Charlie Christian was born Charles Henry Christian on July 29, 1916 in Bonham, Texas but his family moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when he was a small child. He started performing as a dancer with his father and brothers as buskers to make ends meet. His father would later teach him to play guitar and inherit all his instruments by age 12. Attending Douglass School he was further encouraged in music but a disagreement in instrument led him to leave music and excel in baseball.
By 1936 he was playing electric guitar and had become a regional attraction. He jammed with many of the big name performers traveling through Oklahoma City including Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum and Mary Lou Williams who turned him on to record producer John Hammond. This led to an audition, recommendation to Benny Goodman, subsequently gaining national exposure with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra from August 1939 to June 1941. By 1940 Christian dominated the jazz and swing guitar polls and was elected to the Metronome All Stars.
Christian was an important early performer on the electric guitar, and is cited as a key figure in the development of bebop and cool jazz. One of the best improvisational talents of the swing era, his single-string technique combined with amplification helped bring the guitar out of the rhythm section and into the forefront as a solo instrument.
Christian’s influence reached beyond jazz and swing, and in 1966, 24 years after his death, Christian was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. In 1990 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2006 Oklahoma City renamed a street in its Bricktown entertainment district Charlie Christian Avenue. On March 2, 1942, Charlie Christian passed away at age 25.
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Erskine Ramsay Hawkins was born on July 26, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama and was named after a local industrialist who was rewarding parents with savings accounts for doing so. He played trumpet in the Industrial High School band directed by Fess Whatley, a teacher who trained numerous African-American musicians that went on to populate the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Lucky Millinder, Louis Armstrong and Skitch Henderson.
Dubbed “The 20th Century Gabriel”, Hawkins composed the jazz standard “Tuxedo Junction” in 1939 with saxophonist and arranger Bill Johnson. It became a hit during World War II rising on the national charts to #7 performed by his orchestra and #1 played by Glenn Miller’s. While a bandleader Erskine featured several female vocalist like Ida James, Delores Brown and Della Reese.
From 1967 to 1989 Hawkins played the lobby bar and show nightclub at The Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York. He was inducted in 1978 into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Erskine Hawkins, trumpeter and bandleader, died in Wilmington, New Jersey on November 11, 1993, at the age of 79.
Bill Dillard was born on July 20, 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and started playing the trumpet at age 12. He established his early reputation on recording sessions with jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton and at the age of 18, Dillard went on to record with Spike Hughes, Henry “Red” Allen, Bill Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Django Reinhardt.
He made his theater debut in “Carmen Jones” and sang in several other Broadway productions, including “Regina,” “Beggars Holiday,” “A Temporary Island” and “Lost in the Stars.” He also appeared on television as Joe the bartender in the soap opera “Love of Life,” and as the King of Babylon in “Green Pastures.”
Dillard was well known for his work with the big bands of Benny Carter, Luis Russell and Teddy Hill. He also had a prolific acting career on Broadway. The trumpeter and vocalist imported to Denmark the sounds of early 20th century New Orleans but it wasn’t until he was 79 that he released his only album as a solo improviser that released in 1991 with the Michael Boving’s Rhythmakers.
Swing jazz trumpeter, actor and vocalist passed away just four years later on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, January 16, 1995.
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Joe Comfort was born on July 18, 1917 in Los Angeles, California into a musical family. Influenced by Jimmy Blanton, Paul Chambers and Ray Brown, he taught himself to play the bass and began performing with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra in the late Twenties. Later he would perform with Nat King Cole, a partnership that would endure until the early 1950s.
Comfort participated in numerous studio dates in the late fifties and early 1960s, with such luminaries as Sammy Davis Jr., Benny Carter, Nancy Wilson and Frank Sinatra but his fear of flying kept him grounded in and around Los Angeles.
According to Mingus’ biography, Joe taught Charles Mingus how to play in Watts where he grew up. His studio credits include working with Nelson Riddle, as well as pop and vocal projects. He was also a part of the M Squad band that highlighted jazz on television.
His beautiful wife, Mattie, was the inspiration for Billy Strayhorn’s “Satin Doll.” Joe Comfort, jazz bassist, passed away on October 29, 1988.
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Sadik Hakim was born Argonne Thornton on July 15, 1919 in Duluth, Minnesota and was taught piano by his grandfather and started playing professionally about 1939. In 1944 he moved to New York City and was hired by Ben Webster. A participant in the emergence of bebop, he shared piano duties with Dizzy Gillespie on Charlie Parker’s famous “Ko-Ko” session.
He recorded with Dexter Gordon and Lester Young, heard on the latter’s I’m Confessin’, also credited with co-writing Thelonious Monk’s standard “Eronel” and is rumored to have written a few famous bop tunes credited to other composers. He adopted his Muslim name in 1947.
Hakim moved to Montreal after visiting in 1949 and was a big fish on the small bebop scene there, working with Louis Metcalf’s International Band. Compelled to leave Canada following a drug bust in 1950 he returned to New York and through the decade worked with James Moody and George Holmes Tate.
He returned to Montreal from 1966 to 1976, leading bands and recording with Charles Biddle. He led a few recording dates from 1976–1980 and cut an album with Sonny Stitt in 1978. Hakim played “Round Midnight” at Monk’s funeral in 1982, and the pianist and composer passed away himself the following year on June 20, 1983.