerous recordings for Paramount Records, and headlined touring companies, sometimes billed as the “Sepia Mae West”, continuing into the 1930’s. During the 1920’s, she also managed Ida Cox and Her Raisin’ Cain Company, her own vaudeville troupe. At some point in her career, she played alongside Ibrahim Khalil, a Native American and one of the several jazz musicians of that era who belonged from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
In the early 1930s “Baby Earl Palmer” entered show business as a tap dancer in Cox’s Darktown Scandals Review.
In 1939 she appeared at Café Society Downtown, in New York‘s Greenwich Village, and participated in the historic Carnegie Hall concert, From Spirituals to Swing. That year, she also resumed her recording career with a series of sessions for Vocalion Records and, in 1940, Okeh Records, with groups that at various times included guitarist Charlie Christian, trumpeters Hot Lips Page and Henry “Red” Allen, trombonist J. C. Higginbotham, and Lionel Hampton.
She had spent several years in retirement by 1960, when record producer Chris Albertson persuaded her to make one final recording, an album for Riverside titled Blues For Rampart Street. Her accompanying group comprised Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, pianist Sammy Price, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Jo Jones. The album featured her revisiting songs from her old repertoire, including “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues“ which found a new audience, including such singers as Nancy Harrow and Barbara Dane, who recorded their own versions. Cox referred to the album as her “final statement,” and, indeed, it was. She returned to live with her daughter in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she died of cancer in 1967.
|Genres||Jazz, Big band|
The details of Spivak’s birth are unclear. Some sources place it in the Ukraine in 1907, and that his family emigrated to settle in New Haven, Connecticut while he was a child. Others place his birth in New Haven two years earlier, in 1905. What is certain is that he learned to play trumpet when he was ten years old, and played in his high school band, going on to work with local groups before joining Johnny Cavallaro‘s orchestra.
He played with Paul Specht‘s band for most of 1924 to 1930, then spent time with Ben Pollack (1931–1934), the Dorsey brothers (1934–1935), and Ray Noble (1935– 1936). He played on “Solo Hop” in 1935 by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. He spent 1936 and 1937 mostly working as a studio musician with Gus Arnheim, Glenn Miller, Raymond Scott‘s radio orchestra, and others, followed by periods with Bob Crosby (1938), Tommy Dorsey(1938–1939), and Jack Teagarden (1939).
Finally, with the encouragement and financial backing of Glenn Miller, he formed his own band in November 1939. Though it failed within a year, he tried again shortly afterwords, this time taking over an existing band (Bill Downer‘s) and making a success of it. Spivak’s band was one of the most successful in the 1940s, and survived until 1959. He scouted top trumpeter Paul Fredricks (formerly of Alvino Rey‘s Orchestra) just as Fredricks left the service at the end of the War in 1946. Fredricks was instrumental in the band’s success in the coming years as it reached its peak.
Spivak’s experience playing with jazz musicians had little effect on his own band’s style, which was straight dance music, made up mainly of ballads and popular tunes. Spivak himself (known as “Cheery, Chubby Charlie”) had always been noted and used for his tone and strength for playing lead parts rather than for any improvisational ability.
A number of the band’s musicians were to make names for themselves, including drummer Dave Tough, bassist Jimmy Middleton, trumpeters Les Elgart and Paul Fredricks, saxophonist Don Raffell, trombonist Nelson Riddle, and singers Garry Stevens, June Hutton, Tommy Mercer, Jimmy Saunders, and Irene Daye (who had sung with Gene Krupa, and whom Spivak married in 1950). Riddle was also responsible for many of the band’s arrangements, together with Sonny Burke. The late Manny Albam also arranged for the Spivak band.
When the Spivak orchestra broke up, he went to live in Florida, where he continued to lead a band until illness led to his temporary retirement in 1963. On his recovery, he continued to lead large and small bands, first in Las Vegas, then in South Carolina; inGreenville, South Carolina in 1967 he led a small group featuring his wife as vocalist. She died in 1971 after years of fighting cancer. During this time Spivak was also band leader and co-owner with Mr. Charlie Grubbs of “Ye Olde Fireplace”, a restaurant-nightclub in Greenville, S.C. Spivak continued to play and record until his death. Spivak’s eldest son, the late Joel A. Spivak, was a television and radio broadcaster primarily in the Philadelphia, Pa, Los Angeles, Cal, and Washington, D. C. areas. Spivak’s youngest son, Steven Glenn Spivak, is a public relations manager in northern California.
Pee Wee Russell
|Pee Wee Russell|
Pee Wee Russell, New York, 1946
|Birth name||Charles Ellsworth Russell|
|Born||March 27, 1906
Maplewood, Missouri, United States
|Origin||Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States|
|Died||February 15, 1969 (aged 62)
Alexandra, Virginia, United States
|Genres||Jazz, bebop, dixieland, swing,post-bop, free jazz|
|Associated acts||Red Nichols, Bobby Hackett,Thelonious Monk, Marshall Brown, Eddie Condon|
Charles Ellsworth Russell, much better known by his nickname Pee Wee Russell, (27 March 1906 – 15 February 1969) was a jazz musician. Early in his career he played clarinet and saxophones, but he eventually focused solely on clarinet.
With a highly individualistic and spontaneous clarinet style that “defied classification”, Russell began his career playing Dixieland jazz, but throughout his career incorporated elements of newer developments such as swing, bebop and free jazz. In the words ofPhilip Larkin, “No one familiar with the characteristic excitement of his solos, their lurid, snuffling, asthmatic voicelessness, notes leant on till they split, and sudden passionate intensities, could deny the uniqueness of his contribution to jazz.”
Pee Wee Russell was born in Maplewood, Missouri and grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma. As a child, he first studied violin, but “couldn’t get along with it”, then piano, disliking the scales and chord exercises, and then drums – including all the associated special effects. Then his father sneaked young Ellsworth into a dance at the local Elks Club to a four- or five-piece band led by New Orleans jazz clarinetist Alcide “Yellow” Nunez. Russell was amazed by Nunez’s improvisations: “[He] played the melody, then got hot and played jazz. That was something. How did he know where he was or where he was going?” Pee Wee now decided that his primary instrument would be the clarinet, and the type of music he would play would be jazz. He approached the clarinettist in the pit band at the local theatre for lessons, and bought an Albert-system instrument. His teacher was named Charlie Merrill, and used to pop out for shots of corn whiskey during lessons.
His family moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1920, and that September Russell was enrolled in the Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois. He remained enrolled there until October the following year, though he spent most of his time playing clarinet with various dance and jazz bands. He began touring professionally in 1922, and travelled widely with tent shows and on river boats. Russell’s recording debut was in 1924 with Herb Berger’s Band in St. Louis, then he moved to Chicago, where he began playing with such notables as Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke.
From his earliest career, Russell’s style was distinctive. The notes he played were somewhat unorthodox when compared to his contemporaries, and he was sometimes accused of playing out of tune. In 1926 he joined Jean Goldkette‘s band, and the following year he left for New York City to join Red Nichols. While with Nichols’s band, Russell did frequent freelance recording studio work, on clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor sax, and bass clarinet. He worked with various bandleaders (including Louis Prima) before beginning a series of residences at the famous jazz club “Nick’s” in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, in 1937. He played with Bobby Hackett‘s big band, and began playing with Eddie Condon, with whom he would continue to work, off and on, for much of the rest of his life – though he complained, “Those guys [at Nick's and Condon's] made a joke, of me, a clown, and I let myself be treated that way because I was afraid. I didn’t know where else to go, where to take refuge”.
From the 1940s on, Russell’s health was often poor, exacerbated by alcoholism – “I lived on brandy milkshakes and scrambled-egg sandwiches. And on whiskey … I had to drink half a pint of whiskey in the morning before I could get out of bed” – which led to a major medical breakdown in 1951, and he had periods when he could not play. Some people considered that his style was different after his breakdown: Larkin characterized it as “a hollow feathery tone framing phrases of an almost Chinese introspection with a tendency to inconclusive garrulity that would have been unheard of in the days when Pee Wee could pack more into a middle eight than any other thirties pick-up player”.
He played with Art Hodes, Muggsy Spanier and occasionally bands under his own name in addition to Condon. In his last decade, Russell often played at jazz festivals and international tours organized by George Wein, including an appearance with Thelonious Monk at the 1963 Newport Festival, a meeting which has a mixed reputation (currently available as part of the Monk 2-CD set Live at Newport 1963–65). Russell formed a quartet with valve trombone player Marshall Brown, and included John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman tunes in his repertoire. Though often labeled a Dixieland musician by virtue of the company he kept, he tended to reject any label. Russell’s unique and sometimes derided approach was praised as ahead of its time, and cited by some as an early example of free jazz. At the time of their 1961 recording Jazz Reunion (Candid), Coleman Hawkins (who had originally recorded with Russell in 1929 and considered him to be color-blind) observed that ‘”For thirty years, I’ve been listening to him play those funny notes. He used to think they were wrong, but they weren’t. He’s always been way out, but they didn’t have a name for it then.”
By this time, encouraged by Mary, his wife, Russell had taken up painting abstract art as a hobby. Mary’s death in the spring of 1967 had a severe effect on him. His last gig was with Wein at the inaugural ball for President Richard Nixon on 21 January 1969. Russell died in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, less than three weeks later.
A fantastic Hot jazz song from 1932 on the Brunswick label.The Casa Loma Orchestra was an American swing band active from 1927 to 1963. It did not tour after 1950 but continued to record as a studio group.
It began its existence in 1927 as the Orange Blossoms, one of several Detroit-area groups that came out of the Jean Goldkette office. It was a co-operative organization, fronted for the first few years by violinist Hank Biagini, although the eventual leader, saxophonist Glen Gray (1900-1963) was from the very beginning “first among equals.” The band had adopted the Casa Loma name by the time of its first recordings in 1929, shortly after it played an Eight month engagement at Casa Loma in Toronto, which was then operating as a hotel. The band never actually played the Casa Loma under that name, as it appeared there under its original name of the Orange Blossoms.
From 1929 until the rapid multiplication in the number of swing bands from 1935 on, the Casa Loma Orchestra was one of the top North American dance bands, featuring trombonist Pee Wee Hunt, trumpeter Frank L. Ryerson, trumpeter Sonny Dunham, clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider, drummer Tony Briglia and singer Kenny Sargent. Arrangements were by Gene Gifford, who also composed much of the band’s book, Spud Murphy, Larry Wagner, Salvador “Tutti” Camarata and Horace Henderson. Their mid-1930s appearances on the long run radio comedy-variety program,The Camel Caravan (introduced with their theme, “Smoke Rings”) increased their popularity. Interestingly enough, Glen preferred not to conduct the band in the early years, playing in the saxophone section while violinist Mel Jenssen acted as conductor. In 1937, the band overwhelmingly “voted” in favor of Glen leading the orchestra, and Gray finally accepted the job.
Hits included “Casa Loma Stomp,” “No Name Jive” and “Maniac’s Ball”. Part of the reason for the band’s decline is that other big bands included in their books hard-swinging numbers emulating the hot Casa Loma style. In the late 1930s Gray took top billing, and by the mid-1940s (as the other original players left) Gray would come to own the band and the Casa Loma name. For a time, during this period, the band featured guitarist Herb Ellis, trumpeter Bobby Hackett, pianist Nick Denucci and cornetist Red Nichols. By 1950, the Casa Loma band had ceased touring, Gray retired to Massachusetts, and the later recordings on Capitol (beginning with 1956’s Glen Gray in Hi-Fi, and continuing through the Sounds of the Great Bands series) were done by studio musicians in Hollywood (with several of Glen’s “alumni” occasionally featured)
Photo by Carl Van Vechten (August 14, 1958)
|Birth name||William Thomas Strayhorn|
|Born||November 29, 1915
Dayton, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||May 31, 1967 (aged 51)
New York City, New York,U.S.
|Genres||Classical, mainstream jazz,swing|
|Occupations||Arranger, composer, pianist|
|Labels||United Artists, Felsted, Mercer|
|Associated acts||Duke Ellington|
William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn (November 29, 1915 – May 31, 1967) was anAmerican jazz composer, pianist and arranger, best known for his successful collaboration with bandleader and composer Duke Ellington lasting nearly three decades. His compositions include “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Chelsea Bridge,” and “Lush Life.”
Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio. His family soon moved to the Homewood section ofPittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, his mother’s family was from Hillsborough, North Carolina, and she sent him there to protect him from his father’s drunken sprees. Strayhorn spent many months of his childhood at his grandparents’ house in Hillsborough. In an interview, Strayhorn said that his grandmother was his primary influence during the first ten years of his life. He first became interested in music while living with her, playing hymns on her piano, and playing records on her Victrola record player.
Return to Pittsburgh and meeting Ellington
Strayhorn returned to Pittsburgh, and attended Westinghouse High School, later attended by Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal. In Pittsburgh, he began his musical career, studyingclassical music for a time at the Pittsburgh Music Institute, writing a high school musical, forming a musical trio that played daily on a local radio station, and, while still in his teens, composing (with lyrics) the songs “Life Is Lonely” (later renamed “Lush Life“), “My Little Brown Book”, and “Something to Live For“. While still in grade school, he worked odd jobs to earn enough money to buy his first piano. While in high school, he played in the school band, and studied under the same teacher who had also instructed jazz pianists Erroll Garner and Mary Lou Williams. By age 19, he was writing for a professional musical,Fantastic Rhythm.
Though classical music was Strayhorn’s first love, his ambition to become a classical composer was shot down by the harsh reality of a black man trying to make it in the then almost completely white classical world. Strayhorn was then introduced to the music of pianists like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson at age 19. These musicians guided him into the realm of jazz where he remained for the rest of his life. His first jazz exposure was in a combo called the Mad Hatters who played around Pittsburgh.
He met Duke Ellington in December 1938, after an Ellington performance in Pittsburgh (he had first seen Ellington play in Pittsburgh in 1933). Here he first told, and then showed, the band leader how he would have arranged one of Duke’s own pieces. Ellington was impressed enough to invite other band members to hear Strayhorn. At the end of the visit, he arranged for Strayhorn to meet him when the band returned to New York. Strayhorn worked for Ellington for the next quarter century as an arranger, composer, occasional pianist and collaborator until his early death from cancer. As Ellington described him, “Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.”
Working with Ellington
Strayhorn’s relationship with Ellington was always difficult to pin down: Strayhorn was a gifted composer and arranger who seemed to flourish in Duke’s shadow. Ellington was somewhat of a father figure and the band, by and large, was affectionately protective of the diminutive, mild-mannered, unselfish Strayhorn, nicknamed by the band “Strays”, “Weely”, and “Swee’ Pea”. Ellington may have taken advantage of him, but not in the mercenary way that others had taken advantage of Ellington; instead, he used Strayhorn to complete his thoughts, while giving Strayhorn the freedom to write on his own and enjoy at least some of the credit he deserved. Though Duke Ellington took credit for much of Strayhorn’s work, he did not maliciously drown out his partner. Ellington would make jokes onstage like, “Strayhorn does a lot of the work but I get to take the bows!”
Strayhorn composed the band’s best known theme, “Take the “A” Train“, and a number of other pieces that became part of the band’s repertoire. In some cases Strayhorn received attribution for his work such as “Lotus Blossom”, “Chelsea Bridge“, and “Rain Check”, while others, such as “Day Dream” and “Something to Live For“, were listed as collaborations with Ellington or, in the case of “Satin Doll” and “Sugar Hill Penthouse”, were credited to Ellington alone. Strayhorn also arranged many of Ellington’s band-within-band recordings and provided harmonic clarity, taste, and polish to Duke’s compositions. On the other hand, Ellington gave Strayhorn full credit as his collaborator on later, larger works such as Such Sweet Thunder, A Drum Is a Woman, The Perfume Suite and The Far East Suite, where Strayhorn and Ellington worked closely together. Strayhorn also often sat in on the piano with the Ellington Orchestra, both live and in the studio.
Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker concludes that the work of Strayhorn and Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder is “indispensable, [although] … too sketchy to rank in the top echelon among Ellington-Strayhorn masterpiece suites like Such Sweet Thunder and The Far East Suite, but its most inspired moments are their equal.” Film historians have recognized the soundtrack “as a landmark — the first significant Hollywood film music by African Americans comprising non-diegetic music, that is, music whose source is not visible or implied by action in the film, like an on-screen band.” The score avoided the cultural stereotypes which previously characterized jazz scores and rejected a strict adherence to visuals in ways that presaged the New Wave cinema of the ’60s.”
Shortly before Ellington went on his second European tour with his orchestra, from March to May 1939, Ellington announced to his sister Ruth and son Mercer Ellington that Strayhorn “is staying with us.” Through Mercer, Strayhorn met his first partner, African-American musician Aaron Bridgers, with whom Strayhorn lived until Bridgers moved to Paris in 1947.
Strayhorn was openly gay. He participated in many civil rights causes. As a committed friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he arranged and conducted “King Fit the Battle of Alabam'” for the Ellington Orchestra in 1963 for the historical revue (and album) My People, dedicated to Dr. King.
Strayhorn’s strong character left an impression on many people who met him. He had a major influence on the career of Lena Horne, who wanted to marry Strayhorn and considered him to have been the love of her life. Strayhorn used his classical background in guiding Horne’s singing technique toward improvement. They eventually recorded songs together. In the 1950s, Strayhorn left his musical partner Duke Ellington for a few years to pursue a solo career of his own. He came out with a few solo albums and revues for the Copasetics (a New York show-business society), and took on theater productions with his friend Luther Henderson. Strayhorn’s compositions are known for the bittersweet sentiment and classically infused designs that set him apart from Ellington.
Illness and death
Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, which eventually caused his death in 1967. Strayhorn finally succumbed in the early morning on May 31, 1967, in the company of his partner, Bill Grove. It has often been falsely reported that Strayhorn died in Lena Horne’s arms. By her own account, Horne was touring in Europe when she received the news of Strayhorn’s death. His ashes were scattered in the Hudson River by a gathering of his closest friends.
While in the hospital, he had submitted his final composition to Ellington. “Blood Count” was used as the first track to Ellington’s memorial album for Strayhorn, …And His Mother Called Him Bill, which was recorded several months after Strayhorn’s death. The last track of the album is a spontaneous solo version of “Lotus Blossom” performed by Ellington, who sat at the piano and played for his friend while the band (who can be heard in the background) packed up after the formal end of the recording session.
Strayhorn’s arrangements had a tremendous impact on the Ellington band. Ellington always wrote for the personnel he had at the time, showcasing both the personalities and sound of soloists such as Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ben Webster, Lawrence Brown andJimmy Blanton, and drawing on the contrasts between players or sections to create a new sound for his band. Strayhorn brought a more linear, classically schooled ear to Ellington’s works, setting down in permanent form the sound and structures that Ellington sought.
A Pennsylvania State historical Marker was placed at Westinghouse High School, 1101 N. Murtland St., Homewood, Pittsburgh, PA highlighting his accomplishments and marking the high school he graduated from.
The former Regent Theatre in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood was renamed the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre in honor of Billy Strayhorn and fellow Pittsburgher Gene Kelly in 2000. It is a community based performing arts theatre.
Lunceford was born in Fulton, Mississippi. Little is known about his parents, though his father was a choirmaster in Warren, Ohio, before the family moved to Denver. Lunceford went to high school in Denver and studied music under Wilberforce J. Whiteman, father of Paul Whiteman, whose band was soon to acquire a national reputation. As a child in Denver, he learned several instruments. He played alto saxophone in the band led by the violinist George Morrison. After high school, Lunceford continued his studies at Fisk University. In 1922, he played alto saxophone in a local band led by George Morrison which included Andy Kirk, another musician destined for fame as a bandleader.
In 1927, while an athletic instructor at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee, he organized a student band, the Chickasaw Syncopators, whose name was changed to the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Under the new name, the band started its professional career in 1929, and made its first recordings in 1930. Lunceford was the first high school band director in Memphis. After a period of touring, the band accepted a booking at the Harlem nightclub The Cotton Club in 1934 for their revue ‘Cotton Club Parade’ starring Adelaide Hall. The Cotton Club had already featured Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, who won their first widespread fame from their inventive shows for the Cotton Club’s all-white patrons. Lunceford’s orchestra, with their tight musicianship and the often outrageous humor in their music and lyrics, made an ideal band for the club, and Lunceford’s reputation began to steadily grow. The Jimmie Lunceford band differed from other great bands of the time because their work was better known for its ensemble than its solo work. Additionally, he was known for using a two-beat rhythm, called the Lunceford two-beat, as opposed to the standard four-beat rhythm.</ref> This distinctive “Lunceford style” was largely the result of the imaginative arrangements by trumpeter Sy Oliver, which set high standards for dance-band arrangers of the time.
Though not well known as a musician, Jimmie Lunceford was trained on several instruments and was even featured on flute in “Liza”.
Comedy and vaudeville played a distinct part in Lunceford’s presentation. Songs such as “Rhythm Is Our Business”, “I’m Nuts about Screwy Music”, “I Want the Waiter (With the Water)”, and “Four or Five Times” displayed a playful sense of swing, often through clever arrangements by trumpeter Sy Oliver and bizarre lyrics. Lunceford’s stage shows often included costumes, skits, and obvious jabs at mainstream white jazz bands, such as Paul Whiteman’s and Guy Lombardo‘s.
Despite the band’s comic veneer, Lunceford always maintained professionalism in the music befitting a former teacher; this professionalism paid off and during the apex of swing in the 1930s, the Orchestra was considered the equal of Duke Ellington‘s, Earl Hines‘ or Count Basie‘s. This precision can be heard in such pieces as “Wham (Re-Bop-Boom-Bam)”, “Lunceford Special”, “For Dancers Only”, “Uptown Blues”, and “Stratosphere”. The band’s noted saxophone section was led by alto sax player Willie Smith. Lunceford often used a conducting baton to lead his band.
The orchestra began recording for the Decca label and later signed with the Columbia subsidiary Vocalion in 1938. They toured Europeextensively in 1937, but had to cancel a second tour in 1939 because of the outbreak of World War II. Columbia dropped Lunceford in 1940 because of flagging sales. (Oliver departed the group before the scheduled European tour to take a position as an arranger forTommy Dorsey). Lunceford returned to the Decca label. The orchestra appeared in the 1941 movie Blues in the Night.
Most of Lunceford’s sidemen were underpaid and left for better paying bands, leading to the band’s decline.
On July 12, 1947, while playing in Seaside, Oregon, Lunceford collapsed and died from cardiac arrest during an autograph session, aged 45. Allegations and rumors circulated that he had been poisoned by a fish-restaurant owner who was unhappy at having to serve a “Negro” in his establishment. This story is given credence by the fact other members of Lunceford’s band who ate at this restaurant were sick within hours of the meal. He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
In 1999, band-leader Robert Veen and a team of musicians set out to acquire permission to use the original band charts and arrangements of the Jimmie Lunceford canon. ‘The Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Orchestra’ officially debuted in July 2005 at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.
The Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival was founded in 2007 by Ron Herd II a.k.a. R2C2H2 Tha Artivist and Artstorian, with the aim of increasing recognition of Lunceford’s contribution to jazz, particularly in Memphis, Tennessee. The Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Awards was created by the Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival to honor exceptional musicians with Memphis ties as well as those who have dedicated their careers to excellence in music and music education.
Prior to Lunceford’s success on Decca (beginning September 1934), he made the following recordings:
- “In Dat Mornin'”/”Sweet Rhythm” (Victor V-38141)- recorded Memphis, June 6, 1930
- “Flaming Reeds and Screaming Brass”/”While Love Lasts” (Columbia tests – not issued until the late 1960s on LP) – recorded New York, May 15, 1933
- “Jazznocracy”/”Chillen”, Get Up (Victor 24522)
- “White Heat”/”Leaving Me” (Victor 24586) – both recorded New York, January 26, 1934
- “Breakfast Ball”/”Here Goes” (Victor 24601)
- “Swingin’ Uptown”/”Remember When” (Victor 24669) – both recorded New York, March 20, 1934
- “White Heat”, backed with “Jazznocracy” was issued by Bluebird (5713A) (1/16/1934)
As you may recall from an earlier blog, I announced the discovery of an acetate recorded in 1936 by a totally unknown Toronto orchestra-Bill McKeag and his Orchestra. Here now for the first time anywhere are the two tracks, Remember, and, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. I must apologize for the sound quality of the recordings, as I do not have any filters for noise reduction at present. I have reposted the photographs of the record also, below.
In 1936, Truetone Recordings, located at 22 Grenville Street, Toronto, Ontario, which was managed by (the later radio magnate) Ralph T. Snelgrove, cut a 10 inch acetate transcription (aircheck) recorded by Bill McKeag and his Orchestra. In a recent discussion with bandleader Howard Cable who had formed his own band about this time, Howard remembered McKeag, and in his own words said:
“I remember Bill McKeag from the 30’s. There were pick up bands in those days. I remember playing with him in a pavilion in Longbranch and at Ramona Gardens on St. Clair Avenue. I think he was a trumpet player, but I’m not 100% positive. After those gigs, I never saw him again. Sorry I don’t have any more information for you.
As you probably know, the building at 22 Grenville later became the CBC Playhouse Studio. We did the Canadian Cavalcade with Lorne Greene from that studio.”
The two sides “Remember” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” bear a strikingly Canadian sound to them in their interpretation, with some hot solos. The uncovering of this recording is truly a historic find, as we now know about a band that has never been mentioned in discographies before. There is a flair of Jazz and Swing together in these recordings, and I hope to find more of these private recordings in the near future. The local radio stations would have had given the acetate airtime if it was ever sent to them.
If anyone has any information on Bill McKeag and his Orchestra, please add it to the comments below.
Bob Zurke (January 7, 1912 – February 16, 1944) was a significant American jazz pianist, arranger, composer and briefly a bandleader during the Swing Era.
Born Boguslaw Albert Zukowski in Hamtramck, Michigan, he was already using the name Bob Zurke professionally by the age of 16 when he first recorded with a group led by pioneering female jazz bassist Thelma Terry. At that time, Zurke also began to work as a copyist for the Detroit-based booking agency run by Jean Goldkette. Through the end of 1936, Zurke worked in various Detroit clubs, mostly as a band pianist, and occasionally went on tour with other groups; it was in this period that Zurke developed a long friendship with pianist Marvin Ash, who would later go on to record some of Zurke’s compositions.
At the beginning of 1937, Zurke was hired by bandleader Bob Crosby to fill in for Joe Sullivan, then ailing with tuberculosis. It was with Crosby that Zurke gained notice; he contributed arrangements to the band’s book and was a featured soloist on several numbers, including his arrangement of Meade Lux Lewis‘ Honky Tonk Train Blues, which became a hit. In 1938, Bob Zurke was named the winner in the piano category in the Reader’s Poll from Down Beat and, in the course of Alan Lomax‘ Library of Congress interviews, was singled out by Jelly Roll Morton as the “only one (jazz pianist of the present time) that has a tendency to be on the right track.”
In March 1939 Joe Sullivan returned to the Bob Crosby Orchestra and Zurke subsequently worked with the William Morris Agency to form his own band. They debuted at an RCA Victor recording session in July 1939 as Bob Zurke and his Delta Rhythm Orchestra, recording, among other things, Zurke’s best known original compositions Hobson Street Bluesand Old Tom-Cat on the Keys. Critical and public reception of both the records and the Delta Rhythm Band’s first appearances were initially positive, but Zurke proved to be unreliable, unpredictable and somewhat volatile as a leader, partly due to his alcohol dependency and alleged drug use. The band came to a halt not long after its final RCA Victor session in May 1940, which also proved Zurke’s last visit to the commercial recording studios; afterward Zurke served a jail sentence in Detroit for failing to pay alimony to his first wife, whom he had divorced in the late 1930s.
After a period of wandering from job to job following his release from jail, Zurke remarried and resettled in Los Angeles in late 1941. In August 1942, Zurke began an engagement at the Hangover Club in L.A. that he held until the end of his days. In December 1943, Zurke made one final recording, synchronizing an original piano part to the Walter Lantz cartoon Jungle Jive, one of his most difficult and challenging solos. On February 15, 1944, Bob Zurke collapsed at the Hangover Club and was taken to the hospital; he died the following day of complications of pneumonia aggravated by acute alcohol poisoning—he had just turned 32.
While Bob Zurke’s fame did not long outlast him, it was considerable from the time he joined Bob Crosby and his playing was widely admired by his peers and colleagues. According to pianist Norma Teagarden, Zurke had small hands and needed to develop special techniques to adjust for his lack of reach; this led to him developing a technique and style uniquely his own. During his lifetime, Zurke was considered one of the finest white boogie-woogie pianists at a time when such players were few. His ability as an arranger and transcriber helped to put pieces by non-readers into a playable, published form, such as in his transcription of Joe Sullivan’s Little Rock Getaway. Zurke published two folios of jazz piano solos and several sheet music editions of single pieces; in addition to that, 14 original compositions from Zurke are known.
Sterling Belmont “Bozo” Bose (September 23, 1906, Florence, Alabama – June 1958, St. Petersburg, Florida) was an American jazz trumpeter and cornetist. His style was heavily influenced by Bix Beiderbecke and changed little over the course of his life.
Bose’s early experience came with Dixieland jazz bands in his native Alabama before moving to St. Louis, Missouri in 1923. He played with the Crescent City Jazzers and theArcadian Serenaders, and with Jean Goldkette‘s Orchestra in 1927-28 after the departure of Beiderbecke. Following this he worked in the house band at radio station WGN in Chicagobefore joining Ben Pollack from 1930 to 1933. He also worked with Eddie Sheasby in Chicago, and moved to New York City in 1933. He had many gigs in New York in the 1930s and 1940s, including time with Joe Haymes (1934-35) and Tommy Dorsey (1935), Ray Noble (1936), Benny Goodman (1936), Lana Webster, Glenn Miller (1937), Bob Crosby (1937-39),Bobby Hackett (1939), Bob Zurke, Jack Teagarden, Bud Freeman (1942), George Brunies, Bobby Sherwood (1943), Miff Mole, Art Hodes, Horace Heidt (1944), and Tiny Hill (1946). Following this he did some further freelancing in Chicago and New York, and then moved to Florida in 1948, setting up his own bands there.
Bose suffered from an extended period of illness in the 1950s and eventually committed suicide in 1958.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Bryant grew up in Chicago and took trumpet lessons to little success. His first job in entertainment was dancing in the Whitman Sisters Show in 1926. He worked in various vaudeville productions for the next several years, and in 1934 he appeared in the show Chocolate Revue with Bessie Smith.
In 1934, he put together his first big band, which at times included Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole, Johnny Russell, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Eddie Durham, Ram Ramirez, and Taft Jordan. They recorded six times between 1935 and 1938; Bryant sings on 18 of the 26 sides recorded.
Once his ensemble disbanded, Bryant worked in acting and disc jockeying. He recorded R&B in 1945 and led another big band between 1946 and 1948. During September and October 1949, he hosted Uptown Jubilee, a short-lived all-black variety show on CBS-TV . The show aired on Tuesday nights.
Claude Thornill, ca. 1947.
Photography by William P. Gottlieb
|Birth name||Claude Thornhill|
|Born||August 10, 1909
Terre Haute, Indiana, USA
|Died||July 2, 1965 (aged 55)
New Jersey, USA
|Occupations||Pianist, Bandleader, Arranger, Composer|
|Associated acts||Paul Whiteman
Claude Thornhill (August 10, 1908 at Terre Haute, Indiana – July 1, 1965, New Jersey) was an American pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader. He composed the jazz and pop standards “Snowfall” and “I Wish I Had You”, the last recorded by Billie Holliday.
As a youth, he was recognized as an extraordinary talent and formed a traveling duo with Danny Polo, a musical prodigy on the clarinet and trumpet from nearby Clinton, Indiana. As a student at Garfield High School in Terre Haute, he played with several theater bands.
Thornhill entered the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music at age 16. That same year he and clarinetist Artie Shaw started their careers at the Golden Pheasant in Cleveland, Ohio with the Austin Wiley Orchestra. Thornhill and Shaw went to New York together in 1931.
In 1935, he played on sessions for Glenn Miller‘s first recordings under his own name, as Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. He played on Glenn Miller’s composition “Solo Hop,” which was released on Columbia Records.
After playing for Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, Glenn Miller, and Billie Holiday, and arranging “Loch Lomond” and “Annie Laurie” for Maxine Sullivan, in 1939 he founded his Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Danny Polo was his lead clarinet player. Although the Thornhill band was originally a sophisticated dance band, it became known for its many superior jazz musicians and for Thornhill’s and Gil Evans‘ innovative arrangements; its “Portrait of a Guinea Farm” has become a classic jazz recording.
The band played without vibrato so that the timbres of the instruments could be better appreciated, and Thornhill encouraged the musicians to develop cool-sounding tones. The band was popular with both musicians and the public; the Miles Davis Nonet was modeled in part on Thornhill’s cool sound and use of unconventional instrumentation. The band’s most successful records were “Snowfall,” “A Sunday Kind of Love” and “Love for Love.”
His most famous recording, “Snowfall,” was released in 1941 as Columbia 36268. He released the song also as a V-Disc recording, as V-Disc 271A1.
Playing at the Paramount Theater in New York for $10,000 a week in 1942, Thornhill dropped everything to enlist in the US Navy to support the war effort. As chief musician, he played shows across the Pacific Theater with Jackie Cooper as his drummer and Dennis Day as his vocalist.
In 1946, he was discharged from the Navy. Then in April, he reformed his ensemble. He kept his same stylistic lines, but added some Bop lines to it. He got his old members of Danny Polo, Gerry Mulligan, and Barry Galbraith back together, but also added new members like Red Rodney, Lee Konitz, Joe Shulman and Bill Barber. Barber was a tuba player, who was considered as a “soft brass” player rather than a bass as to not interfere with (Joe) Shulman on the bass. Their creative and immaculately clean and delicate interpretation of Evans’s arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s fast bop theme “Anthropology” (1947) provides a particularly noteworthy example of Thornhill’s style, which influenced Miles Davis’s recordings in 1949 for Capitol and many musicians who followed .
In the mid 1950s, Thornhill became Tony Bennett‘s musical director briefly.
He offered his big band library to Gerry Mulligan when Gerry formed the Concert Jazz Band, but Gerry regretfully declined the gift, since his instrumentation was different. A large portion of his extensive library of music is currently held by Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.
After his discharge from the Navy he continued to perform with his orchestra until his death of a heart attack at 1:30 a.m., July 2, 1965, at his home in Caldwell, New Jersey.Claude was booked at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the time, the engagement was kept in his honor with his music director in his place. He was survived by his wife, actress Ruth Thornhill, and his mother, Maude Thornhill (81 at the time), of Terre Haute, Indiana, still active at the time conducting choirs.
Compositions by Claude Thornhill
Claude Thornhill’s compositions included the standard “Snowfall”, “I Wish I Had You”, recorded by Billie Holiday and Fats Waller, “Let’s Go”, “Shore Road”, “Portrait Of A Guinea Farm”, “Lodge Podge”, “Rustle Of Spring”, “It’s Time For Us To Part”, “It Was A Lover And His Lass”, “The Little Red Man”, “Memory Of An Island”, and “Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”
Lyle Stephanovic (August 19, 1908 – August 5, 2005), better known as Spud Murphy, was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and arranger.
Born Miko Stefanovic to Serbian émigré parents in Berlin, Germany, Murphy grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he took the name of a childhood friend. Murphy studied clarinet and saxophone when young and took trumpet lessons from Red Nichols‘s father. He worked with Jimmy Joy in 1927-28 and with Ross Gorman and Slim Lamar (on oboe) in 1928. He worked in the early 1930s as saxophonist-arranger for Austin Wylie, Jan Garber, Mal Hallett, and Joe Haymes, then became a staff arranger for Benny Goodman from 1935 to 1937. At the same time he also contributed charts to the Casa Loma Orchestra, Isham Jones, Les Brown and many others.
From 1937 to 1940 Murphy led a big band, and recorded for Decca Records and Bluebird Records in 1938-39. In the 1940s he relocated to Los Angeles, where he did work in the studios and with film music, in addition to authoring and teaching the 1200-page “System of Horizontal Composition” (a.k.a. “Equal Interval System”). He recorded two jazz albums in the 1950s, but his later career was focused on classical and film music.
In 2003, orchestra leader Dean Mora, a close friend of Murphy’s, recorded some two dozen of his arrangements in a tribute CD, Goblin Market.
Spud Murphy died in Los Angeles, two weeks short of his 97th birthday
|Birth name||Harold Eugene Gifford|
|Born||May 31, 1908
|Died||November 12, 1970 (aged 62)
|Occupations||musician, radio engineering,teacher|
|Instruments||composer, arranger, guitar,banjo|
|Associated acts||Jean Goldkette, Casa Loma Orchestra|
H. Eugene “Gene” Gifford (May 31, 1908 – November 12, 1970) was an American jazz banjoist, guitarist, and arranger.
Gifford was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and played banjo in high school; following this he played in territory bands, includingWatson’s Bell Hops and the bands of Bob Foster and Lloyd Williams. He formed his own group to tour Texas, and then switched to guitar to play with Blue Steele and Henry Cato‘s Vanities Orchestra in 1928.
In 1929 he arranged for Jean Goldkette, and that same year he joined the Casa Loma Orchestra, where he became the group’s chief arranger. He played guitar and banjo in the ensemble but quit in 1933 to concentrate on arrangements for the group. He remained with Casa Loma until 1939 when he was bought out of his contract due to alcohol-related infractions of the band’s strict rules, but returned to play with them in 1948-49. He worked as a freelance arranger in the 1940s and did much work arranging for radio. In the 1950s and 1960s he went into semiretirement from music, working in radio engineering.
Gifford led only one session as a bandleader, which yielded four tunes for Victor Records in 1935.
Elmer “Sonny” Dunham (November 16, 1914 – July 9, 1990) was an American trumpet player and bandleader. A versatile musician, he was one of the few trumpet players who could double on the trombone with equal skill.
Born in Brockton, Massachusetts, the son of Elmer and Ethel (née Lewis) Dunham, he attended local schools and took lessons on the valve trombone at the age of 7. He changed to the slide trombone at the age of 11, and was playing in local bands by the age of 13. Dunham began his musical career as a trombone player in the Boston area.
In the late 1920s he moved to New York, where he played with Ben Bernie for six months before moving on in 1929 to Paul Tremaine‘s Orchestra, remaining there for two years. It was while was working with Tremaine’s group, where he also sang and arranged, that he switched to the trumpet.
In 1931, he left Tremaine and for a few months led his own group, calling it Sonny Dunham and his New York Yankees. In 1931, along with clarinettist Clarence Hutchenrider, trombonist-singer Pee Wee Hunt and singer Kenny Sargent, he was recruited by Glen Gray for Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra. During the golden years of Casa Loma from 1931 to 1935, he was a popular soloist, scoring a big hit with his trumpet work on “Memories of You”. His style, described as “spectacular” and “brash” is also evident on “Ol’ Man River”, “Wild Goose Chase”, “No Name Jive” and “Nagasaki”. He stayed until March 1936, when he formed another more unusual group, Sonny Lee and The New Yorkers Band, which featured 14 pieces, with ten of his musicians doubling on trumpet.
After the band failed to secure adequate bookings, he moved to Europe for three months and in 1937 returned to the Casa Loma Orchestra, where he remained until 1940 when he tried again to form his own group, this time, with more success.
His new band debuted in July 1940 at the Glendale Auditorium in Los Angeles. Sonny’s band toured the United States, playing at the top spots and holding talent searches along the way. After returning to New York in early 1941, they were on nightly radio broadcasts at the Roseland Ballroom, and at the Meadowbrook at Cedar Grove, New Jersey, in June. The band then left New York in the late summer for Hollywood, but returned to New York in January 1942, only to return to the road again by March of that year. They played at the Hollywood Palladium in April, and were also featured in the Universal picture Behind the Eight Ball with the Ritz Brothers. Dunham served as musical director for this film. The band also appeared in another Universal film short, Jivin’ Jam Session.
In June 1943 they were part of a vaudeville revue at the Capitol that included a screening of Presenting Lily Mars (Judy Garland) and a concert. The band then left to play in Chicago, and returned to New York for an appearance at the Paramount Theatre in November 1942. From January to April 1943, his band was on the bandstand of the Hotel New Yorker. They later toured the mid-west and returned to New York late that year where they recorded for Langworth Transcriptions. Dunham briefly experimented with dual female vocalists, Mickie Roy and Dorothy Claire, which did not turn out due to “professional temperament”. In February 1944, the band returned to the Hotel New Yorker, and in April, performed at the Cafe Rouge Room at the Hotel Pennsylvania. The Hotel New Yorker gigs were the band’s longest career engagements: two 13-week runs and one 16-week run.The band headed back to Los Angeles and performed at the Hollywood Palladium in July and August. While there, the band appeared in the Universal film short “Jive Busters” and then went over to Warner Bros. where they were featured in the film Sonny Dunham and His Orchestra. In September, they headed back to the East Coast. After another tour of the mid-west in 1945, and again in 1946, the band returned to New York in late 1946. 1946 found Dunham playing in a short-lived band headed by Bernie Mann that included Steve Jordan, George Dessinger and Walter Robertson.
The band had few appearances between 1947 and 1950. Upon his return to the Roseland Ballroom from a tour in March 1949, Dunham became involved in a contract dispute which irked him enough to threaten to quit the business. With a newly reorganized orchestra, late 1950 found Dunham playing the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. He dissolved the band in 1951 and that September joined Tommy Dorsey‘s band as trumpet player, replacing Ray Wetzel, who had died in an automobile accident a few weeks prior. He reorganized in 1952 and remained active until the decline of the big-band business led him to give up the fight for the few bookings available, such as in the summer of 1960, when the Sonny Dunham Quartet was billed at Embers restaurant in New York. In the mid-sixties he led a steamship band out of New York and was involved in booking other bands for such excursions. One of his last known recordings was a novelty tune (“Where Do You Work-a, John”) for Cross-Country Records in 1956 under the name of Sonny Dunham and the Noteworthys.
Little was heard from Sonny in the 1970s and 1980s. He was living in a trailer in Miami, Florida, still involved in booking bands for cruises and playing occasionally when he could find work. He died from cancer on July 9, 1990, aged 78.
Sullivan at the Village Jazz Lounge in Walt Disney World, 1975
|Birth name||Marietta Williams|
|Born||May 13, 1911
Homestead, Pennsylvania, United States
|Died||April 7, 1987 (aged 75)
New York City, New York, United States
As a vocalist, Maxine Sullivan was active for half a century, from the mid-1930s to just before her death in 1987. She is best known for her 1937 recording of a swing version of the Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond“. Throughout her career, Sullivan also appeared as a performer on film as well as on stage. A precursor to better-known later vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan, Maxine Sullivan is considered one of the best jazz vocalists of the 1930s.
Maxine Sullivan was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1911. Sullivan began her music career singing in her uncle’s band, The Red Hot Peppers, in her native Pennsylvania, in which she occasionally played the flugelhorn and the valve trombone, in addition to singing. In the mid-1930s she was discovered by Gladys Mosier (then working in Ina Rae Hutton’s big band). Mosier introduced her to Claude Thornhill, which led to her first recordings made in June of 1937. Shorty thereafter, Sullivan became a featured vocalist at the Onyx Club in New York. During this period, she began forming a professional and close personal relationship with bassist John Kirby, to whom she was married from 1938 to 1941.
Early sessions with Kirby in 1937 yielded a hit recording of a swing version of the Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond” featuring Sullivan on vocals. This early success “branded” Sullivan’s style, leading her to sing similar swing arrangements of traditional folk tunes mostly arranged by pianist Claude Thornhill, such as “Darling Nellie Gray“, “I Dream of Jeanie“, “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes“, and “If I Had a Ribbon Bow“. Her early popularity also led to a brief appearance in the movie Going Places opposite Louis Armstrong. In 1940, Sullivan and Kirby were featured on the radio program Flow Gently Sweet Rhythm, making them the first black jazz stars to have their own weekly radio series. From 1940-1942, Sullivan often performed with her husband Kirby’s sextet. During the 1940s Sullivan then performed with a wide range of bands, including those of Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, and Jimmie Lunceford. Sullivan also performed at many of New York’s hottest jazz spots such as the Ruban Bleu, the Village Vanguard, the Blue Angel, and the Penthouse.
In 1956, Sullivan shifted away from her earlier style and recorded the album A Tribute to Andy Razaf. Originally on the Period record label, A Tribute to Andy Razaf featured Sullivan’s interpretations of a dozen tunes featuring the lyrics of the poet and lyricist Andy Razaf. The album also highlighted the music of Fats Waller, including versions of “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now”, “How Can you Face Me?”, “My Fate is in Your Hands”, “Honeysuckle Rose“, “Ain’t Misbehavin’“, and “Blue Turning Grey Over You“. Sullivan was joined by a sextet that was reminiscent of John Kirby’s group of 15 years prior, including trumpeter Charlie Shavers and clarinetist Buster Bailey. In 1953 Sullivan starred in the play, Take a Giant Step.
From 1958 to 1966, Sullivan began working as a nurse and raising her children, which largely consumed most of her time. Her music career did not reassert itself until 1966, when she began performing in jazz festivals alongside her new husband, Cliff Jackson, who can be heard on the 1966 live recording of Sullivan’s performance at the Manassas Jazz Festival.
Sullivan continued to perform throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and produced an output of recordings during the 1980s despite being over 70 years old. She was nominated for the 1979 Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in My Old Friends. She participated in a documentary film portrait, Maxine Sullivan: Love to Be in Love, shortly before her death.
Life and career
Parham was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada but grew up in Kansas City. He worked as a pianist at The Eblon Theatre being mentored by the ragtime pianist and composerJames Scott, and later touring with territory bands in the Southwestern United States before moving to Chicago in 1926. He is best remembered for the recordings he made in Chicago between 1927 and 1930, as an accompanist for Johnny Dodds and several female blues singers as well as with his own band. Most of the musicians Parham played with are not well known in their own right, though cornetist Punch Miller, banjoist Papa Charlie Jackson, saxophone player Junie Cobb and bassist Milt Hinton are exceptions.
His entire recorded output for Victor are highly collected and appreciated as prime examples of late 1920s jazz. Parham favored the violin and many of his records have a surprisingly sophisticated violin solos, along with the typical upfront tuba, horns and reeds.
After 1930 Parham found work in theater houses, especially as an organist; his last recordings were made in 1940. His entire recorded output fits on two compact discs.
The cartoonist R. Crumb included a drawing of Parham in his classic 1982 collection of trading cards and later book “Early Jazz Greats”. Parham was the only non-American born so included. The book also includes a bonus cd which has a Parham track.
Nick’s (Tavern), New York, c. June 1946
|Birth name||Francis Joseph Julian Spanier|
|Also known as||Joseph Spanier|
|Born||November 9, 1901|
|Died||February 12, 1967 (aged 65)|
Francis Joseph Julian “Muggsy” Spanier (November 9, 1901 – February 12, 1967) was a prominent cornet player based in Chicago. He was renowned as the best trumpet/cornet in Chicago until Bix Beiderbecke entered the scene.
Muggsy led several traditional/”hot” jazz bands, most notably Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band (which did not, in fact, playragtime but, rather, “hot jazz” that would now be called Dixieland). This band set the style for all later attempts to play traditional jazz with a swing rhythm section. Its key members, apart from Muggsy, were: George Brunies – later Brunis – (trombone and vocals), Rodney Cless (clarinet), George Zack or Joe Bushkin (piano), Ray McKinstry, Nick Ciazza or Bernie Billings (tenor sax), and Bob Casey (bass). A number of competent but unmemorable drummers worked in the band.
The Ragtime Band’s theme tune was “Relaxin’ at the Touro”, named for Touro Infirmary, the New Orleans hospital where Muggsy had been treated for a perforated ulcer early in 1938. He had been at the point of death when he was saved by one Dr. Alton Ochsner who drained the fluid and eased Muggsy’s weakened breathing.
“Relaxin’ At The Touro” is a fairly straightforward 12-bar blues, with a neat piano introduction and coda by Joe Bushkin. The pianist recalled, many years later: “When I finally joined Muggsy in Chicago (having left Bunny Berigan’s failing big band) we met to talk it over at the Three Deuces, where Art Tatum was appearing. Muggsy was now playing opposite Fats Waller at the Sherman hotel and we worked out a kind of stage show for the two bands. Muggsy was a man of great integrity. We played a blues in C and I made up a little intro. After that I was listed as the co-composer of “Relaxin’ at the Touro” (quoted by Richard B. Hadlock in the notes to the Bluebird CD ‘Muggsy Spanier 1939 – The “Ragtime Band” Sessions’, 07863 66550).
In his time, Muggsy made numerous Dixieland recordings that still serve as favorites today. Apart from the famous Ragtime Band, his other most important ventures were the quartet he co-led with Sidney Bechet (the ‘Big Four’) in 1940 and the traditional band he co-led with pianist Earl Hines at the Club Hangover in San Francisco in the 1950s.
Although Muggsy’s real name was Francis Joseph Julian Spanier, he acquired the nickname “Muggsy” either because of his youthful enthusiasm for a baseball hero (“Muggsy” McGraw), or because of his obsession with King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. He was known to have shadowed and “mugged” both of them, copying their styles and incorporating them into his own music. He was allowed, on at least one occasion, to sit in with King Oliver’s band (with Louis Armstrong on second cornet) at the Lincoln Gardens, Chicago, in the early 1920s.
He ended his days in the 1960s, leading a traditional jazz band that included old friends like Joe Sullivan (piano), Pops Foster (bass) and Darnell Howard (clarinet). He was not a great technician or virtuoso, but he could lead a traditional ensemble with fire and guts. The (then) young pianist Joe Bushkin was in the Ragtime Band in 1939 and later said of Muggsy: “When he nailed something right, he stayed with it; he wouldn’t fix it if it wasn’t broke”.
Roy Fox (b. October 25, 1901, Denver, Colorado, United States – d. March 20, 1982, London, England, UK) was an American dance bandleader whose period of greatest popularity came during his years performing in England during the British dance band era.
Early life and career
Roy Fox was raised in Hollywood, California. He began playing cornet when he was eleven years old, and by age 13 was performing in the Los Angeles Examiner‘s newsboys‘ band. Soon after he played bugle for a studio owned by Cecil B. DeMille. His first major association came at the age of 16, when he joined Abe Lyman‘s orchestra at the Sunset Inn inSanta Monica, where he played alongside Miff Mole, Gussie Miller, Henry Halstead, and Gus Arnheim. He developed a soft style of playing there which earned him the nickname“The Whispering Cornetist”.
The 1920s and 1930s
In 1920 he put together his own band, with whom he recorded in 1925. That same year he also scored a gig on radio broadcasting with Art Hickman‘s orchestra; this ensemble toured the U.S., then did an extended residency in Florida. After some time in New York City, Fox and Arnheim reconvened in Hollywood, working at the Ambassador Hotel, and Fox continued to broadcast with his own bands. During this time he also did a number of film soundtracks.
In 1930 Fox was invited to perform in London, which he first did on September 29, 1930. He recorded on the BBC that year, and when his band returned to the U.S. the following spring, Fox remained behind, recording with a new group for Decca Records and accepting an engagement at the Monseigneur restaurant in Piccadilly.
In Spring 1932 when he fell ill with pleurisy and travelled to Switzerland for a stay at a sanatorium. During his convalescence the band was led by its pianist, Lew Stone. Upon Fox’s return he resumed control of the band but when the Monseigneur contract came up for renewal in the autumn of 1932 was unable to agree terms. The restaurant’s owner then offered the residency to Stone and all the band with the exception of trumpeter Sid Buckman decided to remain with Stone. Fox took out an injunction on the grounds of breach of contract against his singer Al Bowlly which prevented Bowlly performing with Stone’s band on the first night, but Fox lost his action. Fox formed a new band with Buckman as trumpeter and vocalist, secured a residency at the Cafe Anglais in Leicester Square and performed in Belgium as well as the UK. Art Christmas played a variety of instruments in this band. He made the films On the Air and Big Ben Calling in 1933-34, recorded for HMV in 1936, and toured Europe until 1938, when he fell ill again.
Fox moved to Australia, where he led the Jay Whidden Orchestra and visited the U.S. for a few tours with small groups. He led a band in England in 1946-47, with appearances at the Isle of Man and London’s Potomac Club. He went into semi-retirement after 1952, when he opened his own booking agency.
He died in London in 1982, aged 80.
|Birth name||Louis Steinberg|
|Also known as||Lew Stone|
London, England, UK
Roehampton, London, England, UK
|Genres||British Dance Band, Jazz|
|Associated acts||Nat Gonella & His Georgians|
Early life and career
Stone learned music at an early age and became an accomplished pianist. In the 1920s, he worked with many important dance bands. Some arrangements attributed to Stone can be heard on particular records by the Savoy Orpheans (1927) and Ray Starita and his Ambassador’s Band (1928).
During 1927-1931, Stone’s arrangements for the Bert Ambrose Orchestra made it virtually the best in Europe. The HMV discs are today sought after as much for those arrangements as for the superb instrumentalists or vocals.
Stone continued to work with other bands like Jack Hylton‘s and Jack Payne‘s BBC Dance Orchestra, and he also took several top musicians into the studio to make a few recordings that were issued on the Duophone label as ‘Stoneis Stone and his Orchestra’.
Roy Fox‘s Band opened at the Monseigneur Restaurant in 1931 and Stone took up the position of pianist and arranger. When Fox became ill in October he was sent to Switzerlandto rest and Stone assumed leadership of the band. The main vocalist at the Monseigneur was the very popular Al Bowlly who had already sung on over 30 recordings.
Stone began to use other band members for vocal refrain and this proved successful, particularly when trumpeter Nat Gonella sang “Oh! Mo’nah”. Sales of the record Decca F.2763 were huge and may have kept Decca in business.
When Fox returned to London in April 1932, he found that his band was the most popular in the city. A contemporary article in The Gramophone magazine described events.
In 1932, Stone also worked with a studio band and several recordings were issued on the flexible Durium Records featuring vocals by Al Bowlly, Sam Browne and Les Allen. Some of the arrangements on Durium were by Stan Bowsher.
In October 1932, when Roy Fox’s contract at the Monseigneur ended, Stone was offered the post of bandleader and this story filled the pages of the music press. An article fromRhythm magazine describes how this happened.
The Tuesday night broadcasts from the Monseigneur established Stone’s band as a great favourite with the listening public, who recognised the sheer quality of the music, and the royal clientele attracted an unsurpassed reputation. Rave reviews were common in the music press, for example Melody Maker.
The popularity of vocalist Al Bowlly increased; he was a regular on broadcasts, his name was credited on many of the Decca records and he toured with the band including an appearance before of royalty at the London Palladium.
There is a very good cartoon of Stone’s Band with Al Bowlly at the microphone and the other musicians from the band of 1933 are: Nat Gonella and Alfie Noakes (trumpets), Stone Davis and Joe Ferrie (trombones), Joe Crossman, Jim Easton, Ernest Ritte, Harry Berly (reeds), Eddie Carroll (piano), Harry Sherman (guitar), Tiny Winters (string bass) and Bill Harty (drums). Some arrangements were by Phil Cardew, Stan Bowsher, Con Lamprecht.
In 1933, Stone’s Monseigneur Band was involved in an interesting competition designed to test the popularity in Britain of British vs US dance bands. It was run by the ‘News Chronicle‘ newspaper and was based on the sales of specially recorded dance tunes by Stone’s band, Jack Hylton’s, Guy Lombardo‘s and Wayne King‘s. The songs were “What More can I Ask?” and “Can’t We Meet Again?”.
From late 1931 until 1934, Stone was also musical director for British and Dominion Films, working mostly from Elstree Studios, and later worked with other film companies. About 40 pre-1947 films which involved Stone with his band or as Musical Director are included in the listings of British musical films on the British Dance Bands on Film, British Entertainers on Film, British Musical Directors website.
In November 1933, Stone transferred his band to the Cafe Anglais and in February 1934 started a very successful tour for the Mecca Agency. The band returned to the Monseigneur in March 1934 until the summer when the Monseigneur was sold to become a cinema. In September 1934, Al Bowlly and Bill Harty left to join Ray Noble in USA.
For about a year from November 1934, Stone moved to the Regal Zonophone record label, continued with theatre tours, and the band was resident for a time at the Hollywood Restaurant. Alan Kane became the main vocalist while there were also vocal contributions from Nat Gonella, Joe Ferrie, Tiny Winters and Joe Crossman. When Gonella left to concentrate on his own Georgians band in March 1935, trumpeter Tommy McQuater joined Stone’s band. On October 12,, Stone featured Sam Browne as vocalist for the first time with “Cheek To Cheek” and Isn’t This A Lovely Day?. In November, Stone and his band returned to the Decca record label.
In 1936, Stone stopped touring and formed a smaller band which opened on 30 March at the Cafe de Paris. The band also began to broadcast regularly for commercial radiostations Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg. In October, Stone became musical director for the show On Your Toes (opened February 1937). The band continued at the Cafe de Paris until 31 July 1937. In September, Stone became musical director of the show Hide and Seek at the London Hippodrome starring Cicely Courtneidge and Bobby Howes.
Al Bowlly returned to England at the end of 1937 and in February 1938 he began recording with Stone again. Recordings with Bowlly in 1938 are as good as those made during the earlier years. Stone’s band played music of all kinds, for all tastes, and for all the dance tempos, but today it is particularly their playing of the sentimental ballads that is recognised and in demand for re-issue on CD, especially the titles featuring Bowlly. In his own arrangements, Stone was particularly careful to match Bowlly’s voice with appropriate ensemble phrasing and short instrumental solos resulting in very pleasant recordings which make much more satisfying listening than many other bands’ recordings of the standard tunes.
Stone was not afraid to work with modern music and was also an innovator. His recordings of the Gene Gifford/Casa Loma Orchestra titles are not mere copies but careful interpretations which make full use of the superb musicians in his band. The skills of Stone Davis, Joe Crossman and Nat Gonella are particularly evident on several of Stone’s earlier jazz titles, some of which were issued in USA.
In June 1938, the band was the first name band to play at Butlins Holiday Camps and in September they were back at The Cafe de Paris and broadcasting regularly from there.
In October, Stone became musical director for the Jack Hulbert show Under Your Hat which continued into 1939 and featured the Rhythm Brothers (Clive Erard, Jack Trafford, Frank Trafford). His band played at the El Morocco Club, London.
The 1940s & 1950s
In June 1940, Stone opened at the Dorchester Hotel with a seven piece band which he led on the novachord. This band was much praised for its original style. Later Stone also made several records with his jazz group the Stonecrackers which featured Britain’s finest soloists. Broadcasting and recording with his large band continued and he toured the country during the rest of the war years.
After the war, his band resided at various places including The Embassy Club, The Pigalle Restaurant and Oddenino’s Restaurant up to 1955. In this period he made several recordings with the King of Jiddish Music Leo Fuld. Stone continued to work round the ballrooms and broadcast with his fourteen piece band until 1959 when the BBC told him that he could not expect to broadcast as frequently as he would wish unless he reduced the size of his band. So, Lew Stone and his sextet was born.
For the next eight years they played frequently for ‘Music While You Work’ also appearing weekly, for nearly two years in ‘The Bands Played On’- a breakfast-time programme. Lew was also concentrating on his entertainments agency in the 1960s.
At the time of his death in 1969 Stone’s music from the 1930s was just beginning to gather a whole new following.
Bert Niosi was notable for his swing orchestra which had a long-time association from 1933 to 1950 with the Palais Royale dance hall in Toronto, considered the top dance hall in Canada, where he earned his nickname ‘Canada’s King of Swing.’ His orchestra was broadcast regularly on CBC Radio and in 1945 and 1946 toured Canada. He was also a member of CBC radio’s The Happy Gang musical series from 1952 to 1959. He was also involved in CBC television including The Tommy Hunter Show.
Mr. Niosi played several instruments including clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and trombone.
Mr. Niosi’s family had other musicians, including his brothers Joe and Johnnie.
|Birth name||Melvin Epstein|
|Born||February 12, 1923
New York City, United States
|Died||April 24, 1998 (aged 75)|
Swing music/Big band
|Occupations||Musician, Arranger, Composer, Music educator|
|Years active||1939 – 1988|
|Associated acts||Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller‘sArmy Air Force Band|
Mel Powell (born Melvin Epstein) (February 12, 1923 – April 24, 1998) was an American jazz pianist, composer of classical music, and music educator. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1990. Powell was the founding dean of the music department at theCalifornia Institute of the Arts.
Mel Powell was born Melvin D. Epstein on February 12, 1923, in The Bronx, New York City to Russian Jewish parents, Milton Epstein and Mildred Mark Epstein. He began playing piano at age four, taking lessons from, among others, Nadia Reisenberg. A passionate baseball fan, his home was within sight of Yankee Stadium. A hand injury while playing baseball as a boy, however, convinced him to choose music as a career path instead of sports. Powell dreamed of life as a concert pianist until one night his older brother took him to see jazz pianist Teddy Wilson play, and later to a concert featuring Benny Goodman. In a 1987 interview with The New Yorker magazine Powell said “I had never heard anything as ecstatic as this music”, prompting a shift from classical to jazz piano. By the age of 14 Powell was performing jazz professionally around New York City. As early as 1939, he was working with Bobby Hackett, George Brunies, and Zutty Singleton, as well as writing arrangements for Earl Hines. He changed his last name from Epstein to Powell in 1941 shortly before joining Benny Goodman’s band.
Newly-named, the teenage Mel Powell became a pianist and arranger for Benny Goodman in 1941. One composition from his Goodman years, The Earl, is perhaps his best-known from that time. It is notable that the song—dedicated to Earl “Fatha” Hines, one of Powell’s piano heroes—was recorded without a drummer. After nearly two years with Goodman, Powell played briefly with the CBS radio band under director Raymond Scott before Uncle Sam came calling. With World War II at its height, Powell was drafted into the U.S. Army, but fought his battles from a piano stool, being assigned to Glenn Miller‘s Army Air Force Band from 1943 to 1945.
Near wars end Mel Powell was stationed in Paris, France where he played with Django Reinhardt then returned for a brief stint in Benny Goodman’s band again after being discharged from the military. It was around this time, the mid-to-late 1940s, that Powell moved toHollywood and ventured into providing music for movies and cartoons—notably Tom and Jerry. In 1948 he played himself in the movie A Song Is Born as the jazz pianist working with Benny Goodman. In this movie he worked along with many other famous jazz players including Louis Armstrong. It was during his time in Hollywood that he met and married actress Martha Scott. Mel Powell had a major health crisis in the late 1940s when he developed Muscular dystrophy. Confined to a wheelchair for some time, then walking with aid of a cane, the illness effectively ended his ability to work as a traveling musician again with Goodman or other bands. It was a career and life-changing event, prompting Powell to devote himself to music composition rather than performance. From 1948 to 1952 he studied under German composer and music theorist Paul Hindemith at Yale University.
Changing styles, careers
At first sticking to traditional neo-Classical styles of composition Powell increasingly explored concepts in Atonality, or “non-tonal” music as he called it, as well as Serialism advocated by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. After receiving his degree in 1952, Powell embarked on a career as a music educator, first at Mannes College of Music and Queens College in his native New York City, then returning to Yale in 1958, succeeding Hindemith as chair of composition faculty and director of one of the nations first electronic music studios. Powell composed several electronic music pieces in the 1960s, some of which were performed at the Electric Circus in New York’s Greenwich Village, a venue that also saw performances by groundbreaking rock music acts like The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, and Blue Öyster Cult. Mel Powell had not completely turned his back on jazz music however. While teaching in the 1950s, he also played piano and recorded music with Benny Goodman again as well as on his own. Showing the broad range of his talent, Powell composed for orchestras, choruses, singers, and chamber ensembles throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In 1969 Powell returned to California to serve as founding dean of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. After serving as Provost of the Institute from 1972 to 1976 he was awarded the Roy O. Disney Professorship of music, and taught at the Institute until shortly before his death.
In 1987 Mel Powell joined other music greats for a jazz festival on the cruise ship SS Norway playing alongside Benny Carter, Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Louie Bellson and others. One performance has been documented on the CD release The Return of Mel Powell (Chiaroscuro Records). This CD includes twenty minutes of Powell discussing his life and his reasons for leaving jazz. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine jazz critic Whitney Balliett Powell stated: “I have decided that when I retire I will think through my decision to leave jazz – with the help of Freud and Jung. At the moment, I suspect it was this: I had done what I felt I had to do in jazz. I had decided it did not hold the deepest interest for me musically. And I had decided that it was a young man’s music, even a black music. Also, the endless repetition of material in the Goodman band – playing the same tunes day after day and night after night – got to me. That repetition tended to kill spontaneity, which is the heart of jazz and which can give a lifetime’s nourishment.”
In 1990 Mel Powell received his highest career achievement, the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his work Duplicates: A Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. Powell expressed total surprise at winning the Pulitzer in a Los Angeles Times interview: “Being out here on the coast, far away from the whole Eastern establishment to which the Pulitzer is connected – that made me a remote prospect. I just didn’t expect it.” In an interview with The New York Times Powell related the story of how Duplicates origins came from his service in World War II and an anecdote he heard in Paris about Claude Debussy‘s search for perfect music. That, Powell, stated was his goal for Duplicates. The work, commissioned in 1987 for the Los Angeles Philharmonic by music patron Betty Freeman, took Powell more than two years to complete. It was made even more difficult as his muscular dystrophy, previously affecting only his legs, began to afflict his arms, thus his ability to play the piano.
Besides the Pulitzer, other awards and honors for Mel Powell include the Creative Arts Medal from Brandeis University, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an honorary life membership in the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, a commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the Library of Congress, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant. Some of Powell’s notable students include Justin Connolly, Walter Hekster, Arturo Marquez, Lewis Spratlan, John Stewart, Lois V Vierk and John Ferritto.
Melvin “Mel” Powell died at his home in Sherman Oaks, California on April 24, 1998, from liver cancer. He was 75 years old. Powell was survived by his wife, actress Martha Scott, two daughters and a son. He was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in his wife’s hometown of Jamesport, Missouri.
- On his days in Big Band-Swing music: “It’s really so long ago, one ought to be able to invoke a statute of limitations. I played with Benny Goodman for two years, and I’ve been composing for 40. At the time, swing music, big-band music and Benny Goodman in particular were so boundlessly popular that people who made room for it in their lives have never forgotten it. So I get calls from people who are in a kind of time warp, who ask me about this period of my life as though it were the present. But I’ve moved on to other things.”
- “The musician’s business is structure…The musician…is…therefore drawn to a profound science of structure. Looking closely at music itself, he is likely to ask: “What changes? When? By how much?”…he is…able to feel at home where logicians exhibit techniques for “isolating relevant structure.”
- “It is true that the music I traffic in, along with Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter and others, has never gained a great popularity. But that was true of the so-called difficult music of earlier centuries, too. And I must say that I have noticed, as we have held our ground, that there has been a softening of response. There are now those who are beginning to find expressive beauty in a music that was at first rejected entirely.”
Photo by William P. Gottlieb
|Birth name||Tony Parenti|
|Born||6 August 1900|
|Origin||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Died||17 April 1972|
|Associated acts||Eddie Condon, Ted Lewis|
Parenti was a childhood musical prodigy, first on violin, then on clarinet. As a child he substituted for Alcide Nunez in Papa Jack Laine‘s band. In New Orleans he also worked with Johnny Dedroit. During his early teens Parenti worked with the Nick LaRocca band. among other local acts. Parenti led his own band in New Orleans in the mid-1920s, making his first recordings there, before moving toNew York City at the end of the decade.
In the late 1920s, Parenti worked with Benny Goodman and Fred Rich, and later in the decade moved to New York City full-time where he worked through the 1930s as a CBS staffman and as a member of the Radio City Symphony Orchestra.
In the 1940s and still in New York City, Parenti formed a Dixieland jazz band called Tony Parenti and His New Orleanians, and which featured Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes and Jimmy Archey, among others. He often appeared at such New York jazz spots as Nick’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and also worked with Eddie Condon. Parenti remained active until the 1960s in clubs, and died in New York City on April 17, 1972.
Art Hodes on the piano at left
|Birth name||Arthur W. Hodes|
|Born||November 14, 1904
Nikolayev, Russian Empire
|Died||March 4, 1993 (aged 88)
Harvey, Illinois, United States
|Associated acts||Sidney Bechet, Joe Marsala,Mezz Mezzrow|
Hodes was born in Ukraine. His family settled in Chicago, Illinois when he was a few months old. His career began in Chicago clubs, but he did not gain wider attention until moving to New York City in 1938. In that city he played with Sidney Bechet, Joe Marsala, andMezz Mezzrow.
Later Hodes founded his own band in the 1940s and it would be associated with his home town of Chicago. He and his band played mostly in that area for the next forty years.
In the late 1960s Hodes starred in a series of TV shows on Chicago style jazz called “Jazz Alley”. Here he appeared with greats likePee Wee Russell and Jimmy McPartland. He also wrote for jazz magazines like Jazz Record. He remained an educator and writer in jazz. During this period of his life and into the 1970s Hodes resided in south suburban Park Forest, Illinois.
He toured the UK in 1987 recording with drummer John Petters. In 1988 he returned to appear at the Cork jazz Festival with Petters and Wild Bill Davison. A tour, the Legends of American Dixieland, followed in May 1989 with the same line-up.
Other musicians he played and recorded with included Louis Armstrong, Wingy Manone, Gene Krupa, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Marsala,Mezz Mezzrow, Sidney Bechet, Albert Nicholas, Wild Bill Davison, and Vic Dickenson.
In 1998, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
Juan Tizol in Duke Ellington’s orchestra (1943)
|Born||October 1, 1900
Vega Baja, Puerto Rico
|Died||April 23, 1984 (aged 83)
|Associated acts||Duke Ellington|
Juan Tizol (22 January 1900 – 23 April 1984) was a Puerto Rican trombonist and composer. He is best known as a member of Duke Ellington‘s band, and as the co-writer of the jazz standards “Caravan” and “Perdido“.
Tizol was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Music was a large part of his life from an early age. His first instrument was the violin, but he soon switched to valve trombone, the instrument he would play throughout his career. His musical training came mostly from his uncle Manuel Tizol, who was the director of the municipal band and the symphony in San Juan. Throughout his youth, Juan played in his uncle’s band and also gained experience by playing in local operas, ballets and dance bands. In 1920, Juan joined a band that was traveling to the United States to work in Washington D.C. The group eventually made it to Washington (traveling as stowaways) and established residence at the Howard Theater where they played for touring shows and silent movies. At the Howard they also were hired to play in small jazz or dance groups. This is where Juan first came in contact with Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.
Tizol got the call to join the Ellington band in the summer of 1929. Arthur Whetsol, a trumpeter whom Juan played with in the White Brothers’ Band, apparently made the recommendation. Juan sat beside Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton in the two-man trombone section and became the fifth voice in the brass section of Ellington’s orchestra. This opened up new possibilities for Duke’s writing, as he now could write for trombones as a section instead of just having them play with the trumpets. Juan’s rich, warm tone also blended nicely with the saxophone section, so he was often scored carrying the lead melody with the saxes. Along with his distinctive sound, Juan was also known for being one of the best sight-readers and over all musicians in the band. He played with fierce accuracy and was considered to be the solid rock of the trombone section through the years. He was not a major improviser in the band, but he was often featured playing written out solos that displayed his masterful technique and agility on the horn.
Juan made many contributions to the Ellington band throughout the 1930s and 40s. One of his major roles in the band was copying parts from Ellington’s scores. Tizol spent many hours and sometimes days extracting parts that needed to by written out for upcoming shows. Besides copying, Juan also was a band composer. His best known compositions, “Caravan” (1936) and “Perdido” (1941), are still played by jazz musicians today. Mercer Ellington stated that Tizol had invented the melody to “Caravan“, from his days studying music in Puerto Rico; where they couldn’t afford much sheet music so the teacher would turn the music upside down after they had learned to play it right-side up. This technique became known as ‘inverting‘, and led to a style called Modal Jazz. Tizol was responsible for bringing Latin influences into the Ellington band with compositions such as “Moonlight Fiesta”, “Jubilesta”, “Conga Brava”, and others. He also played valide trombone.
Juan left Ellington’s band in 1944 to play in the Harry James Orchestra. The main reason for this was to allow him to spend more time with his wife who lived in Los Angeles. In 1951, he returned to Ellington, along with James’s drummer and alto saxophonist, in what became known as ‘the James raid’. However, he returned to James’ band in 1953 and remained predominantly on the West Coast for the remainder of his career. In Los Angeles he played sporadically with Harry James, Nelson Riddle, and on the Nat “King” Coletelevision show. Juan returned very briefly to Ellington’s band in the early 60s, but eventually retired in Los Angeles. He died on April 23, 1984 in Inglewood, California, two years after the death of his wife, Rosebud.
Otto James “Toby” Hardwicke (May 31, 1904 – August 5, 1970) was a saxophone player associated with Duke Ellington.
Hardwick started on string bass at the age of 14, then moved to C-melody sax and finally settled on alto saxophone. A childhood friend of Duke Ellington’s, Hardwick joined Ellington’s first band in Washington, D. C. in 1919. Hardwick also worked for banjoist Elmer Snowden at Murray’s Casino.
In 1923, Ellington, Hardwick, Snowden, trumpeter Arthur Whetsol, and drummer Sonny Greer had success as the Washingtonians in New York. After a disagreement over money, Snowden was forced out of the band and Duke Ellington was elected as the new leader.
Hardwick occasionally doubled violin and string bass in the 1920s, but specialized on alto sax. He also played clarinet and bass, baritone and soprano saxes.
Hardwick left the Duke Ellington band in 1928 to visit Europe, where he played with Noble Sissle, Sidney Bechet and Nekka Shaw‘s Orchestra, and led his own orchestra before returning to New York in 1929.
He had a brief stint with Chick Webb (1929), then led his own band at the Hot Feet Club, with Fats Waller leading the rhythm section (1930), led at Small’s before rejoining Duke Ellington in the spring of 1932, following a brief stint with Elmer Snowden.
He played lead alto on most Ellington numbers from 1932 to 1946 but he was rarely heard as a soloist because Johnny Hodges got many of the alto solos. Famous exceptions are: Black And Tan Fantasy, In A Sentimental Mood and Sophisticated Lady. Hardwick, with his creamy tone, was almost always the lead alto in the reed section of the Ellington orchestra except in some situations where Ellington required the more cutting tone of Johnny Hodges’ alto to set the tone of the ensemble. After Hardwick’s departure (and replacement by Russell Procope) it soon became the norm for Johnny Hodges to take the ensemble lead as well as taking the lion’s share of the solos on alto sax.
He remained with Ellington until May 1946, when he left the band because of Ellington’s dislike of Hardwick’s girlfriend. Hardwick went on to freelance for a short time in the following year, and then retired from music.
In his biography of Ellington, author James Lincoln Collier says that “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Prelude to a Kiss” are adaptations of Hardwick melodies.
From left: Chris Gage, Louie Bellson, Stan “Cuddles” Johnson, Tony Gage, Fraser MacPherson, Harry Carney. (Photo from the Fred MacPherson estate.)
|Born||April 1, 1910|
|Died||October 8, 1974 (aged 64)|
|Instruments||Baritone saxophone, bass clarinet|
|Years active||1930s – 1970s|
|Associated acts||Duke Ellington,|
Harry Howell Carney (April 1, 1910 – October 8, 1974) was an American swing baritone saxophonist, clarinetist, and bass clarinetist mainly known for his 45-year tenure in Duke Ellington‘s Orchestra. Carney started off as an alto player with Ellington, but soon switched to the baritone. His strong, steady saxophone often served as the anchor of Duke’s music. He also playedclarinet and bass clarinet on occasion.
Harry Howell Carney was born in 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts. At seventeen he ran off to join Duke Ellington’s orchestra, starting on clarinet and eventually moving on to baritone saxophone.
Carney and Duke
Carney was the longest serving player in Duke Ellington’s orchestra. He was always present and on occasions when Ellington was absent he took over as conductor, particularly when Ellington wished to make a stage entrance after the band had begun playing the first piece of a performance. Ellington and Carney were close friends. The majority of their careers they rode together in Carney’s car to concerts, allowing Ellington to come up with new ideas. Fictionalised accounts of these road trips are documented in Geoff Dyer‘s But Beautiful.
Ellington wrote a number of showpiece features for Carney throughout their time together, such as “Frustration” (c. 1944-45). This was typical of Ellington’s ability to exploit the voices of his most treasured soloists by creating works that were tailored specifically to the individual rather than being for a generic baritone saxophonist. In addition, Ellington would sometimes feature Carney’s robust renditions of the melodies of such hits as “Sophisticated Lady” and “In a Mellow Tone“. In 1973 Ellington built the Third Sacred Concert around Carney’s baritone saxophone.
It has to be said, however, that in later years Carney’s voice was heard a little less as a soloist than it was in the 1930s. This is perhaps owing to the presence from late 1939 onwards of a regular tenor saxophonist (the most important of these being Ben Webster and later Paul Gonsalves), further increasing the pool of star soloists in the orchestra. It was also in the early 1940s, after this increase to five reed players in the Ellington orchestra, that Carney ceased using the alto saxophone and Johnny Hodges ceased playing the soprano saxophone. Carney’s clarinet continued to be deployed in the well-known composition “Rockin’ in Rhythm”, for which he is also credited as a co-composer. This was one of the ‘work-horses’ of the Ellington orchestra that remained in the band books throughout its life on the road. After Ellington’s 1974 death, Carney said: “This is the worst day of my life. Without Duke I have nothing to live for.” Four months later, Carney also died.
While not the first baritone saxophonist in jazz, Carney was certainly the first major performer on the instrument, and his sound influenced several generations of musicians. Throughout his career he played saxophones manufactured by C.G. Conn, and like other jazz musicians was known to offer endorsements of his preferred brand. Photographic evidence suggests that the mouthpieces he used were predominantly those of the Woodwind Company of New York. (His preferred model may have been that company’s ‘Sparkle-Aire’ 5.) The combination of such a large-chambered mouthpiece and the Conn brand of baritone saxophone was certainly a factor in the production of his enormous, rich tone. He may have modelled his Baritone Saxophone tone on that of the (larger) Bass Saxophone.
He was an early jazz proponent of circular breathing. He was also Hamiet Bluiett‘s favorite baritone player because he “never saw anybody else stop time” in reference to a concert Bluiett attended where Carney held a note during which all else went silent.
Carney made a few recordings as a leader, and also recorded with Lionel Hampton.
Johnny Hodges, 1946 (with Al Sears in background)
|Birth name||John Keith Hodges|
|Also known as||“Rabbit”|
|Born||July 25, 1906|
|Origin||Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Died||May 11, 1970 (aged 63)|
|Associated acts||Duke Ellington
John Keith “Johnny” Hodges (July 25, 1906 – May 11, 1970) was an American alto saxophonist, best known for his solo work withDuke Ellington‘s big band. He played lead alto in the saxophone section for many years, except the period between 1932–1946 when Otto Hardwick generally played first chair. Hodges was also featured on soprano saxophone, but refused to play soprano after 1946, when he was given the lead chair. He is considered one of the definitive alto saxophones players of the Big Band Era (alongside Benny Carter).
Hodges started playing with Lloyd Scott, Sidney Bechet, Lucky Roberts and Chick Webb. When Ellington wanted to expand his band in 1928, Ellington’s clarinet player Barney Bigard recommended Hodges, who was featured on both alto and soprano sax. His playing became one of the identifying voices of the Ellington orchestra. Hodges left the Duke to lead his own band (1951–1955), but returned to the large ensemble shortly before Ellington’s triumphant return to prominence – the orchestra’s performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.
Hodges was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to John H. Hodges and Katie Swan Hodges, both from Virginia originally. Soon after, the family moved to Hammond Street in Boston, where he grew up with baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, and saxophonists Charlie Holmes and Howard E. Johnson. He started out on drums and piano (his mother was a skilled piano player). He was mostly self-taught, but once he became good enough, he would play the piano at dances in private homes for eight dollars an evening. By the time he was a teenager, he took up the soprano saxophone. It was around this time he developed the nickname “Rabbit”. Some people believe that this arose from Hodges’ ability to win 100 yard dashes and outrun truant officers. Carney called him Rabbit because of his rabbit-like nibbling on lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
When Hodges was 14, he saw Sidney Bechet play in Jimmy Cooper’s Black and White Revue in a Boston burlesque hall. Hodges’ sister got to know Bechet, which gave him the inspiration to introduce himself and play “My Honey’s Lovin Arms” for Bechet. Bechet was impressed with his skill and encouraged him to keep on playing. After the words of encouragement, he grew a name for himself in the Boston area till he moved to New York in 1924, able to play both the alto and soprano saxophone.
He was one of the prominent Ellington Band members who featured in Benny Goodman‘s legendary 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. Goodman described Hodges as “by far the greatest man on alto sax that I ever heard.” Charlie Parker called him “the Lily Pons of his instrument.”
Ellington’s practice of writing tunes specifically for members of his orchestra resulted in the Hodges specialties, “Confab with Rab”, “Jeep’s Blues”, “Sultry Sunset”, and “Hodge Podge”. Other songs recorded by the Ellington Orchestra which prominently feature Hodges’ smooth alto saxophone sound are “Magenta Haze”, “Prelude to a Kiss“, “Haupe” (from Anatomy of a Murder) – note also the “seductive” and hip-swaying “Flirtibird,” featuring the “irresistibly salacious tremor” by Hodges, “The Star-Crossed Lovers” from Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder suite, “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)“, “Blood Count” and “Passion Flower”.
He had a pure tone and economy of melody on both the blues and ballads that won him admiration from musicians of all eras and styles, from Ben Webster and John Coltrane, who both played with him when he had his own orchestra in the 1950s, to Lawrence Welk, who featured him in an album of standards. His highly individualistic playing style, which featured the use of a wide vibrato and much sliding between slurred notes, was frequently imitated. As evidenced by the Ellington compositions named after him, he earned thenicknames Jeep and Rabbit – according to Johnny Griffin because “he looked like a rabbit, no expression on his face while he’s playing all this beautiful music.”
Hodges’ last performances were at the Imperial Room in Toronto, less than a week before his death from a heart attack, suffered during a visit to the office of a dental surgeon. His last recordings are featured on the New Orleans Suite album, incomplete on his death.
In Ellington’s eulogy of Hodges, he said, “Never the world’s most highly animated showman or greatest stage personality, but a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes—this was Johnny Hodges. This is Johnny Hodges.”
He joined the Joe Haymes orchestra in 1934, then played with Benny Goodman in 1936 and Artie Shaw in 1937. From 1937 to 1942, he worked and recorded with the bands of Red Norvo, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller, Mildred Bailey, Frank Sinatra, Helen Ward, Judy Garland, Tommy Dorsey, and Ella Fitzgerald.
When World War II broke out, Zarchy was the first musician chosen by Glenn Miller for what became Miller’s Army Air Force Band (officially, the 418th Army Band) where Zarchy played lead trumpet and was Master (First) Sergeant from 1942 to 1945.
After the war, singer Frank Sinatra invited Zarchy to move to Los Angeles, where he became a first-call studio musician. He played on the recordings of hundreds of vocalists, including Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Dinah Shore, and The Mills Brothers. His trumpet is heard in the soundtracks of many classic Hollywood movies, including West Side Story (1961), Dr. Zhivago (1965) and the The Glenn Miller Story (1954).
During the 1960s and ’70s, he played in the house bands of several CBS TV variety shows, including The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,The Danny Kaye Show and The Jonathan Winters Show, and was a member of the NBC Staff Orchestras in New York and Los Angeles.
In his later years, Zarchy made many music tours of Europe, South America, and Australia, as well as 32 concert trips to Japan. He tutored several young trumpet players who became successful performers and studio musicians. He died on April 12, 2009 at the age of 93.
Don Stovall (December 12, 1913 – November 20, 1970) was an American jazz alto saxophonist.
Stovall began playing violin as a child before settling on alto. He played in St. Louis, Missouri with Dewey Jackson and Fate Marable on riverboats in the 1920s, and then played withEddie Johnson‘s Crackerjacks in 1932-33. In the 1930s he lived in Buffalo, New York, where he led his own ensemble and played with Lil Armstrong. He moved to New York City in 1939, and played there with Sammy Price, Eddie Durham, and Cootie Williams. Following this he recorded extensively with Red Allen, remaining with him until 1950. He also recorded with Pete Johnson and Snub Mosley over the course of his career, though he never recorded as a leader.
Stovall retired from music in 1950 and spent the remainder of his life working for a telephone company.
Sidney De Paris
He was the son of Sidney G. and Fannie (Hyatt) Paris and the brother of Wilbur de Paris.
He worked with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten (1926–1931), Don Redman (1932–1936 and 1939), Zutty Singleton (1939–1941), Benny Carter (1940–41), and Art Hodes (1941). Further, he recorded on the famed Panassie sessions (1938) and with Jelly Roll Morton (1939) and Sidney Bechet (1940).
Price (background) with Wilbur De Paris (left),Sidney De Paris, Eddie Barefield and Charlie Traeger, Jimmy Ryan’s (Club), New York, ca. July 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.
|Born||October 6, 1908
Honey Grove, Texas, United States
|Died||April 14, 1992 (aged 83)
New York City, United States
|Genres||Jazz, jump blues|
|Occupations||Pianist, singer, dancer|
|Associated acts||Henry “Red” Allen|
Sammy Price (October 6, 1908 – April 14, 1992) was an American jazz, boogie-woogie and jump blues pianist and bandleader. He was born Samuel Blythe Price, in Honey Grove, Texas, United States. Price was most noteworthy for his work on Decca Records with his own band, known as the Texas Bluesicians, that included fellow musicians Don Stovall and Emmett Berry. Theartist was equally notable for his decade-long partnership with Henry “Red” Allen.
During his early career, Price was a singer and dancer in local venues in the Dallas area. Price lived and played jazz in Kansas City,Chicago and Detroit. In 1938 he was hired by Decca Records as a session sideman on piano, assisting singers such as Trixie Smithand Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Later in his life, he partnered with the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, and was the headline entertainment at the Crawdaddy Restaurant, a New Orleans themed restaurant in New York in the mid 1970s. Both Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich played with Price at this venue. in the 1980s he switched to playing in the bar of Boston‘s Copley Plaza.
He died in April 1992, in New York, at the age of 83.
Billy Butterfield in the Artie Shaw band, 1940
|Birth name||Billy Butterfield|
|Born||January 14, 1917|
|Died||March 18, 1988 (aged 71)|
|Genres||Swing, big band|
|Instruments||Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cornet|
He studied cornet with Frank Simons, but later switched to studying medicine. He did not give up on music and quit medicine after finding success as a trumpeter. Early in his career he played in the band of Austin Wylie. He gained attention working with Bob Crosby(1937–1940), and later worked with Artie Shaw, Les Brown, and Benny Goodman. On October 7, 1940, during his brief stay with Artie Shaw’s orchestra, he performed what has been described as a “legendary trumpet solo” on the hit song “Stardust.” Between 1943 and 1947, taking a break to serve in Uncle Sam’s army, Billy led his own orchestra. On September 20, 1944, Capitol recorded the jazz standard “Moonlight In Vermont“, which featured a vocal by Margaret Whiting and a trumpet solo by Billy. The liner notes from the CDCapitol From The Vaults, Volume 2, “Vine Street Divas” indicate that, although ‘Billy Butterfield & His Orchestra’ were credited with the song, it was really the Les Brown band recording under the name of Billy Butterfield because Brown was under contract to another label at the time. He recorded two albums with Ray Conniff in the 1950s (“Conniff meets Butterfield”) and 1960s (“Just Kiddin’ Around”). Later in the 1960s he recorded two albums with his own orchestra for Columbia Records. Billy was a member of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band led by Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart from the late 1960s until his death in 1988. He also freelanced as a guest star with many bands all over the world, and performed at many jazz festivals, including the Manassas Jazz Festival and Dick Gibson’s Bash in Colorado.
Robert Dewees “Cutty” Cutshall (December 29, 1911 – August 16, 1968) was an American jazz trombonist.
Cutshall played in Pittsburgh early in his career, making his first major tour in 1934 with Charley Dornberger. He joined Jan Savitt‘s orchestra in 1938, then played with Benny Goodman in the early 1940s. Later in the decade he worked frequently with Billy Butterfield and did some freelance work in New York City. He started working with Eddie Condon in 1949, an association which would last over a decade. Cutshall was touring with Condon in 1968 at the time of his death, which occurred in a hotel room.
George Wettling (November 28, 1907 – June 6, 1968) was an American jazz drummer.
He was one of the young white Chicagoans who fell in love with jazz as a result of hearing King Oliver‘s band (with Louis Armstrong on second cornet) at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago in the early 1920s. Oliver’s drummer, Baby Dodds, made a particular and lasting impression upon Wettling.
Wettling went on to work with the big bands of Artie Shaw, Bunny Berigan, Red Norvo, Paul Whiteman, and even Harpo Marx: but he was at his best on (and will be best remembered for) his work in small ‘hot’ bands led by Eddie Condon, Muggsy Spanier, and himself. In these small bands, Wettling was able to demonstrate the arts of dynamics and responding to a particular soloist that he had learned from Baby Dodds.
Wettling was a member of some of Condon’s classic line-ups, which included, among others, Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Edmond Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Pee Wee Russell, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Ralph Sutton, and Walter Page, and in 1957 toured Britain with a Condon band including Davison, Cutshall, and Schroeder.
Towards the end of his life, Wettling (like his friend the clarinetist Pee Wee Russell), took up painting, and was much influenced by the American cubist Stuart Davis. He has been quoted as remarking that “jazz drumming and abstract painting seemed different from him only from the point of view of craftsmanship: in both fields he felt rhythm to be decisive”.
Jack Lesberg, Max Kaminsky, and Peanuts Hucko, Eddie Condon’s, New York, N.Y., ca. May 1947. Image: Gottlieb
|Birth name||Jack Lesberg|
|Born||February 14, 1920|
|Died||September 17, 2005 (aged 85)|
|Genres||Swing, Big band|
Lesberg had the misfortune of playing in the Cocoanut Grove on the night in 1942 when 492 people lost their lives in a fire. His escape was memorialized by fellow bassist Charles Mingus in an unpublished section of Mingus’s autobiography “Beneath the Underdog”; this passage was read by rapper Chuck D. on the Mingus tribute album “Weird Nightmare”. According to Mingus’s telling, Lesberg used his double bass to “make a door” inside the club which aided in his escape.
Lesberg continued to tour in the 1980s and was interviewed for KCEA radio in 1984 following a performance in Menlo Park, CA. During the taped interview Jack spoke of the many bands and performers he worked with and expressed his feelings that he felt blessed to be a musician.
Peanuts Hucko, Famous Door, New York
|Birth name||Michael Andrew Hucko|
|Also known as||“Peanuts”|
|Born||April 7, 1918|
|Origin||Syracuse, New York, USA|
|Died||June 19, 2003 (aged 85)|
|Years active||1940s – 1990s|
|Associated acts||The Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band
Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
Eddie Condon and His All-Stars
Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band
Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars
Ray McKinley Orchestra
Peanuts Hucko and His All Stars
Peanuts Hucko and His Pied Piper Quintet
Early life and education
He was born in Syracuse, New York, and moved to New York City in 1939; he played tenor saxophone with Will Bradley, Tommy Reynolds and Joe Marsala until 1940. After a brief time with Charlie Spivak, he joined the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band in which he served in Europe during World War II. During this time, Peanuts (the nickname comes from a childhood love of them) began to concentrate on the clarinet “because we did a lot of marching in sand, which was awkward with the tenor.” With Miller’s Uptown Hall Gang, he was featured in a hard-driving version of Stealin’ Apples.
During the post-war period, Peanuts played in the bands of Benny Goodman, Ray McKinley, Eddie Condon and Jack Teagarden. From 1950 to 1955, he was busy in New York as a studio musician for CBS and ABC. This was followed by more work with Goodman and Teagarden, after which he joined the Louis Armstrong All-Stars from 1958 to 1960. When he visited Tokyo, Japan, as the lead alto saxophone player of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra in January, 1951, he listened to Japanese famous jazz clarinet player Shoji Suzukiand his Rhythm Aces playing. Teaming with Suzuki and his band, they recorded some tunes after a few days, one of them was “Suzukake No Michi”, which broke the record of jazz record sales in Japan. He also led his own group at Eddie Condon‘s Club from 1964 to 1966.
From 1966, he was featured regularly at Dick Gibson‘s Colorado jazz parties where he appeared with the Ten Greats of Jazz, later the World’s Greatest Jazz Band. In the 1970s he led the Glenn Miller Orchestra and toured with them across the US and abroad.
The 1980s brought renewed success with a busy concert and touring schedule as a soloist and with his award-winning Pied Piper quintet. He and Tobin later settled into semi-retirement in Denton, Texas. His last recording was 1992’s Swing That Music (Star Line)featuring Tobin, trumpeter Randy Sandke, and pianist Johnny Varro.
Jack Lesberg, Max Kaminsky, and Peanuts Hucko at Eddie Condon’s, New York, N.Y., ca. May 1947. Image: Gottlieb
|Born||September 7, 1908|
|Died||September 6, 1994 (aged 85)|
|Genres||Swing, Big band|
Max Kaminsky (September 7, 1908 – September 6, 1994) was a jazz trumpeter and bandleader of his own orchestra (The Max Kaminsky Orchestra).
Kaminsky was born in Brockton, Massachusetts. He started his career in Boston in 1924 and by 1928 worked in Chicago with George Wettling and Frank Teschemacher at the Cinderella Ballroom and in New York for a brief period in 1929 with Red Nichols. He was primarily known for Dixieland. At one time he played for the Original Dixieland Jass Band.
For the next five years he worked in commercially oriented dance bands, at the same time recording with Eddie Condon and Benny Carter‘s Chocolate Dandies (1933) and with Mezz Mezzrow (1933–34). He played with Tommy Dorsey (1936, 1938)and Artie Shaw(briefly in 1938), performed and recorded with Bud Freeman (1939–40) and worked again with Shaw (1941–43), who led a navy band with which Kaminsky toured the South Pacific.
From 1942 he took part in important concerts in New York that were organized by Condon at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall, and from the following year he played Dixieland with various groups. He also worked in the 1940s with Sidney Bechet, George Brunis, Art Hodes,Joe Marsala, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Jack Teagarden.
He went on to work in television, and led Jackie Gleason‘s personal band for several seasons, toured Europe with Teagarden’s and Earl Hines‘ All Stars (1957), and performed at the Metropole and Ryan’s in New York (at intervals from the late 1960s to 1983, the Newport Jazz Festival and the New York World’s Fair (1964–5). In 1963 he published My Life in Jazz with V. E. Hughes. In 1975–76 he made recordings as a leader that well illustrate his style, which is full-toned, economical and swinging in the manner of King Oliver, Freddy Keppard and Louis Armstrong.
Goodman in Stage Door Canteen, 1943.
|Birth name||Benjamin David Goodman|
|Also known as||“King of Swing”, “The Professor”, “Patriarch of the Clarinet”, “Swing’s Senior Statesman”|
|Born||May 30, 1909
|Died||June 13, 1986 (aged 77)
New York City, New York
|Genres||Swing, big band|
|Occupations||Musician, bandleader, songwriter|
In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in America. His January 16, 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City is described by critic Bruce Eder as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music.”
Goodman’s bands launched the careers of many major names in jazz, and during an era of segregation, he also led one of the first well-known racially integrated jazz groups. Goodman continued to perform to nearly the end of his life, while exploring an interest in classical music.
Childhood and early years
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 Goodman (1873-1926), a tailor from Warsaw; his mother was Dora Grisinsky (1873-1964) from Kaunas, Lithuania. His parents met in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Chicago before Benny was born.
When Benny was 10, his father enrolled him and two of his older brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue. The next year he joined the boys club band at Jane Addams‘ Hull House, where he received lessons from director James Sylvester. He also received two years of instruction from the classically trained clarinetist Franz Schoepp. His early influences were New Orleans jazz clarinetists working in Chicago, notably Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo, and Jimmy Noone. Goodman learned quickly, becoming a strong player at an early age: he was soon playing professionally in various bands.
Goodman made his professional debut in 1921 at Central Park Theater in Chicago and entered Harrison High School in 1922. He joined the musicians’s union in 1923 and that summer he met Bix Beiderbecke. He attended Lewis Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high school sophomore, while also playing the clarinet in a dance hall band. (He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from IIT in 1968.) At age 14, he was in a band that featured the legendary Bix Beiderbecke. When Goodman was 16, he joined one of Chicago’s top bands, the Ben Pollack Orchestra, with which he made his first recordings in 1926.
He made his first record on Vocalion under his own name two years later. Goodman recorded with the regular Pollack band and smaller groups drawn from the orchestra through 1929. The side sessions produced scores of sides recorded for the variousdimestore record labels under an array of group names, including Mills’ Musical Clowns, Goody’s Good Timers, The Hotsy Totsy Gang, Jimmy Backen’s Toe Ticklers, Dixie Daisies, and Kentucky Grasshoppers.
Goodman’s father, David, was a working-class immigrant about whom Benny said (interview, Downbeat, February 8, 1956); “…Pop 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, 1926, David Goodman was killed in a traffic accident. Benny had recently joined the Pollack band and was urging his father to retire, since he and his brother (Harry) were now 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 streetcar—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 (mostly with Ben Pollack‘s band between 1926 and 1929). A notable March 21, 1928 Victor session found Goodman alongside Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra, directed by Nat Shilkret. He played with the nationally known bands of Ben Selvin, Red Nichols, Isham Jones (although he is not on any of Jones’s records), and Ted Lewis. He recorded sides for Brunswick under the name Benny Goodman’s Boys, a band that featured Glenn Miller. In 1928, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller wrote the instrumental “Room 1411“, which was released as a Brunswick 78. He also recorded musical soundtracks for movie shorts; fans believe 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.
During this period as a successful session musician, John Hammond arranged for a series of jazz sides recorded for and issued on Columbia starting in 1933 and continuing until his signing with Victor in 1935, during his success on radio. There were also a number of commercial studio sides recorded for Melotone Records between late 1930 and mid-1931 under Goodman’s name. The all-star Columbia sides featured Jack Teagarden, Joe Sullivan, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins (for 1 session), and vocalists Jack Teagarden and Mildred Bailey, and the first two recorded vocals by a young Billie Holiday.
In 1934 Goodman auditioned for NBC‘s Let’s Dance, a well-regarded three-hour weekly radio program that featured various styles of dance music. His familiar theme song by that title was based on Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber. Since he needed new arrangements every week for the show, his agent, John Hammond, suggested that he purchase “hot” (swing) arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, an African-American musician from Atlanta who had New York’s most popular African-American band in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Goodman, a wise businessman, helped Henderson in 1929 when the stock market crashed. He purchased all of Henderson’s song books, and hired Henderson’s band members to teach his musicians how to play the music. In 1932, his career officially began with Fletcher Henderson. Although Henderson’s orchestra was at its climax of creativity, it had not reached any peaks of popularity. During the Depression, Fletcher disbanded his orchestra as he was in financial debt.
In early 1935, Goodman and his band were one of three bands (the others were Xavier Cugat and “Kel Murray” [r.n. Murray Kellner]) featured on Let’s Dance where they played arrangements by Henderson along with hits such as “Get Happy” and “Jingle Bells” from composer and arranger Spud Murphy. Goodman’s portion of the program from New York, at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time, aired too late to attract a large East Coast audience. However, unknown to him, the time slot gave him an avid following on the West Coast (they heard him at 9:30 p.m. Pacific Time). He and his band remained on Let’s Dance until May of that year when a strike by employees of the series’ sponsor, Nabisco, forced the cancellation of the radio show. An engagement was booked at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Grill (filling in for Guy Lombardo), but the crowd there expected ‘sweet’ music and Goodman’s band was unsuccessful. The band set out on a tour of America in May 1935, but was still poorly received. By August 1935, Goodman found himself with a band that was nearly broke, disillusioned and ready to quit.
Catalyst for the Swing era
In July 1935, a record of the Goodman band playing the Henderson arrangements of “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. Reports were that in Pittsburgh at the Stanley Theater some of the kids danced in the aisles, but in general these arrangements had made little impact on the band’s tour until August 19 when they arrived in Oakland to play at McFadden’s Ballroom. There, Goodman and his artists Gene Krupa,Bunny Berigan, and Helen Ward found a large crowd of young dancers, raving and cheering the hot music they had heard on the Let’s Dance radio show. Herb Caen wrote that “from the first note, the place was in an uproar.” One night later, at Pismo Beach, the show was another flop, and the band thought the overwhelming reception in Oakland had been a fluke.
The next night, August 21, 1935 at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, Goodman and his band began a three-week engagement. On top of the Let’s Dance airplay, Al Jarvis had been playing Goodman records on KFWB radio, and Los Angeles fans were primed to hear him in person. Goodman started the evening with stock arrangements, but after an indifferent response, began the second set with the arrangements by Fletcher Henderson and Spud Murphy. According to Willard Alexander, the band’s booking agent, Krupa said “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.” The crowd broke into cheers and applause. News reports spread word of the enthusiastic dancing and exciting new music that was happening. Over the course of the engagement, the “Jitterbug” began to appear as a new dance craze, and radio broadcasts carried the band’s performances across the nation.
The Palomar engagement was such a marked success it is often exaggeratedly described as the beginning of the swing era. Donald Clarke wrote “It is clear in retrospect that the Swing Era had been waiting to happen, but it was Goodman and his band that touched it off.”
In November 1935 Goodman accepted an invitation to play in Chicago at the Joseph Urban Room at the Congress Hotel. His stay there extended to six months and his popularity was cemented by nationwide radio broadcasts over NBC affiliate stations. While in Chicago, the band recorded If I Could Be With You, Stompin’ At The Savoy, and Goody, Goody. Goodman also played three special concerts produced by jazz aficionado and Chicago socialite Helen Oakley. These “Rhythm Club” concerts at the Congress Hotel included sets in which Goodman and Krupa sat in with Fletcher Henderson’s band, perhaps the first racially integrated big band appearance before a paying audience in the United States. Goodman and Krupa played in a trio with Teddy Wilson on piano. Both combinations were well-received, and Wilson stayed on.
In his 1935–1936 radio broadcasts from Chicago, Goodman was introduced as the “Rajah of Rhythm.” Slingerland Drum Company had been calling Krupa the “King of Swing” as part of a sales campaign, but shortly after Goodman and crew left Chicago in May 1936 to spend the summer filming The Big Broadcast of 1937 in Hollywood, the title “King of Swing” was applied to Goodman by the media. Goodman left record company RCA for Columbia, following his agent and soon to be brother-in-law John Hammond.
At the end of June 1936, Goodman went to Hollywood, where, on June 30, 1936 his band began CBS’s “Camel Caravan,” its third, and, according to Connor and Hicks, its greatest of them all, sponsored radio show, co-starring Goodman and his old boss Nat Shilkret. By spring, 1936, bandleader Fletcher Henderson was writing arrangements for Goodman’s band. He would disband his own group in 1939 and become a full-time arranger for Goodman. Other noteworthy arrangers in the Goodman band were Jimmy Mundy, 1935 to 1939 (overlapping with Henderson) and Eddie Sauter, the 1940s. In 1940, Benny developed a serious case of sciatica, and had others compose pieces for him, such as Eddie Sauter who did not fully compose flawless compositions such as Benny Rides Again where the clarinet piece sounded like two tempo pieces instead of one. During 1945, the orchestra disbanded. After, Benny still continued to tour internationally, and played in classical concert halls with major composers such as Hindemith and Copland.
Carnegie Hall concert
|“||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 pull[ed] it off with the audacity and precision of Ocean’s Eleven.||”|
In late 1937, Goodman’s publicist Wynn Nathanson attempted a publicity stunt by suggesting Goodman and his band should play Carnegie Hall in New York City. If this concert were to take place, then Benny Goodman would be the first jazz bandleader to perform at Carnegie Hall. “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.” They then played a history of jazz, starting with a Dixieland quartet performing “Sensation Rag”, originally recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1918. 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. (The surprise of the session: Goodman handing a solo to Basie’s guitarist Freddie Green who was never a featured soloist but earned his reputation as the best rhythm guitarist in the genre—he responded with a striking round of chord improvisations.) 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 later trio and quartet numbers were well-received, and a vocal on “Loch Lomond” by Martha Tilton 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 was assured. This performance featured playing by tenor saxophonist Babe Russin, trumpeter Harry James, and Benny Goodman, backed by drummer Gene Krupa. When Goodman finished his solo, he unexpectedly gave a solo 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,” wrote David Rickert. “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 as one of 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. 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.||”|
Goodman took the newly discovered recording to his record company, Columbia, and a selection was issued on LP. These recordings have not been out of print since they were first issued. In early 1998, the aluminum masters were rediscovered and a new CD set of the concert was released based on these masters. The album released based on those masters went on to be one of the best selling live jazz albums of all time.
Charlie Christian was playing at the Ritz in Oklahoma City where [...] John Hammond heard him in 1939. Hammond recommended him to Benny Goodman, but the band leader wasn’t interested. The idea of an electrified guitar didn’t appeal, and Goodman didn’t care for Christian’s flashy style of dressing. Reportedly, Hammond personally installed Christian onstage during a break in a Goodman concert in Beverly Hills. Irritated to see Christian among the band, Goodman struck up “Rose Room“, not expecting the guitarist to know the tune. What followed amazed everyone who heard the 45-minute performance.
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.
Charlie Christian’s recordings and rehearsal dubs made with Benny Goodman in the early forties are widely known and were released by Columbia.
Goodman continued his meteoric rise throughout the late 1930s with his big band, his trio and quartet, and a sextet. By the mid-1940s, however, big bands lost a lot of their popularity. In 1941, ASCAP had a licensing war with music publishers. In 1942 to 1944 and 1948, the musician’s union went on strike against the major record labels in the United States, and singers took the spot in popularity that the big bands had once enjoyed. During this strike, the United States War Department approached the union and requested the production of the V-Disc, a set of records containing new and fresh music for soldiers to listen to. Also, by the late 1940s, swing was no longer the dominant mode of jazz musicians.
Bebop, Cool Jazz
By the 1940s, jazz musicians were borrowing advanced ideas from classical music. The recordings Goodman made in bop style for Capitol Records were highly praised by jazz critics. When Goodman was starting a bebop band, he hired Buddy Greco, Zoot Sims, Wardell Gray and a few other modern players.
|“||Pianist/arranger Mary Lou Williams had been a favorite of Benny’s since she first appeared on the national scene in 1936 [...]. [A]s Goodman warily approached the music of [Charlie] Parker and [Dizzy] Gillespie, he turned to Williams for musical guidance. [...] Pianist Mel Powell was the first to introduce the new music to Benny in 1945, and kept him abreast to what was happening around 52nd Street.||”|
Goodman enjoyed the bebop and cool jazz that was beginning to arrive in the 1940s. When Goodman heard Thelonious Monk, a celebrated pianist and accompanist to bop players Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Clarke, he remarked, “I like it, I like that very much. I like the piece and I like the way he played it. [...] I think he’s got a sense of humor and he’s got some good things there.”
|“||Benny had heard this Swedish clarinet player named Stan Hasselgard playing bebop, and he loved it … So he started a bebop band. But after a year and a half, he became frustrated. He eventually reformed his band and went back to playing Fletcher Henderson arrangements. Benny was a swing player and decided to concentrate on what he does best.||”|
By 1953, Goodman completely changed his mind about bebop. “Maybe bop has done more to set music back for years than anything [...] Basically it’s all wrong. It’s not even knowing the scales. [...] Bop was mostly publicity and people figuring angles.”
Forays into classical repertoire
Goodman’s first classical recording dates from April 25, 1938 when he recorded Mozart‘s Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, with the Budapest Quartet. 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. In 1946, he met Ingolf Dahl, an emigre classical composer on the faculty of the University of Southern California, who was then musical director of the Victor Borge show. They played chamber music together (Brahms,Milhaud, Hindemith, Debussy) and in 1948 Goodman played in the world premiere performance of Dahl’s Concerto a Tre.
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.
Clarinetists all over the world are indebted to Goodman for his being singly responsible for having commissioned many major works of twentieth century chamber music for clarinet and small ensembles as well as compositions for clarinet and symphony orchestra that are now standard repertoire in the field of classical performance. He also gave premiere performances of other works written by leading composers in addition to the pieces he commissioned, namely Contrasts by Béla Bartók, Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Op. 115 byMalcolm 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. Woody Herman was the dedicatee (1945) and first performer (1946) of Igor Stravinsky‘s Ebony Concerto, but many years later Stravinsky made another recording, this time with Benny Goodman as the soloist.
He made a further recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, in July 1956 with the Boston Symphony String Quartet, at the Berkshire Festival; on the same occasion he also recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Charles Munch. He also recorded the clarinet concertos of Weber and Carl Nielsen.
Other recordings of classical repertoire by Goodman are:
- Premiere Rhapsodie for Clarinet by Claude Debussy
- Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E flat by Johannes Brahms
- Rondo from Grand Duo Concertant in E flat by Weber, and
- An arrangement by Simeon Bellison of Beethoven‘s Variations on a theme from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni“.
Touring with Armstrong
After forays outside of swing, Goodman started a new band in 1953. According to Donald Clarke, this was not a happy time for Goodman.
|“||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.||”|
Benny Goodman’s 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).
Goodman’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, but the music was the real draw. Many of Goodman’s professional colleagues appear in the film, including Ben Pollack,Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton and Harry James.
Personality and influence
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 once asked him why, he reportedly said, “Well, if they knew about it, everyone would come to me with their hand out.”
|“As far as I’m concerned, what he did in those days—and they were hard days, in 1937—made it possible for Negroes to have their chance in baseball and other fields.”|
|—Lionel Hampton on Benny Goodman|
Goodman is also responsible for a significant step in racial integration in America. In the early 1930s, black and white jazz musicians could not play together in most clubs or concerts. In the Southern states, racial segregation was enforced by the Jim Crow laws. Benny Goodman broke with tradition by hiring Teddy Wilson to play with him and drummer Gene Krupa in the Benny Goodman Trio. In 1936, he added Lionel Hampton on vibes to form the Benny Goodman Quartet; in 1939 he added pioneering jazz guitarist Charlie Christian to his band and small ensembles, who played with him until his death from tuberculosis less than three years later. This integration in music happened ten years before Jackie Robinson became the first black American to enter Major League Baseball. “[Goodman's] popularity was such that he could remain financially viable without touring the South, where he would have been subject to arrest for violating Jim Crow laws.” According to Jazz by Ken Burns, when someone asked him why he “played with that nigger” (referring to Teddy Wilson), Goodman replied, “I’ll knock you out if you use that word around me again”.
John Hammond and Alice Goodman
One of Benny Goodman’s closest friends off and on, from the 1930s onward was celebrated Columbia records producer John H. Hammond, who influenced Goodman’s move from RCA to the newly created Columbia records in 1939.
Benny Goodman married Hammond’s sister Alice Frances Hammond (1913–1978) on March 14, 1942. They had two daughters, Benjie and Rachel. Alice was previously married to British politician Arthur Duckworth, from whom she obtained a divorce.
Both daughters studied music, though neither was as successful as her father.
Hammond had encouraged Goodman to integrate his band, persuading him to employ pianist Teddy Wilson. But Hammond’s tendency to interfere in the musical affairs of Goodman’s and other bands led to Goodman pulling away from him. In 1953 they had another falling-out during Goodman’s ill-fated tour with Louis Armstrong, which was produced by John Hammond.
Goodman appeared on a 1975 PBS salute to Hammond but remained at a distance. In the 1980s, following the death of Alice Goodman, John Hammond and Benny Goodman, both by then elderly, reconciled. On June 25, 1985, Goodman appeared at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City for “A Tribute to John Hammond”.
After winning numerous polls over the years as best jazz clarinetist, Goodman was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1957.
Goodman continued to play on records and in small groups. One exception to this pattern was a collaboration with George Benson in the 1970s. The two 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 clarinet pieces and commissioned compositions for 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 until his death from a heart attack in New York City in 1986 at the age of 77, in his home at Manhattan House, 200 East 66th Street. A longtime resident of Stamford, Connecticut, Benny Goodman is interred in the Long Ridge Cemetery in Stamford. The same year, Goodman was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Benny Goodman’s musical papers were donated to Yale University after his death.
Goodman received honorary doctorates from Union College, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Bard College, Columbia University, Yale University, and Harvard University.
He is a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in the radio division.
Johnny Mercer, ca. 1947
|Birth name||John Herndon Mercer|
|Born||November 18, 1909
|Died||June 25, 1976 (aged 66)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
|Associated acts||Harold Arlen,
He is best known as a lyricist, but he also composed music. He was also a popular singer who recorded his own songs as well as those written by others. From the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s, many of the songs Mercer wrote and performed were among the most popular hits of the time. He wrote the lyrics to more than fifteen hundred songs, including compositions for movies and Broadway shows. He received nineteen Academy Award nominations, and won four.
Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia. His father, George Anderson Mercer, was a prominent attorney and real estate developer, and his mother, Lillian Elizabeth (née Ciucevich), George Mercer’s secretary and then second wife, was the daughter of Croatian and Irish immigrants who came to America in the 1850s. Lillian’s father was a merchant seaman who ran the Union blockade during the U.S. Civil War. Mercer was George’s fourth son, first by Lillian. His great-grandfather was Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer and he was a direct descendant of American Revolutionary War General Hugh Mercer, a Scottish soldier-physician who died at the Battle of Princeton. Mercer was also a distant cousin of General George S. Patton. The construction of Mercer House in Savannah was started by General Hugh Weedon Mercer in 1860 (although never finished by him; the next owners of the house finished it), later the home of Jim Williams, whose trial for murder was the centerpiece of John Berendt‘s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, although neither the General nor Johnny ever lived there.
Mercer liked music as a small child and attributed his musical talent to his mother, who would sing sentimental ballads. Mercer’s father also sang, mostly old Scottish songs. His aunt told him he was humming music when he was six months old and later she took him to see minstrel and vaudeville shows where he heard “coon songs” and ragtime. The family’s summer home “Vernon View” was on the tidal waters and Mercer’s long summers there among mossy trees, saltwater marshes, and soft, starry nights inspired him years later.
Mercer’s exposure to black music was perhaps unique among the white songwriters of his generation. As a child, Mercer had African-American playmates and servants, and he listened to the fishermen and vendors about him, who spoke and sang in the dialect known as “Geechee”. He was also attracted to black church services. Mercer later stated, “Songs always fascinated me more than anything”. He never had formal musical training but was singing in a choir by six and at eleven or twelve he had memorized almost all of the songs he had heard and he had become curious about who had written them. He once asked his brother who the best songwriter was, and his brother said Irving Berlin, among the best of Tin Pan Alley.
Despite Mercer’s early exposure to music, his talent was clearly in creating the words and singing, not in playing music, though early on he had hoped to become a composer. In addition to the lyrics that Mercer memorized, he was an avid reader and wrote adventure stories. However, his attempts to play the trumpet and piano were not successful, and he never could read musical scores with any facility, relying instead on his own notation system.
As a teenager in the Jazz Era, he was a product of his age. He hunted for records in the black section of Savannah and played such early black jazz greats as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong. His father owned the first car in town, and Mercer’s teenage social life was enhanced by his driving privilege, which sometimes verged on recklessness. The family would motor to the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina to escape the Savannah heat and there Mercer learned to dance (from Arthur Murrayhimself) and to flirt with Southern belles, his natural sense of rhythm helping him on both accounts. Later, Mercer wrote a humorous song called “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In a Hurry.”
Mercer attended exclusive Woodberry Forest boys prep school in Virginia until 1927. Though not a top student, he was active in literary and poetry societies and as a humor writer for the school’s publications. In addition, his exposure to classic literature augmented his already rich store of vocabulary and phraseology. He began to scribble ingenious, sometimes strained rhymed phrases for later use. Mercer was also the class clown and a prankster, and member of the “hop” committee that booked musical entertainment on campus.
Mercer was already somewhat of an authority on jazz at an early age. His yearbook stated, “No orchestra or new production can be authoritatively termed ‘good’ until Johnny’s stamp of approval has been placed upon it. His ability to ‘get hot’ under all conditions and at all times is uncanny”. Mercer began to write songs, an early effort being ‘’Sister Susie, Strut Your Stuff.” and quickly learned the powerful effect songs had on girls.
Given his family’s proud history and association with Princeton, New Jersey, and Princeton University, Mercer was destined for school there until his father’s financial setbacks in the late 1920s changed those plans. He went to work in his father’s recovering business, collecting rent and running errands, but soon grew bored with the routine and with Savannah, and looked to escape.
Mercer moved to New York in 1928, when he was 19. The music he loved, jazz and blues, was booming in Harlem and Broadway was bursting with musicals and revues fromGeorge Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. Vaudeville, though beginning to fade, was still a strong musical presence. Mercer’s first few jobs were as a bit actor (billed as John Mercer). Holed up in a Greenwich Village apartment with plenty of time on his hands and a beat-up piano to play, Mercer soon returned to singing and lyric writing. He secured a day job at a brokerage house and sang at night. Pooling his meager income with that of his roommates, Mercer managed to keep going, sometimes on little more than oatmeal. One night he dropped in on Eddie Cantor backstage to offer a comic song, but although Cantor didn’t use the song, he began encouraging Mercer’s career. Mercer’s first lyric, for the song “Out of Breath (and Scared to Death of You)”, composed by friend Everett Miller, appeared in a musical revue The Garrick Gaieties in 1930. Mercer met his future wife at the show, chorus girl Ginger Meehan. Meehan had earlier been one of the many chorus girls pursued by the young crooner Bing Crosby. Through Miller’s father, an executive at the famous publisher T. B. Harms, Mercer’s first song was published. It was recorded by Joe Venuti and his New Yorkers.
The 20-year-old Mercer began to hang out with other songwriters and to learn the trade. He traveled to California to undertake a lyric writing assignment for the musical Paris in the Spring and met his idols Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Mercer found the experience sobering and realized that he much preferred free-standing lyric writing to writing on demand for musicals. Upon his return, he got a job as staff lyricist for Miller Music for a $25 dollar-a-week draw which give him a base income and enough prospects to win over and marry Ginger in 1931. The new Mrs. Mercer quit the chorus line and became a seamstress, and to save money the newlyweds moved in with Ginger’s mother in Brooklyn. Johnny did not inform his own parents of his marriage until after the fact, perhaps in part because he knew that Ginger being Jewish would not sit comfortably with some members of his family, and he worried they would try to talk him out of marrying her.
In 1932, Mercer won a contest to sing with the Paul Whiteman orchestra, but it did not help his situation significantly. He made his recording debut, singing with Frank Trumbauer’s Orchestra, on April 5 of that year. Mercer then apprenticed with Yip Harburg on the score for Americana, a Depression-flavored revue famous for “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (not a Mercer composition), which gave Mercer invaluable training. After several songs which didn’t catch fire, during his time with Whiteman, he wrote and sang “Pardon My Southern Accent”. Mercer’s fortunes improved dramatically with a chance pairing with Indiana-born Hoagy Carmichael, already famous for the standard “Stardust“, who was intrigued by the “young, bouncy butterball of a man from Georgia”. The two spent a year laboring over “Lazybones“, which became a hit one week after its first radio broadcast, and each received a large royalty check of $1250. A regional song in pseudo-black dialect, it captured the mood of the times, especially in rural America. Mercer became a member of ASCAP and a recognized “brother” in the Tin Pan Alley fraternity, receiving congratulations from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter among others. Paul Whiteman lured Mercer back to his orchestra (to sing, write comic skits and compose songs), temporarily breaking up the working team with Carmichael.
During the golden age of sophisticated popular song of the late Twenties and early Thirties, songs were put into revues with minimal regard for plot integration. During the 1930s, there was a shift from revues to stage and movie musicals using song to further the plot. Demand diminished accordingly for the pure stand-alone songs that Mercer preferred. Thus, although he had established himself in the New York music world, when Mercer was offered a job in Hollywood to compose songs and perform in low-budget musicals for RKO, he accepted and followed idol Bing Crosby west.
It was only when Mercer moved to Hollywood in 1935 that his career was assured. Writing songs for movies offered two distinct advantages. The use of sensitive microphones for recording and of the lip-synching of pre-recorded songs liberated songwriters from dependence on the long vowel endings and long sustained notes required for live performance. Performers such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could now sing more conversationally and more nonchalantly. Mercer, as a singer, was attuned to this shift and his style fitted the need perfectly.
Mercer’s first Hollywood assignment was not the Astaire-Rogers vehicle of which he had dreamed but a B-movie college musical, Old Man Rhythm, to which he contributed two undistinguished songs and even worse acting. His next project, To Beat the Band, was another flop, but it did lead to a meeting and a collaboration with Fred Astaire on the moderately successful Astaire song “I’m Building Up to an Awful Let-Down”.
Though all but overwhelmed by the glitter of Hollywood, Mercer found his beloved jazz and nightlife lacking. As he wrote, “Hollywood was never much of a night town. Everybody had to get up too early… the movie people were in bed with the chickens (or each other).” Mercer was now in Bing Crosby’s hard-drinking circle and enjoyed Crosby’s company and hipster talk. Unfortunately, Mercer also began to drink more at parties and was prone to vicious outbursts when under the influence of alcohol, contrasting sharply with his ordinarily genial and gentlemanly behavior.
Mercer’s first big Hollywood song “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande” was inspired by a road trip through Texas (he wrote both the music and the lyric). It was performed by Crosby in the film Rhythm on the Range in 1936, and from thereon the demand for Mercer as a lyricist took off. His second hit that year was “Goody Goody“. In 1937, Mercer began employment with the Warner Brothers studio, working with the veteran composer Richard Whiting (Ain’t We Got Fun?), soon producing his standard, “Too Marvelous for Words“, followed by “Hooray for Hollywood“. After Whiting’s sudden death from a heart attack, Mercer joined forces with Harry Warren and created “Jeepers Creepers“, which earned Mercer his first Oscar nomination for Best Song. It was given a memorable recording by Louis Armstrong. Another hit with Warren in 1938 was “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby“. The pair also created “Hooray For Spinach”, a comic song produced for the film Naughty But Nice in 1939.
During a lull at Warners, Mercer revived his singing career. He joined Bing Crosby’s informal minstrel shows put on by the “Westwood Marching and Chowder Club,” which included many Hollywood luminaries and brought together Crosby and Bob Hope. A duet “Mr. Crosby and Mr. Mercer” was recorded and became a hit in 1938.
In 1939, Mercer wrote the lyrics to a melody by Ziggy Elman, a trumpet player with Benny Goodman. The song was “And the Angels Sing” and, although recorded by Bing Crosbyand Count Basie, it was the Goodman version with vocal by Martha Tilton and memorable trumpet solo by Elman that became the Number One hit. Years later, the title was inscribed on Mercer’s tombstone.
Mercer was invited to the Camel Caravan radio show in New York to sing his hits and create satirical songs with the Benny Goodman orchestra, then becoming the emcee of the nationally broadcast show for several months. Two more hits followed shortly, “Day In, Day Out” and “Fools Rush In“, and Mercer in short order had five of the top ten songs on the popular radio show Your Hit Parade. Mercer also started a short-lived publishing company during his stay in New York. On a lucky streak, Mercer undertook a musical withHoagy Carmichael, but Walk With Music (originally called Three After Three) was a bomb, with story quality not matching that of the score. Another disappointment for Mercer was the selection of Johnny Burke as the long-term songwriter for the Hope-Crosby “Road” pictures. In 1940, the Mercers adopted a daughter, Amanda. Mercer was thirty and his life and career were riding high.
In 1941, shortly after the death of his father, Mercer began an intense affair with nineteen-year-old Judy Garland while she was engaged to composer David Rose. Garland married Rose to stop the affair, but the effect on Mercer lingered, adding to the emotional depth of his lyrics. Their affair revived later. Mercer stated that his song “I Remember You” was the most direct expression of his feelings for Garland.
Shortly thereafter, Mercer met an ideal musical collaborator in the form of Harold Arlen whose jazz and blues-influenced compositions provided Mercer’s sophisticated, idiomatic lyrics a perfect musical vehicle. Now Mercer’s lyrics began to display the combination of sophisticated wit and southern regional vernacular that characterize some of his best songs. Their first hit was “Blues in the Night” (1941), which Arthur Schwartz claimed was “probably the greatest blues song ever written.”
Frank Sinatra was particularly successful with the first two and Bing Crosby with the third. “Come Rain” was Mercer’s only Broadway hit, composed for the show St. Louis Womanwith Pearl Bailey. “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” was a big smash for Judy Garland in the 1946 film The Harvey Girls, and earned Mercer the first of his four Academy Awards for Best Song, after eight unsuccessful nominations.
Mercer re-united with Hoagy Carmichael with “Skylark” (1941), and the Oscar-winning “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (1951). With Jerome Kern, Mercer created You Were Never Lovelier for Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in the movie of the same name, as well as “I’m Old Fashioned“. Mercer co-founded Capitol Records (originally “Liberty Records”) in Hollywood in 1942, along with producer Buddy DeSylva and record store owner Glen Wallichs. He also co-founded Cowboy Records.
Mercer by the mid-1940s enjoyed a reputation as being among the premier Hollywood lyricists. He was adaptable, listening carefully and absorbing a tune and then transforming it into his own style. Like Irving Berlin, he was a close follower of cultural fashion and changing language, which in part accounted for the long tenure of his success. Mercer preferred to have the music first, taking it home and working on it. He claimed composers had no problem with this method provided that he returned with the lyrics. Only with Arlen and Whiting did Mercer occasionally work side-by-side.
Mercer was often asked to write new lyrics to already popular tunes. The lyrics to “Laura“, “Midnight Sun“, and “Satin Doll” were all written after the melodies had become hits. He was also asked to compose English lyrics to foreign songs, the most famous example being “Autumn Leaves“, based on the French “Les Feuilles Mortes”.
In the 1950s, the advent of rock and roll and the transition of jazz into “bebop” cut deeply into Mercer’s natural audience, and dramatically reduced venues for his songs. His continual string of hits came to an end but many great songs were still to come. Mercer wrote for some MGM films, including Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Merry Andrew (1958). He collaborated on three Broadway musicals in the 1950s—Top Banana (1951), Li’l Abner (1956), and Saratoga (1959).
Mercer made occasional television appearances. In the 1953–1954 season, he guest starred as himself on ABC‘s Jukebox Jury, a musical/quiz program on which celebrities judge the latest releases from the recording companies. In 1954, he appeared on NBC‘s The Donald O’Connor Show.
His more successful songs of the 1950s include “The Glow-Worm” (sung by the Mills Brothers) and “Something’s Gotta Give“. In 1961, he wrote the lyrics to “Moon River” for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and for Days of Wine and Roses, both with music by Henry Mancini, and Mercer received his third and fourth Oscars for Best Song. The back-to-back Oscars were the first time a songwriting team had achieved that feat. Mercer, also with Mancini, wrote Charade for the 1963 Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn romantic thriller with the same name. The Tony Bennett classic “I Wanna Be Around” was written by Mercer in 1962 and the Sinatra hit “Summer Wind” in 1965.
An indication of the high esteem in which Mercer was held can be observed in that in 1964 he became the only lyricist to have his work recorded as a volume of Ella Fitzgerald‘s celebrated ‘Songbook’ albums for the Verve label. Yet Mercer always remained humble about his work, attributing much to luck and timing. He was fond of telling the story of how he was offered the job of doing the lyrics for Johnny Mandel‘s music on The Sandpiper, only to have the producer turn his lyrics down. The producer offered the commission to Paul Francis Webster and the result was The Shadow of Your Smile which became a huge hit, winning the 1965 Oscar for Best Original Song.
In 1969, Mercer helped publishers Abe Olman and Howie Richmond found the National Academy of Popular Music’s Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1971, Mercer presented a retrospective of his career for the “Lyrics and Lyricists Series” in New York, including an omnibus of his “greatest hits” and a performance by Margaret Whiting. It was recorded live as An Evening with Johnny Mercer. In 1974, he collaborated on the West End production The Good Companions. He also recorded two albums of his songs in London in 1974, with the Pete Moore Orchestra, and with the Harry Roche Constellation, later compiled into a single album and released as “…My Huckleberry Friend: Johnny Mercer Sings the Songs of Johnny Mercer”. In 1975, Paul McCartney approached Mercer for a collaboration but Mercer was ill, and an inoperable brain tumor was diagnosed. He died on June 25, 1976 in Bel Air, California. Mercer was buried in Savannah’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery. The simple line drawing caricature adorning his memorial bench is in fact a reproduction of a self-portrait.
Well regarded also as a singer, with a folksy quality, Mercer was a natural for his own songs such as “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive“, “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe“, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)“, and “Lazybones“. He was considered a first-rate performer of his own work.
It has been said that he penned “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”—one of the great torch laments of all times—on a napkin while sitting at the bar at P. J. Clarke’swhen Tommy Joyce was the bartender. The next day Mercer called Joyce to apologize for the line “So, set ‘em up, Joe,” “I couldn’t get your name to rhyme.”
In his last year, Mercer became fond of pop singer Barry Manilow, in part because Manilow’s first hit record was of a song titled “Mandy“, which was also the name of Mercer’s daughter Amanda. After Mercer’s death in 1976 from a brain tumor, his widow, Ginger Mehan Mercer, arranged to give some unfinished lyrics he had written to Manilow to possibly develop into complete songs. Among these was a piece titled “When October Goes“, a melancholy remembrance of lost love. Manilow applied his own melody to the lyric and issued it as a single in 1984, when it became a top 10 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. The song has since become a jazz standard, with notable recordings by Rosemary Clooney,Nancy Wilson, and Megon McDonough, among other performers.
Mercer was honored by the United States Postal Service with his portrait placed on a stamp in 1996. Mercer’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1628 Vine Street is a block away from the Capitol Records building at 1750 Vine Street.
Mercer was given tribute in John Berendt‘s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer song “Skylark”, sung by K.D. Lang, features prominently in the movie and the movie soundtrack is a tribute album to Johnny Mercer, containing 14 Mercer songs performed by a variety of jazz and pop recording artists.
The Johnny Mercer Collections, including his papers and memorabilia, are preserved in the library of Georgia State University in Atlanta. GSU occasionally holds events showcasing Mercer’s works.
In November 2009, a statue of Mercer was unveiled in Ellis Square in Savannah, Georgia, his hometown and birthplace.
The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer was published by Knopf in October 2009.The Complete Lyrics contains the texts to nearly 1,500 of his lyrics, several hundred of them appearing in print for the first time.
Mercer won four Academy Awards for Best Original Song:
- “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (1946) (music by Harry Warren) for The Harvey Girls
- “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (1951) (music by Hoagy Carmichael) for Here Comes The Groom
- “Moon River” (1961) (music by Henry Mancini) for Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) (music by Henry Mancini) for Days of Wine and Roses
In 2009 Clint Eastwood produced a documentary film on Johnny Mercer’s life and work called “The Dream’s on Me” (Turner Classic Movies). After airing on Turner Classic Movies, the film was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Nonfiction Special. It is currently available as a Warner Brothers DVD.
Lyrics by Mercer, unless noted.
He wrote many other songs, some of which have entered the Great American Songbook:
Fazola or Faz was born in New Orleans, Louisiana as Irving Henry Prestopnik. He got the nickname Fazola from his childhood skill at Solfege (“Fa-Sol-La”). He decided to use the nickname as his family name, and many fellow musicians were unaware that Fazola was not his birth name. Many people feel that he adopted the name “Fazola” from Louis Prima, when Faz toured with him. Prima would tell Faz that he was “Fazola” Italian for “Beans.” That being Jazz talk for being cool.
Influenced early on by Leon Roppolo, who Fazola continued to idolize throughout his life, Fazola was playing professionally by age 15. In his home city of New Orleans he worked with such bandleaders as Candy Candido, Louis Prima, Sharkey Bonano, Armand Hug, and Ellis Stratakos.
When the touring Ben Pollack band came through New Orleans in 1935 Fazola joined the band and toured the country and played residencies in New York City and Chicago with them. After brief stints with Gus Arnheim, Glenn Miller and time back in New Orleans he joined the Bob Crosby band in 1938. His work with Crosby brought him national fame. He ranked first in the Down Beat polls of 1940 and 1941 as the top hot clarinetist, winning out over such other greats as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Edmond Hall.
It is clear, listening to Fazola’s mature style in the late 1930s (My Inspiration with the Bob Crosby Orchestra, for instance), that his main influence by then was Jimmie Noone. He played on the Glenn Miller composition Doin’ the Jive which was released on Brunswick and Vocalion in 1938 by the first Glenn Miller Orchestra.
After leaving Crosby’s band two years later he alternated between playing with various groups in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans (including a stint with George Brunies at the Famous Door) before returning to New Orleans for good in 1943. While some of his fellow musicians urged Fazola that greater fame and fortune awaited him in the big cities up north, Fazola said he was more comfortable in his home town with its wonderful food (which he ate in great quantities, becoming ever more obese). According to Pete Fountain, for whom Fazola was one of his two foremost idols, Faz also drank heavily, which contributed to his weight and his early death.
Fazola died of a heart attack in New Orleans in 1949 at the age of 36.
Fazola was an enormous influence on young clarinetist Pete Fountain, whose style and sound very much followed Fazola’s and who sat in for Faz at the Opera House the night Faz died, specifically requested because he played like Faz. Fountain has Faz’s clarinet, but says that the odor of garlic that comes from the horn when it warms up makes it virtually impossible to play even after having been reconditioned by the factory. It was an Albert System clarinet, on which the fingers are stretched out more than on the Boehm Systemclarinet that Fountain played. The distinctive woody (or “fat”) Fountain sound, however, comes from the crystal mouthpiece he has played with since 1949, his first having been Fazola’s own, given to him along with the clarinet by Fazola’s mother after Faz’s death, because she had heard him play and noted how he played like her son. Pete has played crystal mouthpieces ever since.
Norma Teagarden studied piano with her mother and became an outstanding pianist, with a worldwide reputation. She started working professionally in Oklahoma City around 1926, then moved to New Mexico in 1929 and worked in various territory bands. In 1935, she led her own band in Oklahoma City, then again in Long Beach, California in 1942.
In 1944, she joined brother Jack Teagarden‘s band and toured with him. After this, she moved back to California and worked with Ben Pollack, Matty Matlock, Ada Leonard, Ted Vesley, Pete Daily, and Ray Bauduc. She again joined Jack Teagarden in 1952.