Plas John Johnson Jr. was born on July 21, 1931 in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Along with his pianist brother Ray, he first recorded as the Johnson Brothers in New Orleans in the late 1940s. He then toured with R&B singer Charles Brown and after military service moved to Los Angeles and began session recordings as a full-time musician. There he backed artists such as B. B. King and Johnny Otis as well as scores of other R&B performers.
An early supporter was Maxwell Davis, who hired him to take over his own parts so that he could concentrate on producing sessions for the Modern record label. Recruited by Capitol Records in the mid-1950s, Johnson also played on innumerable records by Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and others.
For the next twenty years Plas remained a leading session player averaging two sessions a day and playing everything from movie soundtracks to rock and roll singles, by such artists as Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee, the Beach Boys and a number of instrumental groups.
By 1963, Johnson soloed for the television series The Odd Couple’s theme, recorded Ella Fitzgerald’s Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer Songbooks; and worked with Motown playing with the likes of Marvin Gaye and The Supremes.
In 1970, Johnson joined the studio band of the Merv Griffin Show while playing with a number of jazz and swing bands of the period. The soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist is probably most widely known for his solo on Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme”. He continues to record and perform, particularly at jazz festivals.
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Bill Dillard was born on July 20, 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and started playing the trumpet at age 12. He established his early reputation on recording sessions with jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton and at the age of 18, Dillard went on to record with Spike Hughes, Henry “Red” Allen, Bill Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Django Reinhardt.
He made his theater debut in “Carmen Jones” and sang in several other Broadway productions, including “Regina,” “Beggars Holiday,” “A Temporary Island” and “Lost in the Stars.” He also appeared on television as Joe the bartender in the soap opera “Love of Life,” and as the King of Babylon in “Green Pastures.”
Dillard was well known for his work with the big bands of Benny Carter, Luis Russell and Teddy Hill. He also had a prolific acting career on Broadway. The trumpeter and vocalist imported to Denmark the sounds of early 20th century New Orleans but it wasn’t until he was 79 that he released his only album as a solo improviser that released in 1991 with the Michael Boving’s Rhythmakers.
Swing jazz trumpeter, actor and vocalist passed away just four years later on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, January 16, 1995.
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Phil Upchurch was born July 19, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois where he learned to play the guitar and bass. He stared his career in the ‘50s working with Jerry Butler before becoming house guitarist for Chess Records. He also worked with The Kool Gents, The Dells, Gene Chandler, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and The Spaniels before going on to work with Curtis Mayfield, Otis Rush and Jimmy Reed.
Returning to Chicago he played and recorded with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Groove Holmes, B.B. King and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1961, when billed as the Philip Upchurch Combo, his recording of “You Can’t Sit Down” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record.
In the mid-Sixties he was house guitarist for labels such as Sue and Cadet and after a tour in the Army, in 1967 Phil he recorded with Richard Evans, John Lee Hooker, Grover Washington, Jr. and Cannonball Adderley.
In the 70s he worked with Ramsey Lewis and Quincy Jones, led his own quartet with Tennyson Stephens, through the Eighties played with George Benson, Mose Allison, Gary Burton, Joe Williams, Natalie Cole, Carmen McRae and Michael Jackson.
By the 1990s he was working with Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, recorded for Ichiban, Palladium and Ridgetop labels and remains an active session musician and bandleader.
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Joe Comfort was born on July 18, 1917 in Los Angeles, California into a musical family. Influenced by Jimmy Blanton, Paul Chambers and Ray Brown, he taught himself to play the bass and began performing with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra in the late Twenties. Later he would perform with Nat King Cole, a partnership that would endure until the early 1950s.
Comfort participated in numerous studio dates in the late fifties and early 1960s, with such luminaries as Sammy Davis Jr., Benny Carter, Nancy Wilson and Frank Sinatra but his fear of flying kept him grounded in and around Los Angeles.
According to Mingus’ biography, Joe taught Charles Mingus how to play in Watts where he grew up. His studio credits include working with Nelson Riddle, as well as pop and vocal projects. He was also a part of the M Squad band that highlighted jazz on television.
His beautiful wife, Mattie, was the inspiration for Billy Strayhorn’s “Satin Doll.” Joe Comfort, jazz bassist, passed away on October 29, 1988.
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Jimmy Scott was born JamesVictor Scott on July 17, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio into a family of ten. As a child Jimmy got his first singing experience by his mother’s side at the family piano, and later, in church choir. At thirteen, he was orphaned after a drunk driver killed his mother.
He first rose to prominence as “Little Jimmy Scott”, a moniker given by Hampton when he was in the Lionel Hampton Band when he sang lead on the late 1940s hit “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”, recorded in December 1949, and which became a top ten R&B hit in 1950, though label credit went to “Lionel Hampton. This omission of credit was not only a slight to Scott’s talent but a huge blow to his career. A similar professional insult occurred several years later when his vocal on “Embraceable You” with Charlie Parker, on the album One Night in Birdland, was credited to female vocalist Chubby Newsome.
By 1963 it looked as though Scott’s luck had changed: he signed to Ray Charles’ Tangerine Records label, under the supervision of Charles himself, creating what is considered by many to be one of the great jazz vocal albums of all time, Falling in Love is Wonderful. However, owing to obligations on an earlier contract that Scott had signed with Herman Lubinsky, the record was withdrawn in a matter of days, while Scott was on honeymoon. The album was not re-released for forty years. His career subsequently faded by the late 1960s and he returned to his native Cleveland to work as a hospital orderly, shipping clerk and as an elevator operator in a hotel.
In 1991 Scott eventually resurfaced when he sang at the funeral of his long-time friend Doc Pomus, an event that single-handedly sparked his career renaissance. Afterwards Lou Reed recruited him to sing backup on the track “Power and Glory” from his 1992 album Magic and Loss, which was inspired, to an extent, by Pomus’s death. That same year Sire Records released the album All The Way with Kenny Barron, Ron Carter and David “Fathead” Newman for which he was nominated for a Grammy. He followed this up with Dream, Heaven, Holding Back The Years, and in 1999, his early Decca and Savoy recordings were re-released on CD.
Scott’s career spanned sixty-five years and during that time he performed at the inaugurations of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953) and President Bill Clinton (1993) performing the same song, “Why Was I Born?”. He has received an NEA Jazz Master Award, the Kennedy Center’s Jazz In Our Time Living Legend Award, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America, Inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame and conducted a “two-day video interview with the Smithsonian Institute for the National Archives.
Though he looked so young, and was short and of slight build, it was his extraordinary phrasing and romantic feeling that made him a favorite singer of fellow artists such as Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Frankie Valli, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson. The list of luminaries he performed with is extensive but includes Quincy Jones, Sarah Vaughan, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and numerous others. Vocalist Jimmy Scott passed away of cardiac arrest on June 12, 2014 at the age of 88. He was sleep at his home in Las Vegas.
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