Charles Parker, Jr. was born on August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas but was raised in Kansas City Missouri, the only child of Adelaide and Charles Parker. He began playing the saxophone at age 11 and by age 14 he joined his school’s band using a rented school instrument. His father, a pianist, dancer and singer on the Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) circuit, was often absent but provided some musical influence. His biggest influence at that time was a young trombone player who taught him the basics of improvisation.
By the late 1930s Parker began to practice diligently. During this period he mastered improvisation and developed some of the ideas that led to bebop. He played with local bands in jazz clubs around his hometown perfecting his technique, with the assistance of Buster Smith, whose dynamic transitions to double and triple time influenced the young man’s developing style.
In 1938, he joined pianist Jay McShann’s territory band touring nightclubs and other venues in the Southwest, Chicago and New York City. During this stint with McShann he made his professional recording debut. As a teenager, Charlie developed a morphine addiction while hospitalized after an automobile accident, and subsequently became addicted to heroin.
In 1939 Parker moved to New York City, to pursue a career in music. He held several other jobs as well. He worked for nine dollars a week as a dishwasher at Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, where pianist Art Tatum performed. In 1942 he left McShann and played with Earl Hines for one year alongside Dizzy Gillespie. A strike by the American Federation of Musicians unfortunately resulted in few recordings documenting this period of his playing. He played in after-hours clubs in Harlem with other young cats at the time, such as, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Mary Lou Williams and Kenny Clarke, creating a music that white bandleaders couldn’t usurp and profit from like they did with swing.
It was while playing Cherokee in a jam session with William “Biddy” Fleet that he hit upon a method for developing his solos that enabled one of his main musical innovations, the 12 semitones of the Chromatic scale could lead melodically to any key, breaking some of the confines of simpler jazz soloing.
By 1945 after the lifting of the recording ban that Charlie’s collaboration with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell and others would have a substantial effect on the jazz world beginning with their June 22, 1945 Town Hall performance. Bebop soon gained wider appeal among musicians and fans alike.
On November 26th of that same year he led a record date for Savoy Records that is arguably the “greatest jazz session ever” with Miles Davis, Curly Russell, and Max Roach. Shortly afterward, the Parker/Gillespie band traveled to an unsuccessful engagement at Billy Berg’s club in Los Angeles. However staying in California he spiraled down into great hardship due to his heroin addiction, ultimately being committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for six months.
Although he produced many brilliant recordings during this period, Parker’s addiction led to increasingly erratic behavior. Recording sessions were hard, but he recorded the classic Relaxin’ at Camarillo before his return to New York. He would record a series of sessions with Savoy and Dial record labels, innovate by fusing jazz and classical elements into what would become known as Third Stream, releasing Charlie Parker with Strings.
The influential jazz musician who was at the gate of bebop and the man affectionately known as Yardbird or simply Bird, Charlie Parker died on March 12, 1955, in the suite of his friend and patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City while watching The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show on television. The official causes of death were lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer but also an advanced case of cirrhosis and he had suffered a heart attack. The coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker’s 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60 years of age. His friend Dizzy Gillespie paid for the funeral arrangements and organized a lying-in-state, a Harlem procession officiated by Congressman and Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr., as well as a memorial concert.
He left the world classic jazz compositions, arrangements and versions of tunes such as Ornithology, How High The Moon, Yardbird Suite, Billie’s Bounce, Now’s The Time, Au Privave, Barbados, Relaxin’ at Camarillo, Bloomdido, Blues for Alice, Laird Baird, Si Si, Constellation, Donna Lee, Scrapple From The Apple, Cheryl, Ah-Leu-Cha, Anthropology and Cool Blues among others.
He was posthumously awarded a Grammy for Best Performance by a Soloist in 1974, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984, had two albums Jazz At Massey hall and Charlie Parker with Strings and two singles Ornithology and Billie’s Bounce inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He has been inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and the Jazz at Lincoln Center: Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame and had a 32 cent stamp commissioned and issued by the United State Post Office.
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Eddie Shu was born Edward Shulman on March18, 1918 in New York City and learned violin and guitar as a child before picking up the saxophone as a teenager. He began his professional career in 1935 in Brooklyn and for the seven years leading up to his service in the U.S. Army, he performed in vaudeville and night clubs as a ventriloquist and played harmonica with the Cappy Barra harmonica Band.
While serving in the Army from 1942 to 1945 with Stan Harper, the two were assigned to a special unit to entertain the troops. He also played in various bans including with Maurice Evans in the Pacific. After the war and through the 1950s Eddie performed with Tadd Dameron, George Shearing, Johnny Bothwell, Buddy Rich, Les Elgart, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Chubby Jackson, and Gene Krupa.
By the 1960s Shu moved to Florida, playing locally as well as with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa once again. He was a member of the vocal jazz group Rare Silk in 1980. During this period, he performed with this group in and around Boulder, Colorado and also performed a 6-week Department of Defense tour. He would record his final date on the Island Jazz Label “Shu-Swings” With The Joe Delaney Trio, playing tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet, trumpet and also revisit’s his 1954 78 single “Ruby” on chromatic harmonica.
Eddie Shu died on July 4, 1986 in St. Petersburg, Florida while living in Tampa. The swing and jazz multi-instrumentalist also had a high proficiency on the accordion and was a popular comedic ventriloquist.
Ike Quebec was born Ike Abrams Quebe on August 17, 1918 in Newark, New Jersey and was both an accomplished dancer and pianist. He switched to tenor sax as his primary instrument in his early twenties, and quickly earned a reputation as a promising player. His recording career started in 1940, with the Barons of Rhythm and from 1944 and 1951 he worked intermittently with Cab Calloway.
Over the course of his career Quebec recorded or performed with Frankie Newton, Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge, Trummy Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Sonny Clark, Dodo Green, Jimmy Smith and Coleman Hawkins. He recorded as a leader for Blue Note records in the Forties era, and also served as a talent scout for the label, helping pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell come to wider attention. Due to his exceptional sight-reading skills, he was also an un-credited impromptu arranger for many Blue Note sessions.
His struggles wit drug addiction and the fading popularity of big band music forced Ike to record only sporadically during the 1950s, though he still performed regularly. He kept abreast on new developments in jazz, and his later playing incorporated elements of hard bop, bossa nova and soul jazz. He occasionally recorded on piano, as on his 1961 Blue & Sentimental album, where he alternated between tenor and piano, playing the latter behind Grant Green’s guitar solos.
In 1959 he began what amounted to a comeback with a series of albums on the Blue Note label. Blue Note executive Alfred Lion, though always fond of his music, was unsure how audiences would respond to the saxophonist after a decade of low visibility. So in the mid-to-late 1950s, they issued a series of singles for the juke-box market and audiences ate them up, leading to a number of warmly-received albums. However, his comeback was short-lived when Ike Quebec, the tenor saxophonist with the big breathy sound, passed away from ling cancer on January 16, 1963.
Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana and grew up in the poverty-stricken, rough neighborhood known as “The Battlefield”, which was part of the Storyville legal prostitution district. Abandoned by his father while still an infant, he and his sister lived with relatives for a period of years. He attended the Fisk School for Boys, getting his early exposure to music, worked as a paperboy, discarded food reseller, and hauled coal to the brothels and clubs and worked for a Jewish junk haulers who treated him like family.
Dropping out of school at age eleven, Louis joined a quartet of boys singing on the corner for money, and listened to the bands in Storyville. He developed his cornet playing skills by playing in the band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs under the tutelage of Professor Peter Davis who instilled discipline in and provided musical training to the otherwise self-taught Armstrong. He eventually became the bandleader, they played around New Orleans and by thirteen-year-old he began drawing attention by his cornet playing, starting him on a musical career. At fourteen he got his first dance hall job at Henry Ponce’s where Black Benny became his protector and guide. He hauled coal by day and played his cornet at night.
Over the next years he played in the city’s frequent brass band parades and listened to older musicians every chance he got, learning from Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, Kid Ory and Joe “King” Oliver, who acted as a mentor and father figure to the young musician. He toured with Fate Marable, replaced King Oliver in Kid Ory’s band, and was second trumpet in the Tuxedo Brass Band.
1922 saw Armstrong in Chicago joining King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band when the city was the center of the jazz universe. He was challenged to “cutting contests” by hornmen trying to displace the new phenomenon, which could blow two hundred high Cs in a row. He made his first recordings on the Gennett and Okeh labels, he met Hoagy Carmichael through his friend Bix Beiderbecke. Taking the advice of second wife Lil Harden Armstrong, he left Oliver and went to work with Fletcher Henderson in New York and developing his own style. By 1924 he switched to trumpet and his influence upon Henderson’s tenor sax soloist Coleman Hawkins, can be judged by listening to the records made by the band during this period.
During this time, Armstrong made many recordings on the side, arranged by Clarence Williams, with the Williams Blue Five pairing him with Sidney Bechet and backing Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Alberta Hunter. He began recording under his own name for Okeh with his famous Hot Five and Hot Seven groups Hot Five and Hot Seven groups, producing hits Potato Head Blues, Muggles and West End Blues, the music of which set the standard and the agenda for jazz for many years to come. His recording of Heebie Jeebies turned on both black and white young musicians to his new type of jazz, including a young Bing Crosby.
Over the course of his career he appeared in musical, played clubs, added vocals to his repertoire covering most famously Carmichael’s Stardust that became one of the most successful renditions. His approach to melody and phrasing was radical and evolved into scat singing. As with his trumpet playing, Armstrong’s vocal innovations served as a foundation stone for the art of jazz vocal interpretation. The uniquely gritty coloration of his voice became a musical archetype that was much imitated and endlessly impersonated.
After spending many years on the road, in 1943 Louis settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 in contentment with his fourth wife, Lucille. During the subsequent thirty years, he played more than three hundred gigs a year, toured Africa, Europe, and Asia under sponsorship of the US State Department earning the nickname “Ambassador Satch” and inspiring Dave Brubeck to compose his jazz musical The Real Ambassadors.
He has been honored posthumously with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, won a Male Vocal Performance Grammy for Hello Dolly, has 11 recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list his West End Blues as one of the 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll, had a commemorative U.S. postage stamp issued, and has been inducted into six Halls of Fame, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, the US Open main stadium was renamed Louis Armstrong Stadium, and his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are now a part of the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress.
Trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong, also known as Satchmo, Dipper, Pops and the King of Jazz, passed away in his sleep of a heart attack on July 6, 1971. His honorary pallbearers included Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson and David Frost. Peggy Lee sand The Lords Prayer, Al Hibbler sang Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen and his long-time friend Fred Robbins gave the eulogy.
Dick McDonough was born on July 30,1904. As a child learning and perfecting his technique on the banjo, by 1927 at age 23 he was playing and recording Chasin’ A Buck and Feelin’ No Pain with Red Nichols. Soon after he joined Paul Whiteman’s outfit and later exchanged the banjo for guitar.
As a guitarist Dick did extensive work as a session musician in the 1930s playing with Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, The Boswell Sisters, Joe Venuti, Benny Goodman, Miff Mole, Adrian Rollini, Red Norvo, Jack Teagarden, Johnny Mercer, Billie Holiday, Pee Wee Russell Frank Trumbauer, Glenn Miller and Gene Gifford among others too numerous to list.
McDonough teamed with Carl Kress to record as a guitar duet in the mid-1930s as well. He played in the Jam Session at Victor with Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan and George Wettling. His more notable compositions included Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jibe, recorded by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra with Johnny Mercer on vocals; Stage Fright with Carl Kress, Chicken a la Swing and Danzon.
An influential guitarist and composer, the recording of his version of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose has to be considered the first “guitar solo” rendition of a jazz standard still preserved. It is a known fact that New Orleans’ guitarist Snoozer Quinn did the same in the 1920’s before everybody else, but those recordings were never issued and, until now, are considered totally lost.
The ‘guitar unaccompanied solo’ tradition followed with among others, Carl Kress, Oscar Aleman, Django Reinhardt, George Van Eps, Al Viola and in the Seventies Joe Pass brought it to a new level. But had it not been for Dick McDonough with his acoustic L5 giving to guitar a new dimension in 1934, this tradition would not have been created. Dick McDonough was unfortunately also an alcoholic and subsequently succumbed to the illness at the age of 33 on May 25, 1938.
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