Ernie Fields was born Ernest Lawrence Fields on August 28, 1904 in Nacogdoches, Texas, though raised in Taft, Oklahoma. He attended Tuskegee Institute before moving to Tulsa. From the late 1920s, he led the Royal Entertainers, and eventually began touring more widely from Kansas City, Kansas to Dallas, Texas, and recording. Fields’ band became the first African-American band to play at Tulsa’s landmark Cain’s Ballroom.
A 1939 invite to New York by John Hammond to record for Vocalion. He began touring nationally, never became a star but continued to work steadily, recording for smaller labels, and gradually transforming his sound through a smaller band and a repertoire shift from big band and swing to R&B. During WWII he entertained troops both at home and abroad.
Continuing to straddle these styles into the 1950s, Ernie played swing standards such as “Tuxedo Junction” and “Begin The Beguine” in a rocking R&B style. In the late 1950s he moved to Los Angeles, California and joined the Rendezvous Records and ran the house band In 1959 this band had an international hit with an R&B version of Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” that reached #4 on the Billboard chart, selling over a million copies. He would go on to record instrumentals under a variety of names including B. Bumble and the Stingers, The Marketts and The Routers.
After Rendezvous Records folded in late 1963, trombonist, pianist, arranger and bandleader Ernie Fields retired and returned to Tulsa. He died on May 11, 1997, at the age of 92.
Lester Willis Young was born on August 27, 1909 in Woodville, Mississippi and grew up in a musical family. His father, Willis Handy Young, was a respected teacher, his brother Lee Young was a drummer, and several other relatives performed music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when he was an infant, then later to Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father was a musician, who would teach his son to play the drums, trumpet and violin in addition to the saxophone.
Playing in his family’s band, known as the Young Family Band, vaudeville and carnivals were their circuit but in 1927 he left, refusing to play the Southern states under the racial segregation of Jim Crow laws.
Settling in Kansas City, Missouri in 1933, he briefly played in several bands, then rose to prominence with Count Basie. He would leave Basie to replace Coleman Hawkins in the Fletcher Henderson orchestra, followed by a stint with Andy Kirk, then back to Basie. Lester made small group recordings for Commodore Records, and the sessions became known as the Kansas City Sessions by the Kansas City Seven, playing clarinet and tenor.
After Young’s clarinet was stolen in 1939, he abandoned the instrument until about 1957. He left the Basie band in late 1940, subsequently led a number of small groups that often included his brother, accompanied Billlie Holiday in a couple of studio sessions in 1940 and 1941 and also made a small set of recordings with Nat King in June 1942. It was Holiday who gave Young the nickname “Pres”, short for President.[
In December 1943 Young returned to the Basie fold for a 10-month stint, drafted into the army during WWII and after discharge joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe in 1946 and for the next 12 years toured regularly with them. He recorded for Verve, Aladdin and Savoy records through the Forties.
From around 1951 Young’s level of playing declined more precipitously as his drinking increased. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality. His playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown, emerging improved in 1956. He recorded and toured with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet through Europe and had a successful stint in Washington, DC with the Bill Potts Trio.
By 1957 Lester appeared with Billie Holiday, at a time when both were in their declining years, but both gave brilliant and moving performances with Holiday’s tune “Fine and Mellow”. By this time his alcoholism had a cumulative effect and he was eating significantly less, drinking more and more, and suffering from liver disease and malnutrition.
He made his final studio recordings and live performances in Paris in 1959 with drummer Kenny Clarke at the tail end of an abbreviated European tour during which he ate next to nothing and virtually drank himself to death. He died in the early morning hours of March 15, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York, at the age of 49.
Paul Webster, born August 24, 1909 in Kansas City, Kansas attended Fisk University and worked as an embalmer before switching to music. He played in bands led by George E. Lee, Bennie Moten, Tommy Douglas and Eli Rice through the 1920s.
In 1931 he joined Jimmie Lunceford’s outfit, left and then returned to play from 1935 to 1944. It was here he took over Tommy Stevenson’s spot and the high-note trumpet player found his fame during this period of his career. It has been noted that he had a big influence on a young Stan Kenton, who later featured high note trumpeters in many of his bands.
Following this Webster played lead trumpet in bands led by Cab Calloway, Charlie Barnet, Sy Oliver, Ed Wilcox, and Count Basie through the war years to the end of the decade. After 1953 he played trumpet only part-time, contributed to ‘Paul Curry Presents the Friends of Fats’ LP in 1959 on the Golden Crest Label, but still occasionally played with Sy Oliver’s band into the 1960s. Jazz trumpeter of the big band era, Paul Webster passed away 0n May 6, 1966.
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Lyle Stephanovic was born Miko Stefanovic to Serbian émigré parents in Berlin, Germany on August 19, 1908. Better known in the jazz world as Spud Murphy, he grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where he took the name of a childhood friend. Murphy studied clarinet and saxophone when young and took trumpet lessons from Red Nichol’s father.
He worked with Jimmy Joy in 1927-28 and with Ross Gorman and oboist Slim Lamar in 1928. He worked the early 1930s as saxophonist-arranger for Austin Wylie, Jan Garber, Mal Hallett and Joe Haynes, and then became a staff arranger for Benny Goodman from 1935 to 1937. At the same time he also contributed charts to the Casa Loma Orchestra, Isham Jones, Les Brown and many others.
From 1937 to 1940 Murphy led a big band and recorded for Decca and Bluebird Records in 1938-39. In the 1940s he relocated to Los Angeles where he did work in the studios and with film music, in addition to authoring and teaching the 1200-page “System of Horizontal Composition” also known as the “Equal Interval System”. The Equal Interval System is a modern system of music composition, developed by Murphy over a lifetime of research.
Spud recorded two jazz albums in the 1950s, but his later career was focused on classical and film music. In 2003, orchestra leader Dean Mora, a close friend of Murphy’s, recorded some two dozen of his arrangements in a tribute CD, “Goblin Market”.
Multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and arranger Spud Murphy died in Los Angeles, two weeks short of his 97th birthday on August 5, 2005.
George Duvivier was born on Aug 17, 1920 in New York City. He took up the cello and also the violin while in high school before settling on the bass. He also learned composition and scoring before going out on the road with Lucky Millinder and then with the Cab Calloway bands of the early 40s after a stint in the army. An excellent composer, George scored many tunes for those two big bands.
George was a freelance bassist for most of his life, never belonging to any one particular group for any extended period of time, but has played with some of jazz’s greatest, such as Bud Powell, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Shirley Scott.
A prolific sideman, Duvivier recorded more than 100 albums with the likes of Kenny Burrell, Gene Ammons, Mildred Anderson, Art Farmer, Jimmy Forrest, San Getz, Etta Jones, Oliver Nelson, Lalo Schifrin and Johnny Lytle among numerous others. In 1956, Duvivier played in the movie orchestra in the film, “The Benny Goodman Story”.
During the 1970s he was a member of Soprano Summit and one of his last performances was on Late Night with David Letterman in 1983, accompanying singer/songwriter Tom Waits.
Double-bassist George Duvivier died of cancer in his Manhattan home on Jul 11, 1985.
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