Jimmy Hamilton was born on May 25, 1917 in Dillon, South Carolina but grew up in Philadelphia. He learned to play piano and brass instruments and by the thirties he was playing the latter in local bands. He switched to clarinet and saxophone and by 1939 was playing with Lucky Millinder, Jimmy Mundy and Bill Doggett, then going to work for Teddy Wilson in 1940.
After a two-year stay with Wilson he played with Eddie Heywood and Yank Porter before replacing Barney Bigard in Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1943. Over the next twenty-five years with Ellington his sound on saxophone had an R&B style while his clarinet was more precise, correct and fluent and it was during this time that he wrote some of his own material.
Leaving the Ellington orchestra, Hamilton played and arranged on a freelance basis, before spending the 1970s and 1980s in the Virgin Islands teaching music, occasionally returning to the U.S. for performances with John Carter’s Clarinet Summit. He retired from teaching but continued to perform with his own groups from 1989 to 1990.
The clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger, composer and music educator Jimmy Hamilton died in St. Croix, Virgin Islands at the age of seventy-seven on September 20, 1994.
Charles Earland was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1941 and learned to play the saxophone in high school. By age 17 he was playing tenor with Jimmy McGriff and in 1960 started his first group. He didn’t start playing the organ until after a stint with Pat Martino, then joined Lou Donaldson’s band until 1969.
Earland led a successful group in 1970 that included Grover Washington, Jr. and he eventually started playing the soprano saxophone and synthesizer but it was his simmering organ grooves the earned him the nickname “The Mighty Burner”.
In 1978 Earland hit the disco/club scene with “Let the Music Play” written by Randy Muller from Brass Construction. The record hit the U.S. charts for 5 weeks and reached number 46 in the U.K. Singles chart. From 1988 he traveled extensively performing worldwide with one of his many career highlights being to play the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1994.
He continued to perform throughout the U.S. and abroad until his death from heart failure in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of fifty-eight on December 11, 1999. Charles Earland, The Mighty Burner, was a composer, organist, and saxophonist in the soul jazz idiom.
Bassist Julian Euell was born on May 23, 1929 in New York City. He first began playing bass in 1944, served in the Army from 1945-47 and after his discharge began playing with Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Art Taylor that same year. He quit music in ’49 for steady work in the post office eventually studying under Charles Mingus in ’52 and attending Julliard fro 1953 to 1956. He also took classes at NYU, earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and subsequently taught there.
His musical associations during the fifties were with Elmo Hope, Benny Harris, Charlie Rouse, Joe Roland, Freddie Redd, Gigi Gryce and Phineas Newborn. Leaving music again late in the decade he found employment in New Jersey as a social worker. Though less active at this time he continued to perform with Mal Waldron, Randy Weston, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus and Kenny Dorham.
In the 1960s Euell worked in Harlem directing an arts program and then returned to school, receiving a Ph.D. from George Washington University in 1973. He was Assistant Secretary for Public Service at the Smithsonian from 1970-1982, and was partly responsible for the institution’s increasing interest in jazz history. From 1983 to 1988 he directed the Oakland Museum History-Arts-Science and from 1991-95 was director of the Louis Armstrong House. He returned to semi-regular performing in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama on May 22, 1914 and as a child was a skilled pianist. By twelve he was writing original songs and could sight read sheet music. With Birmingham being an important stop for touring musicians, during his childhood he was able to see famed musicians like Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller.
By his teenage years he was producing from memory full transcriptions of big band songs he had heard and began playing semi-professional solo piano in ad hoc jazz bands. Attending Birmingham Industrial High School he took lessons the tutelage of John T. “Fess” Whatley, a demanding disciplinarian and producer of many professional musicians.
Claiming that he was of the “Angel Race” and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona of “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of “afro-futurism” as he preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the ancient Egyptian god of the sun).
From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led “The Arkestra”, an ensemble with an ever-changing lineup and names, asserting that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music. His mainstream success was limited, but Sun Ra was a prolific recording artist and frequent live performer with music ranged from keyboard solos to big bands of over 30 musicians and music touching on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime, swing, bebop, free improvisation, electronic and space music.
Sun Ra had several music periods during his lifetime – late 30s creating a conservatory workshop in his family home, conscientious objector during the war years, Chicago playing blues and jazz with Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith, New York Monday night gig at Slug’s Saloon and praise from Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, and Philadelphia that would be the base of operations for the Arkestra until his death.
Sun Ra known for his “cosmic philosophy, musical compositions and performances was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979. The prolific Jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher passed away on May 30, 1993, at 79.
Willis Leonard Holman was born on May 21, 1927 in Olive, California. Known to the jazz world as Bill Holman, he has worked primarily in the jazz idiom as a songwriter, conductor, composer, arranger and saxophonist.
Through his acquaintance with composer Gene Roland he was introduced to Stan Kenton and in the early fifties was hired as a tenor sax player. Beyond his sax playing, Holman had the ability to integrate counterpoint and dissonance in subtle yet distinctive ways thus making Kenton’s band swing. He became Kenton’s chief arranger writing much of Kenton’s late 1950s repertoire and continued to write for Kenton, on and off, throughout the 1960s and 70s.
In addition to working for Kenton, Bill provided charts for Woody Herman, Doc Severinsen, Buddy Rich, Terry Gibbs, Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan, The Association, The Fifth Dimension and Natalie Cole among others. In 1975 he formed his own band that continues to perform in the U.S. and worldwide. In 1997 he won a Grammy for his recording Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonious Monk. He continues to create his legacy in jazz.