John Hammond Sr. was born into a wealthy family on December 15, 1910 in New York City. Educated at Yale, he had a great love for Black music and as early as 1933, at 22, he was active in the music business, discovering Billie Holiday and getting her into the recording studio, producing Bessie Smith’s final sessions, and becoming a friend of young Benny Goodman. One of swing music’s greatest propagandists, he was responsible for at least partly discovering a remarkable list of musicians through the years making their rise to fame much more swift.
Hammond was a masterful talent scout, producer, promoter, and an early fighter against racism, he produced freewheeling American jazz sessions for the European market, worked with Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter, and encouraged Goodman to form his first big band. In 1935 he teamed Lady Day with pianist Teddy Wilson for a series of recordings, and the following year he discovered Count Basie’s orchestra while randomly scanning the radio dial. He then flew to Kansas City, encouraged Basie to come East and in 1938 and 1939 he organized the famous “Spirituals to Swing” all-star Carnegie Hall concerts.
After hearing about Charlie Christian in 1939, he flew out to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to listen to the young guitarist and flew him to Los Angeles, California where he had set up an audition for an initially reluctant Goodman. In addition to his work as a promoter and a record producer, most notably for Columbia during 1937-1943, John was a jazz critic.
After World War II military service felt misplaced in the jazz scene of the mid-’40s, never gaining a taste for bebop. However, by the Fifties he produced a superior series of mainstream dates for Vanguard featuring swing era veterans. Hammond worked through the years for Keynote, Majestic, and Mercury, and during 1959-1975 he was again a major force at Columbia, where he helped the careers of Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bruce Springsteen, and Adam Makowicz, among others.
1967 saw him organizing a new “Spirituals to Swing” concert, and in 1977 his autobiography John Hammond on Record was published. Producer, promoter, critic and talent scout John Hammond Sr. passed away on July 10, 1987 in New York City.
Martha Davis was born on December 14, 1917 in Wichita, Kansas, and was raised in Chicago, Illinois. By the mid-1930s, she had met and been influenced by Fats Waller, and performed regularly as a singer and pianist in Chicago clubs. In 1939, she met, and later married, bassist Calvin Ponder, who went on to play in Earl Hines’ band.
In 1948, Davis moved to California, and developed her recording career on Jewel Records in Hollywood with a trio including Ponder, guitarist Ralph Williams and drummer Lee Young. Their cover of Dick Haymes’ pop hit Little White Lies followed by a duet with Louis Jordan, Daddy-O in 1948, reached # 11 and #7, respectively, on the Billboard charts.
Davis and Ponder also began performing together on stage, developing a musical and comedy routine as “Martha Davis & Spouse” which played on their physical characteristics, she was large, he was smaller. The act became hugely popular, touring and having a residency at the Blue Angel in New York City. They appeared together in movies including Smart Politics with Gene Krupa, and in the mid-Fifties, variety films Rhythm & Blues Revue, Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue and Basin Street Revue. Several of their performances were filmed by Snader Telescriptions for video jukeboxes, and they also broadcast on network TV, particularly Garry Moore’s CBS show.
In 1957, after a break of several years, they resumed recording for the ABC Paramount label, with whom they cut two LPs. Singer and pianist Martha Davis passed away from cancer in New York on April 6, 1960 at age 42.
Jack Purvis was born John Purvis on December 11, 1906 in Kokomo, Indiana to Sanford B. Purvis, a real estate agent and Nettie Purvis. His behavior became uncontrollable after his mother’s death in 1912 and as a result of many acts of petty larceny, he was sent to a reform school. While there, he discovered that he had an uncanny musical ability, and soon became proficient enough to play both the trombone and trumpet professionally. This also enabled him to leave the reformatory and continue his high school education, while he was playing paying gigs on the side.
After high school he worked in his home state for a time then went to Lexington, Kentucky where he played with the Original Kentucky Night Hawks. In 1926 he was with Bud Rice touring New England, then with Whitey Kaufman’s Original Pennsylvanians. For a short time he played trumpet with Arnold Johnson’s orchestra, and by July 1928 he traveled to France with George Carhart’s band. In 1929 he joined Hal Kemp’s band and recorded with Kemp, Smith Ballew, Ted Wallace, Rube Bloom, the California Ramblers, and Roy Wilson’s Georgia Crackers. In 1929 Purvis led his own recording groups using Hal Kemp’s rhythm section to produce Copyin’ Louis, and Mental Strain at Dawn.
By 1930, Purvis leading a couple of racially mixed recording sessions including the likes of J.C. Higginbotham, and Adrian Rollini. One of these sessions was organized by Adrian Rollini and OKeh A & R man, Bob Stephens. He went on to work with the Dorsey Brothers and played fourth trumpet with Fletcher Henderson in a rehearsal capacity.
The early Thirties saw him played with a few radio orchestras and worked with Fred Waring, toured the South with Charlie Barnet, worked with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, moved to Los Angeles, California and was successful with radio broadcasting work. He worked for the George Stoll Orchestra, Warner Bros. Studios arranging, and composed Legends of Haiti for a one hundred and ten piece orchestra.
Living a checkered life he was in and out of jail, worked outside the musical environment working as a chef, a busker, an aviator in Florida, a carpenter, a radio repairman, a smuggler and a mercenary in South America. Trumpeter and trombonist Jack Purvis gassed himself to death in San Francisco, California on March 30, 1962.
Teddy Hill was was born on December 7, 1909 in Birmingham, Alabama. After moving to New York City, he had early gigs with the Whitman Sisters, George Howe and Luis Russell’s orchestra in the Twenties. He later put together his own band in 1934, which found steady work over the NBC radio network.
Over several years it featured such major young musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Coleman, Roy Eldridge, Bill Dillard, Dicky Wells, Russell Procope, Howard E. Johnson, Chu Berry, Sam Allen, John Smith, Richard Fullbright, Bill Beason, Shad Collins, Bill Dillard, Frank Newton, Kenneth Hollon, Cecil Scott, Beatrice Douglas and Robert Carroll.
They played at the Savoy Ballroom regularly, and toured England and France in the summer of 1937. In 1935, he recorded a four song session for the American Record Corporation. In 1936, he recorded two sessions for Vocalion, then signed with Bluebird the following year and recorded 18 songs over three sessions.
After leaving the band business, Hill began managing Minton’s Playhouse in 1940, which became a Harlem hub for the bebop style, featuring such major musicians as Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke. Leaving Minton’s in 1969, long after its musical significance had waned, he then became the manager of Baron’s Lounge.
Married twice, Teddy had two daughters, Gwendolyn and Beatrice, one by each wife. Beatrice would later emerge as the successful actress and singer known by her stage name, Melba Moore.
Drummer, clarinetist, soprano and tenor saxophonist Teddy Hill, who was also a big band leader and the manager of Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, passed away on May 19, 1978 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Brad Gowans was born Arthur Bradford Gowans on December 3, 1903 in Billerica, Massachusetts. His earliest work was on the Dixieland jazz scene, playing with the Rhapsody Makers Band, Tommy DeRosa’s New Orleans Jazz Band, and Perley Breed. In 1926 he played cornet with Joe Venuti, and worked later in the decade with Red Nichols, Jimmy Durante, Mal Hallett and Bert Lown. Leaving music for several years during the Great Depression, he returned to play with Bobby Hackett in 1936, then Frank Ward, Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, and Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude Band by 1940.
Moving to New York City early in the 1940s, Brad played regularly at Nick’s in Greenwich Village and worked with Ray McKinley and Art Hodes. As a clarinetist, he played in the reconstituted Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s 1940s recordings. He stopped playing again briefly in the mid-1940s, then returned to play with Max Kaminsky, Jimmy Dorsey, and Nappy Lamare.
Aside from his playing, Gowans also arranged pieces for Bud Freeman and Lee Wiley, and invented the valide trombone, a hybrid slide-valve trombone which never caught on. He recorded a few times as a leader in 1926, 1927, and 1934, and recorded Brad Gowans and His New York Nine for Victor Records in 1946.
He went on to freelance on the West Coast and collapsed on stage in 1954 while playing with Eddie Skrivanek. Trombonist and reedist Brad Gowans passed eight months later on September 8, 1954 in Los Angeles, California.