Helen O’Connell was born on May 23, 1920 in Lima, Ohio but grew up in Toledo, Ohio. By the time she was 15, she and her older sister, Alice, were singing duets in clubs and hotels and on hometown radio stations. She launched her career as a big-band singer with Larry Funk and his Band of a Thousand Melodies. She was singing with Funk’s band in Greenwich Village when Jimmy Dorsey’s manager discovered her. She joined the Dorsey band in 1939 and achieved her best selling records in the early 1940s with Green Eyes, Amapola, Tangerine and Yours.
By 1953, O’Connell and Bob Eberly were headlining TV’s Top Tunes with Ray Anthony and his orchestra. She became a featured singer on The Russ Morgan Show and had her own 15-minute program, The Helen O’Connell Show, twice a week on NBC.
She retired from show business upon her first marriage in 1943 but returned when her marriage ended in 1951, achieving some chart success and making regular appearances on television. At one point she was interviewing celebrities on her own NBC program Here’s Hollywood, hosted the pageants and sang duets with Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer and Dean Martin.
She won the Down Beat Readers Poll as best female singer in 1940 and 1941, won the 1940 Metronome magazine poll for best female vocalist and was named as the darling of GIs during World War II.Her 1942 recording of Brazil with the Jimmy Orchestra was a 2009 addition to the Grammy Hall of Fame. On September 9, 1993 vocalist Helen O’Connell succumbed to her battle with Hepatitis C in San Diego, California.
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Larance Marable was born on May 21, 1929 in Los Angeles, California and was related to Mississippi riverboat bandleader Fate Marable. He first had a strong career as a bop musician in the 1950s working with the likes of Dexter Gordon and Charlie Parker among others.
In the 1960s Marable started to venture into the cool jazz idiom with musicians like Zoot Sims, George Shearing, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker, working with the latter as early as 1956 on the album Chet Baker Sings.
In the Seventies he toured with Supersax and Bobby Hutcherson but recorded Tenorman as a leader with James Clay. He also played with Kenny Drew, Teddy Edwards, Stan Getz, Hampton Hawes, and Milt Jackson. Earlier in his career, he was known as Lawrence but the hard bop drummer Larance Marable, best known for his work as a regular member of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, passed away on July 4, 2012 in his hometown of Los Angeles.
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Dick McPartland was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 18, 1905, the older brother of Jimmy McPartland. His father was a music teacher and a baseball player butt family problems caused the siblings to be partly raised in orphanages. He was an early member of the Austin High School Gang that helped establish Chicago-style jazz in the 1920s.
McPartland started out on the violin and then switched to the banjo and guitar. He played primarily in Chicago during the 1920s including with Red McKenzie, replacing Eddie Lang. He recorded with Irving Mills in 1928 and Jack Teagarden in ’29.
Dick’s rhythm guitar can be heard on sessions led by his brother Jimmy in 1936 and 1939. Unfortunately an early heart attack forced his retirement from full-time music by his early 30s. He later became a cab driver and only appeared at an occasional concert, including in 1955 when he played his final gig. He never led his own record date and on November 30, 1957, guitarist Dick McPartland passed away at the age of 52.
Red Nichols was born Ernest Loring Nichols on May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah. A child prodigy, he learned to play the cornet and by the age of twelve he was playing difficult set pieces for his father’s brass band. Hearing the early recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and later those of Bix Beiderbecke, they had a strong influence and his style became polished, clean and incisive.
In the early 1920s, Nichols moved to the Midwest and joined a band called The Syncopating Seven, then joined the Johnny Johnson Orchestra and went with it to New York City in 1923. In New York he met and teamed up with trombonist Miff Mole and the two of them were inseparable for the next decade.
Nichols had good technique, could read music, and easily got session and studio work. In 1926 he and Miff Mole began a prodigious stint of recording over 100 sides for the Brunswick label, with a variety of bands, most of them known as “Red Nichols and His Five Pennies”. Very few of these groups were actually quintets; the name was simply a pun on “Nickel”, since there were “five pennies” in a nickel
He also recorded under a number of other names, employing Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Gene Krupa among others. He would go on to record for Edison, Victor, Bluebird, Variety and Okeh record labels.
By the time the Swing Era arrived his recording career stalled even though he formed his own band. The transition from Dixieland to swing was not easy for him and the critics who once lauded him now trashed his output. During the Depression he played in show bands and pit orchestras, moved out to California and led Bob Hopes orchestra and during WWII gave up music for an Army commission. After the war he returned to music playing small clubs, hosting jam sessions and getting better engagements at the top clubs in the city – Zebra room, Tudor room in San Francisco’s palace Hotel and Pasadena’s Sheraton.
He toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department, performed in Mickey Rooney film Quicksand, and was the subject of This Is Your Life. By 1965 he was in Las Vegas with his band playing the Mint Hotel. Only a few days into the date, he was sleeping in his suite and was awakened by paralyzing chest pains. He managed to call the front desk and an ambulance was summoned, but it arrived too late.
On June 28, 1965, cornetist, composer, and bandleader Red Nichols, rumored to have appeared on over 4000 recordings during the 1920s alone, passed away. That night the band went on as scheduled, but at the center of the band a spotlight pointed down at an empty chair in Nichols’ customary spot. He has been the subject of a film biography portrayed by Danny Kaye, had a cameo in the biopic the Gene Krupa Story and in 1986 was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
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Karl Curtis George was born on April 26, 1913 in St. Louis, Missouri. Early in his career he played with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1933, and Cecil Lee. in the 1930s he spent time in the Jeter Pillars Orchestra and then in the orchestras of Teddy Wilson from 1939–40, followed by a year-long stint with Lionel Hampton in 1941.
George served in the Army from 1942 to 1943, then moved to California and played with Stan Kenton, Benny Carter, spent a spring with Count Basie and in Los Angeles with Happy Johnson, his final collaboration of note.
He also played in sessions led by Charles Mingus, Slim Gaillard, Oscar Pettiford, Dinah Washington and Lucky Thompson. During years1945-1946 Karl led his own group on record the track “Peek-A-Boo” by the Karl George Octet, originally released on Melodisc, has been reissued on a Topnotch compilation.
Jazz trumpeter Karl George retired back in his hometown once his health got the better of him, while recordings he had played on continued to be stocked on record store shelves. He lived out the rest of his life in almost total obscurity until passing away in May 1978.
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