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ELI ROBINSON

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Eli Robinson was born on June 23, 1911 in Greenville, Georgia. After working in Cincinnati in bands led by Speed Webb and Zack White, he worked as well with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.

Robinson made his first recordings in 1935 with Blanche Calloway. In 1936 he moved to New York City where he played with Teddy Hill, and Willie Bryant. After working briefly with Roy Eldridge in Chicago in 1939, he joined Count Basie from 1941 to 1947.

During the 1950s and 60s, he worked with Lucky Millinder and Buddy Tate. Trombonist and arranger Eli Robinson passed away on December 24, 1972.


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RAY MCKINLEY

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Ray McKinley was born on June 18, 1910 in Fort Worth, Texas. He got his start at age 9 working with local bands in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. Leaving home when he was 15, he played with Milt Shaw’s Detroiters and the Smith Ballew and Duncan-Marin bands. It was with the Smith Ballew band in 1929 that McKinley met Glenn Miller. The two formed a friendship that lasted from 1929 until Miller’s death in 1944. McKinley and Miller joined the Dorsey Brothers in 1934.

The Dorsey brothers split in 1935 and Ray remained with Jimmy Dorsey until 1939, when he joined Will Bradley, becoming co-leader. His biggest hit with Bradley, as a singer, was Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar, which he recorded in 1940 and got a partial songwriting credit. Known also as Eight Beat Mack, taken from the lyrics to Down the Road a Piece, he recorded the song a trio with Will Bradley and Freddie Slack.

Splitting with Bradley in 1942, McKinley formed his own band and recorded for Capitol Records. The band was short-lived and he joined Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band, which he co-led with arranger Jerry Gray after Miller’s disappearance in December 1944. Upon discharge he formed a modern big band that featuring original material by legendary arranger Eddie Sauter and vocals by the leader. However, with business declining, by 1950 that band was history and his interest turned towards becoming a part-time leader and radio and TV personality.

In 1956, capitalizing on the popularity of The Glenn Miller Story movie with James Stewart, McKinley was chosen to be the leader of the revived Glenn Miller band, which he led until 1966. He co-hosted, with former Air Force band vocalist Johnny Desmond, a 13-week CBS-TV summer replacement series with the band called Glenn Miller Time in 1961. He also wrote the lyrics to the 1945 wartime song My Guy’s Come Back with music by Mel Powell and recorded by Benny Goodman with vocals by Liza Morrow on Columbia Records. His final recording session was in 1977 for Chiaroscuro Records. Drummer, singer, and bandleader Ray McKinley passed away on May 7, 1995.


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STAN WRIGHTSMAN

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Stanley Aubrey Wrightsman was born on June 15, 1910 in Gotebo, Oklahoma. He began playing professionally in a Gulfport, Mississippi hotel, and in territory bands in Oklahoma. In 1930, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where he played with Ray Miller. From 1935–1936 he worked with Ben Pollack in Chicago, Illinois.

His career was interrupted by an illness, but then worked in California with the Seger Ellis Orchestra in 1937. He made his debut recordings were made soon thereafter with Spike Jones and his City Slickers. In the Forties and Fifties, Stan played with various big bands and ensembles in the traditional jazz genre, including Artie Shaw, Wingy Manone, Eddie Miller, Rudy Vallee, Nappy Lamare, Johnny Mercer, Harry James, Bob Crosby, Matty Matlock, Pete Fountain, The Rampart Street Paraders, Ray Bauduc, Wild Bill Davison, and Bob Scobey.

Wrightsman appeared in films and on the soundtrack of Blues in the Night, in which he stood in for Richard Whorf on piano, Syncopation, the Jack Webb film Pete Kelly’s Blues, the Red Nichols biopic The Five Pennies and in the feature film The Crimson Canary he appeared as a pianist.

During  the 1960s, Wrightsman reunited with Pete Fountain and continued his work with Hollywood film studios. At the end of the decade, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he played as a sideman for Wayne Newton and Flip Wilson.

From 1937 to 1971 he recorded 174 sessions that included Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, George Van Eps, and Peggy Lee, whom he accompanied on the celesta for the song That Old Feeling in 1944. On December 17, 1975 pianist Stan Wrightsman passed away in Palm Springs, California.


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LES PAUL

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Les Paul was born Lester William Polsfuss on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. At the age of eight, he began playing the harmonica and after trying to learn the piano, he switched to the guitar, teaching himself how to play. It was during this time that he invented a neck-worn harmonica holder, allowing him to play both sides of the harmonica hands-free while accompanying himself on the guitar. By age thirteen, he was performing semi-professionally as a country music singer, guitarist, and harmonica player.

He began his first experiment with sound wanting to make himself heard by more people at the local venues, so he wired a phonograph needle to his guitar and connected it to a radio speaker, using that to amplify his acoustic guitar. As a teen Les created his first solid body electric guitar using a 2-foot piece of rail from a nearby train line. By age seventeen, he was playing with Rube Tronson’s Texas Cowboys and soon after he dropped out of high school and joined Sunny Joe Wolverton’s Radio Band in St. Louis, Missouri on KMOX.

Moving to Chicago in 1934 he continued to perform on radio, met pianist Art Tatum, whose playing influenced him. Paul formed a trio in 1937 with singer/rhythm guitarist Jim Atkins and  bassist/percussionist Ernie “Darius” Newton. Four years later he was in New York in 1938 with a featured spot on Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians radio show. Drafted into the Army working on the Armed Forces Radio Network, he backed Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters and performed as a leader. His guitar style was strongly influenced by the music of Django Reinhardt, whom he greatly admired, met and befriended after World War II and paid part of the funeral cost when Django died in 1953.

He would go on to play with Nat King Cole at the inaugural Jazz At The Philharmonic in 1944, record with Crosby and the Andrews Sisters and then nearly lose his career after his right arm was shattered in a near fatal car crash. Los Angeles doctors set his arm just under a ninety degree angle, giving him the ability to cradle and pick the guitar after a year and a half recovery.

Paul performed in the genres of jazz, country and blues, was also a songwriter, luthier, inventor and pioneer of the solid body electric guitar, utilized multi-tracking, overdubbing, tape delay and phasing effects in his recordings aided in his innovative playing style of licks, trills, chording sequences and fretting techniques that set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired many guitarists of the present day. With his wife Mary Ford he recorded in the 1950s, and together they sold millions of records.

Guitarist Les  Paul has been honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, won several Grammy Awards, Grammy Trustees Award, with Mary Ford their How High The Moon was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, National Medal of Arts, was inducted into the Big Band Hall of Fame and the Jazz Hall of Fame, received an Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award in Engineering, the Lifetime Achievement in Music Education from the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, among numerous other honors.

Suffering from arthritis in the mid-1960s his condition worsened over his career and in his final years he lost the use of his right hand except for two fingers. On August 12, 2009 guitarist Les Paul passed away from complications from pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in New York.


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HORACE HEIDT

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Horace Heidt was on May 21, 1901 in Alameda, California, He went on to attend the University of California Berkeley as a guard on the football team. But a broken back dashed those dreams and he turned his attention to music, forming The Californians with some classmates.

From 1932 to 1953, he became one of the more popular radio bandleaders beginning on NBC’s Blue Network with Shell Oil’s Ship of Joy and Answers by the Dancers and Horace Heidt’s Alemite Brigadiers. He broadcasted from CBS from 1937-1939.

Horace would employ singer Matt Dennis and singing comedian Art Carney. His recordings were highly successful with Gone With The Wind and Ti-Pi-Tin going to No. 1 and The Man With The Mandolin hitting No. 2 on the charts. His 1941 song, The Hut-Sut Song is heard in the movie A Christmas Story.

He returned to NBC to perform on Pot o’ Gold radio show from 1939-194, portraying himself in the film of the same name starring James Stewart and Paulette Goddard. From 1940 to 1944 he did Tums Treasure Chest, followed by 1943–45 shows on the Blue Network. Lucky Strike sponsored The American Way on CBS in 1953.

On December 7, 1947, NBC launched The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program and accordionist Dick Cortino the first winner of the $5,000 prize, soon had his own show. Heidt’s talent search catapulted such performers as Carney, Frankie Carle, the King Sisters, Alvino Rey, Gordon McRae, Frank DeVol, Johnny Standley and Al Hirt. When the program expanded from radio to television in 1950, it was one of the first talent shows.

Horace Heidt passed away on December 1, 1986 in Los Angeles, California. For his contribution to radio and television he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.


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