Laura is a jazz standard written for the 1944 American film noir produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The theme song was composed by Johnny Mercer nd David Raksin. The movie starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb with supporting cast comprised of Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson.
The Story: New York City police detective Mark McPherson (played by Andrews) is investigating the murder of beautiful and highly successful advertising executive, Laura Hunt (Tierney). A series of interviews leads McPherson to the people in Laura’s life – decadent newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Webb), parasitic playboy fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Price) and her aunt Ann Treadwell (Anderson) who has been carrying on with Carpenter and giving him money. Through the ensuing investigation McPherson falls in love with the dead woman’s image only to discover that she is alive and that another girl was murdered. He now only has to learn the identity of the murderer in order to save Laura.
George V. Johnson Jr. was born on December 20, 1950 in Washington, D.C. Self taught, he was first exposed to music by singing and participating regular with church and school choirs while listening and emulating records played by his parents. He attended Prince George’s Community College then went on to matriculate through Howard University School of Fine Arts.
A composer, George writes lyrics about complex things: personal experiences, love, history, family, home, heaven and jazz. Phrases turn, emotions connect and melodies soar with his natural gift of writing lyrics and poetry. Meeting pianist John Malachi was fortuitous as he helped shape and guide Johnson’s career over the next 15 years.
He met a major influence, Eddie Jefferson, and performed or recorded with Lou Donaldson and James Moody, has performed at numerous jazz festivals and tributes, played various nightclubs and toured Europe. He has penned lyrics to more than 40 Hank Mobley compositions as part of the Second Floor Music project that has single handedly kept vocalese alive.
Over a 35 year career, vocalist, lyricist, actor, playwright, producer, promoter, composer George Johnson has played with legendary jazz musicians and vocalists such as Lou Donaldson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Shirley Horn, Dizzy Gillespie, John Hicks, Billy Higgins, Rufus Reid, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, Kurt Lightsey and the list continues. He continues to perform, and record.
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Bobby Timmons was born Robert Henry Timmons on December 19, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Studying piano from the age of six by the age of 19 he was moving to New York, playing with the likes of Kenny Dorham’s Jazz Prophets, Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt and Maynard Ferguson. He became a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 58-59 touring Europe and became well known for his composition “Moanin”.
He joined Cannonball Adderley for a year, recorded two soul-jazz compositions that became hits “This Here” and “Dat Dere” and rejoined Blakey for a brief stint in the Sixties. Over the course of his career he recorded some 16 albums for Riverside, Milestone and Prestige record labels and recorded another twenty-three as a sideman with Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Nat Adderley, Kenny Burrell and the Young Lions.
However sophisticated and versatile a pianist he proved to be, Timmons’ success of his compositions, which have become jazz standards, could not compensate for his artistic frustrations and his battle with alcoholism. Pianist and composer Bobby Timmons passed away from cirrhosis at the age of 38 on March 1, 1974.
Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was born on December 18, 1917 in Houston, Texas and took up the alto saxophone in his youth. By the late 30s he joined Milton Larkin’s Orchestra and at various times sat next to Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Cedric Haywood and Wild Bill Davis.
Exiting Larkin’s employment in 1941, Vinson picked up a few vocal tricks while touring with bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, moved to New York City joining and recording with Cootie Williams, and then struck out on his own in 1945, Eddie formed his own large band that performed, recorded and toured over the next ten years.
He signed with Mercury Records, and enjoying a double-sided hit in 1947 with his R&B chart-topper “Old Maid Boogie”, and the song that would prove to be his signature number, “Kidney Stew Blues”.
Vinson leaned towards jazz during the early 50s when his band included John Coltrane. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles working with Johnny Otis and by the late 60s he was touring in a strict jazz capacity with Jay McShann and his career took an upswing. A 1970 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Otis spurred a bit of a comeback for Vinson and throughout the decade worked high-profile blues and jazz sessions for Count Basie, Johnny Otis, Roomful of Blues, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate.
During this period he also composed steadily, including “Tune Up” and “Four”, both of which have been incorrectly attributed to Miles Davis. Vinson recorded extensively during his fifty-odd year career and performed regularly in Europe and the United States.
Jump blues, R&B, jazz and bebop alto saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, whose nickname came from a hair straightening incident in which the lye destroyed his hair, passed away on July 2, 1988 from a heart attack whilst undergoing chemotherapy in Los Angles, California.
James Carroll Booker III was born on December 17, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana to piano playing Baptist ministers. He spent most of his childhood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where his father pastored and got a saxophone from his mother. However his interest lay stronger with the keyboard and he started playing organ in his father’s church.
Returning to New Orleans in his early teens, Booker attended the Xavier Academy Preparatory School, learning some elements of his keyboard style and playing Bach and Chopin among other classical composers, in addition to memorizing solos by Errol Garner and Liberace. He became a masterful interpreter of jazz and other pop music styles combining performance elements of stride, blues, gospel and Latin piano styles.
Booker made his recording debut in 1954 on the Imperial label, with “Doin’ the Hambone” and “Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Baby.” This led to some session work with Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price. In 1958, when just 18, James had the opportunity to play and astonish Arthur Rubenstein who revealed he could never play at that tempo. He would go on to matriculate through Southern University, record a few moderately successful singles, hit the Billboard charts, and venture into the drug world ultimately serving a brief sentence.
By the 70s he was recording for Paramount, then Island Records, performing at the Nice, Montreux and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals, touring Europe, house pianist at the Maple Leaf Bar, played and toured with Jerry Garcia, and his “Let’s Make A Better World” would be the last record produced in the former East Germany.
James Booker died on November 8, 1983, while seated in a wheelchair, waiting to be seen at the emergency room at New Orleans Charity Hospital. The cause of death was renal failure due to his life-long struggle with drug abuse and alcoholism.