Wilton Crawley was born on July 18, 1900 in Virginia with his family moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some of his musical influences may be traced back to Virginia and its many farms and barnyards with cackles and clucks like a chicken, oinks like a pig, and neighs like a goat that he . It was in Philadelphia that along with his reed-playing brother Jimmy that they formed their first band. During the ’20s and ’30s, the clarinetist found success with a variety act featuring his singing and playing. Though not the most versatile musician he had a sound and style that utilized weird speech-like sound effects and extended use of slap tonguing, sometimes filling out whole lines of a solo with obnoxious little pops.
Between 1927 and 1930 Wilton recorded his own compositions for OKeh and Victor Records, working with Paul Barbarin, Lonnie Johnson, Henry “Red” Allen, Pops Foster, Luis Russell, Jelly Roll Morton, Eddie Heywood and Eddie Lang among others. After splitting with Morton in the 1930s he toured England and after the death of his father and his friend guitarist Eddie Lang, his personal problems derailed his career and slipped into oblivion.
His most famous pieces include Crawley Clarinet Moan, She’s Forty With Me, Put a Flavor to Love, Futuristic Blues and Irony Daddy Blues. Much of this music reveals his attempts to recreate jazz sounds from other instruments, particularly the muted trumpet effects that might have been done by an artist such as Bubber Miley. While some of this sound effect activity have may influenced Anthony Braxton, he may have more in common with the clarinetists who worked with Spike Jones or even later rock showmen like Arthur Brown. Some of the membership in his ensembles such as Wilton Crawley & His Orchestra or the Washboard Rhythm Kings remains unknown, however, banjoist Johnny St. Cyr and blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson show up in his bands.
It is unfortunate that many of the recordings originally done under his own name have all been reissued in various Jelly Roll Morton retrospectives, as he went on to become a lasting legend of early jazz while the clarinetist went into obscurity. Clarinetist, composer, contortionist and vaudevillian Wilton Crawley passed away in 1948 in Maryland.
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Louis Stanley Hooper was born on May 18, 1894 in North Buxton, Ontario, Canada but was raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan and studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory, playing locally in dance orchestras in the 1910s. Around 1920 he moved to New York City and recorded frequently with Elmer Snowden and Bob Fuller in the middle of the decade. He was known to perform with both of them in Harlem as well as with other ensembles.
Lou served for some time as the house pianist for Ajax Records, accompanying many blues singers on record, including Martha Copeland, Rosa Henderson, Lizzie Miles, Monette Moore and Ethel Waters. He was a participant in the Blackbirds revue of 1928.
In 1932 Hooper returned to Canada, where he played in Mynie Sutton’s dance band, the Canadian Ambassadors. Working locally as a soloist and in ensembles for the next two decades, he was brought back into the limelight by the Montreal Vintage Music Society in 1962.
Lou recorded a two-LP set with Bill Coleman titled UK LIve:Satin Doll, Vol. 1 & 2 in 1967 and released an album as a leader of ragtime piano tunes in 1973 titled Lou Hooper, Piano.
Wearing the educator hat, he taught at the University of Prince Edward Island late in his life and appeared regularly on CBC television in Halifax. Pianist Lou Hooper passed away on September 17, 1977 in Charlestown, Prince Edward Island. His papers, which include unpublished compositions and an autobiography, are now held at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa.
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Born Arthur James Singleton on May 14, 1898 in Bunkie, Louisiana, Zutty” Singleton was raised in New Orleans. By the time he was seventeen he was working professionally with Steve Lewis in 1915. He served with the Navy during World War I and after returning to New Orleans he worked with Papa Celestin, Big Eye Louis Nelson, John Robichaux and Fate Marable.
Leaving for St. Lois, Missouri, he played in Charlie Creath’s band before moving on to Chicago, Illinois. There he played with Doc Cooke, Dave Peyton, Jimmy Noone as well as theater bands. He joined Louis Armstrong’s band with Earl Hines and between 1928-1929 performed on the landmark recordings Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. He then moved to New York City with Armstrong.
During the next decade he would play with Armstrong and also Bubber Miley, Tommy Ladnier, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton and Otto Hardwick. He also played in the band that backed Bill Robinson. In 1934, Singleton returned to Chicago but by 1937 was back in New York playing with Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet.
1943 saw Zutty moving to Los Angeles, where he led his own band, played for motion pictures, and in 1944 was featured on Orson Welles’s CBS radio series, The Orson Welles Almanac. He later worked with Slim Gaillard, Wingy Manone, Eddie Condon, Nappy Lamare, Art Hodes, Oran “Hot Lips” Page and Max Kaminsky.
Between 1943 and 1950 he appeared in the films Stormy Weather, New Orleans and Young Man With A Horn. Retiring after suffering a stroke in 1970, drummer Zutty Singleton passed away in New York City on July 14, 1975, aged 77.
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King Oliver was born Joseph Nathan Oliver on May 11, 1885 in Aben, Louisiana. He was also known as Joe Oliver and moved to New Orleans in his youth. He first studied the trombone and then changed to cornet. From 1908 to 1917 he played cornet in New Orleans brass and dance bands, and also in the city’s red-light district known as Storyville.
Oliver co-led a band with trombonist Kid Ory that was considered to be New Orleans’ hottest and best in the late 1910s. He gained great popularity in New Orleans across economic and racial lines, and was in demand for music jobs from rough working-class black dance halls to white society debutante parties.
With the closing of Storyville, Joe packed up his wife and child and moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1918. There he found work with clarinetist Lawrence Duhé, bassist Bill Johnson, trombonist Roy Palmer and drummer Paul Barbarin, eventually becoming the leader. By 1922 he was billing himself as King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band at the Royal Gardens cabaret. His band included Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, Honoré Dutrey and William Manuel Johnson. The following year they recorded for Gennett, Okeh, Paramount and Columbia record labels, bringing Dixieland to the attention of a much wider audience.
The mid-Twenties saw King enlarging his band to nine musicians, began performing more written arrangements with jazz solos, disbanding to do more freelance work in New York, Over the course of his career Oliver pioneered the use of mutes, including the rubber plumber’s plunger, derby hat, bottles and cups but his favorite mute was a small metal mute made by the C.G. Conn Instrument Company. He performed mostly on cornet, but like many cornet players he switched to trumpet in the late 1920s.
Oliver was also a talented composer, and wrote many tunes that are still regularly played, including Dippermouth Blues, Sweet Like This, Canal Street Blues, and Doctor Jazz. His recording Wa Wa Wa with the Dixie Syncopators can be credited with giving the name wah-wah to such techniques.
As an educator he influenced young New Orleans and Chicago players like Tommy Ladnier, Paul Mares, Muggsy Spanier, Johnny Wiggs Frank Guarente, Louis Panico and Louis Armstrong. The latter he taught, gave him his job in Kid Ory’s band and then summoned him to Chicago to play in his band.
As a businessman his acumen was often less than his musical ability losing jobs at the Savoy Ballroom and the Cotton Club by holding out for moe money than they were willing to pay. Ellington took the Cotton Club job and catapulted to fame
Oliver’s managers stole money from him and then the Great Depression hit losing his life savings to a failed Chicago bank, and bookings became lean.Oliver also had health problems, suffering from the gum disease pyorrhea, caused by his love of sugar sandwiches. He began employing younger musicians to play solos like up-and-coming trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen. Coupled with health problems suffering from periodontitis and his diminished capacity to play left him no choice but to stop playing by 1937.
Cornetist and bandleader King Oliver died in poverty of arteriosclerosis in a Savannah rooming house on April 10, 1938 at age 52, too broke to afford treatment. His sister spent her rent money to have his body brought to New York, where he was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. In attendance were his friends Louis Armstrong, Clarence Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Lionel Hampton, W.C. Handy, Milt Jackson, and Max Roach. In 2007 he was inducted as a charter member of the Gennett Records Walk of Fame in Richmond, Indiana.
Duke Ellington was born Edward Kennedy Ellington on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. to parents who were pianists with his mother primarily playing parlor songs and his father preferring operatic arias. At the age of seven, he began taking piano lessons from Marietta Clinkscales. Surrounded by dignified women who reinforced his manners and taught him to live elegantly, his childhood friends noticed that his casual, offhand manner, easy grace and dapper dress and began calling him “Duke”.
Though Ellington took piano lessons, he was more interested in baseball. Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C. and his first job was selling peanuts at the Washington Senators baseball games. Sneaking into Frank Holiday’s Poolroom at the age of fourteen and hearing the poolroom pianists play ignited Duke’s love for the instrument, and he began to take his piano studies seriously. But in the summer of 1914, while working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Cafe he wrote his first composition, Soda Fountain Rag, created by ear, as he had not yet learned to read and write music.
He took private lessons in harmony from Dunbar High School music teacher Henry Lee Grant and with guidance of pianist and bandleader Oliver “Doc” Perry, he learned to read sheet music, project a professional style, and improve his technique. He was equally inspired by his encounters with James P. Johnson, Lukey Roberts, Will Marion Cook, Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet.
Playing gigs in cafés and clubs around D.C. and working as a freelance sign-painter, in 1917 Ellington began assembling groups to play for dances beginning with The Duke Serenaders. His group ventured to Harlem joining Wilber Sweatman’s orchestra, becoming a part of the Renaissance. Striking out on their own they hit roadblocks and though Willie “The Lion” Smith introduced them to the scene and gave them some money, they ultimately returned to D.C. discouraged.
A 1923 gig in Atlantic City, New Jersey led to the prestigious Exclusive Club in Harlem, followed by the Hollywood Club and a four-year engagement, giving Ellington a solid artistic base. He would go on to lead The Washingtonians, record eight records, contribute four songs to the 1925 all-Black revue Chocolate Kiddies starring Lottie Gee and Adelaide Hall, and struck an agreement of 45% interest in his future with agent-publisher Irving Mills. He would record on nearly every label at the time giving him popular recognition.
In 1927 he began his engagement at the Cotton Club receiving national attention from weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave Ellington national exposure. He gained worldwide recognition with Adelaide Hall on Creole Love Call and Black and Tan composed by Bubber Miley. He would go on to play for Florenz Ziegfeld, compose music for film scores, hire Ivie Anderson and create hits It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, Solitude and In A Sentimental Mood.
By the 1930s as the Depression worsened, Duke was still able to produce music and continue a high profile with his radio broadcasts. He had hits like Caravan and I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart. His short film Symphony In Black introduced Billie Holiday on A Rhapsody of Negro Life, winning an Academy Award for Best Musical Short Subject.
In 1939 he began his association with Billy Strayhorn and the stage turned up again with more great music collaborations, such as Take The “A” Train. Among the musicians in Duke’s orchestra at one time or another were Ben Webster, Cootie Williams, Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Blanton, Herb Jeffries, Al Hibbler, Mary Lou Williams, Sonny Greer, Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, and many others to numerous to mention here.
Ellington’s appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956 returned him to wider prominence and introduced him to a new generation of fans with Paul Gonsalves’ 27-chorus marathon solo, culminating in an album release.
Over the next two decades Duke continued to tour, compose and record, have statues erected, schools , streets, parks, buildings and bridges named for him, and a coin and a stamp honoring him. He has an annual competition, The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Competition and Festival at Jazz At Lincoln Center, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Stars, was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Legion Of Honor from France, won 12 Grammy Awards, and has nine songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame among too many to list.
Pianist, bandleader and composer Duke Ellington, who composed to the very last days of his life and never came off the road, passed away on May 24, 1974 of complications from lung cancer and pneumonia, a few weeks after his 75th birthday.
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