Percy Gaston Humphrey was born January 13, 1905 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the son of clarinetist Willie Eli Humphrey and the younger brother of clarinetist Willie and trombonist Earl. He learned the musical basics of New Orleans jazz from his grandfather “Professor” Jim Humphrey.
For more than thirty years he was leader of the Eureka Brass Band founded by trumpeter Willie Wilson and played alongside Willie Parker, John Casimir and George Lewis. After Wilson got ill, Alcide Landry, Joseph “Red” Clark and Dominique “T-Boy” Remy each temporarily led the group until 1946 when Percy took over until the demise of the band in 1975. He also played in the band of pianist Sweet Emma Barrett.
For years he led his own jazz band Percy Humphrey and His Crescent City Joymakers. He played regularly at Preservation Hall from its opening in the early Sixties until shortly before his death. He traveled and performed internationally with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band as well as his own bands.
As a leader and sideman of the various groups he recorded prolifically with Pax, Alamac, Folkways, Jazzology and Sounds of New Orleans. A 1951 album, New Orleans Parade, features Humphrey with trombonists Charles “Sunny” Henry and Albert Warner and saxophonist Emmanuel Paul. Their 1962 sessions, Jazz at Preservation Hall, Volume 1: the Eureka Brass Band of New Orleans, on Atlantic Records with his borhter Willie, Kid Sheik Cola, Pete Bocage, Alber Warner and Oscar “Chicken” Henry, Emanuel Pail, Wilbert “Bird” Tilman, Josiah “Cie” Frazier and Robert “Son Fewclothes” Lewis.
After 1975, Percy revived the name occasionally for festival performances and other appearances. Trumpeter and bandleader Percy Humphrey continued to lead his own band until his passing in New Orleans on July 22, 1995 at the age of ninety .His last gig was at the annual New Orleans jazz festival in April, three months before his death.
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Nick Fatool was born on Jan. 2, 1915 in Milbury, Massachusetts and studied drums as a youth. He first played professionally in Providence, Rhode Island, followed with time in Joe Haymes’s band in 1937 and then Don Beston’s in Dallas soon after. By 1939 he was playing briefly with Bobby Hackett, and then took a chair with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.
Becoming one of the most visible drummers of the 1940s, Nick played with several bands led by Artie Shaw, Alvino Rey, Claude Thornhill, Les Brown and Jan Savitt. In 1943 he moved to Los Angeles, California and recorded profusely as a session musician. The short list of his credits includes Harry James, Errol Garner, Louis Armstrong, Jess Stacy, Tommy Dorsey, Matty Matlock, Glen Gray, Bob Crosby and the Crosby Bobcats.
From1944 to 1958 Fatool played on sessions for Capitol Records as a sideman for Johnny Mercer, Betty Hutton, Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, Billy May, Nat “King” Cole, Wingy Manone, Dean Martin, Gordon MacRae, Red Nichols, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ray Anthony, Jack Teagarden, The Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Andy Griffith, and Robert Mitchum to name a few during this period.
In the 1950s and 1960s Nick found much work on the Dixieland jazz revival circuit, playing with Pete Fountain from 1962-1965 and the Dukes of Dixieland. His only session as a bandleader was as the head of a septet in 1987, “Nick Fatool’s Jazz Band & Quartet” leading Eddie Miller, Johnny Mince, Ernie Carson and others. Drummer Nick Fatool passed away on September 26, 2000 in Los Angeles, California. He was 85.
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John Kirby was born John Kirk in Winchester, Virginia on December 31, 1908. His mother gave him up for adoption and was raised by Reverend Washington and Nancy Johnson. He was a student at the Winchester Colored School and started trombone lessons around nine years old under the guidance of Professor Powell Gibson. As a kid and that he learned to play music just as it was written and his formal education ended around 1923.
Kirby arrived in Baltimore around 1927 and met trombonist Jimmy Harrison, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and composer Duke Ellington. It was Harrison who persuaded him to switch from trombone to tuba. He played tuba with Bill Brown and His Brownies, pianist Charlie Sheets and then with John C. Smith’s Society Band. He joined Fletcher Henderson in 1929, recorded tuba on a number of sessions, but switched to double-bass when tuba fell out of favor as jazz bands’ primary bass instrument.
In the early 1930s, John took bass lessons from legendary bassists Pops Foster and Wellman Braud, left Henderson to play with Chick Webb, then joined Lucky Millinder and briefly led a quartet in 1935, but was more often than not a sideman in other groups. He performed behind Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson on their first recording date.
By 1936, Kirby was a successful sideman on the New York City jazz scene, secured a gig at the Onyx Club leading Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Billy Kyle, Russell Procope and O’Neill Spencer, becoming one of the more significant small groups in the big band era. They recorded the Shaver’s classic Undecided, with Maxine Sullivan most often performing the vocal duties for the group.
Along with his orchestra, John had a 30-minute radio program, Flow Gently, Sweet Rhythm, also known as The John Kirby Show on CBS from April 1940 – January 1941. The program also featured Sullivan and the Golden Gate Quartet and they have been cited as the first black artists to host a jazz-oriented series.
He tended toward a lighter, classically influenced style of jazz often referred to as chamber jazz. He was very prolific and extremely popular from 1938-1941 but lost most of his group to World War II. Through the war years he was able to attract Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Clyde Hart, Budd Johnson and Zutty Singleton to his small groups and club dates. As Kirby’s career declined, he drank heavily and was beset by diabetes.
After the war, Kirby got the surviving sextet members back together, with vocalist Sarah Vaughan but the reunion did not last. A concert at Carnegie Hall in December 1950, with Bailey plus drummer Sid Catlett, attracted only a small audience, crushing his spirit and badly damaging what little was left of his career. Double-bassist, trombonist and tubist John Kirby passed away on June 14, 1952 in Hollywood, California at age 43.
Irving C. Ashby was born December 29, 1920 in Somerville, Massachusetts. After playing rhythm guitar in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, he played in the Nat King Cole Trio from 1947 to 1951. He then briefly replaced drummer Charlie Smith in the Oscar Trio, producing a lineup of piano, guitar and bass similar to the Cole Trio’s, a substitution that continued until 1958.
After leaving the Peterson Trio, Ashby concentrated on session work for the labels. His subsequent recordings included sessions with Norman Granz, Sheb Wooley, LaVern Baker, Howard Roberts, B.B. King, Louis Jordan, Pat Boone and Illinois Jacquet.
In addition to performing on guitar, Irving Ashby also played the upright bass until his passing on April 22, 1987 in Perris, California at the age of 66.
Una Mae Carlisle was born on December 26, 1915 in Zanesville, Ohio and was trained to play the piano by her mother. Performing in public by age three, still a child, she performed regularly on radio station WHIO AM in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1932, while a teenager, Fats Waller discovered Carlisle while she worked as a live local Cincinnati performer live and on radio. Her piano style was much influenced by Waller’s, playing in a boogie-woogie stride style that incorporated humor into her sets. Una Mae played solo from 1937, repeatedly touring Europe and recording with Waller in the late 1930s.
By the 1940s Carlisle recorded as a leader for Bluebird Records with Lester Young, Benny Carter and John Kirby. She had a longtime partnership with producer/publisher/manager Joe Davis, which began after her contract with Bluebird expired. Her records during this period enlisted the talents of Ray Nance, Budd Johnson and Shadow Wilson.
As a songwriter she also found success as Cab Calloway and Peggy Lee were just two among those who covered her tunes. She had her own radio and television programs in the late 1940s Una Mae recorded her last session for Columbia Records with Don Redman early in the 1950s.
With her suffering from chronic mastoiditis that required repeated surgeries and hospitalizations, the vocalist was forced her to retire in 1952. Pianist and songwriter Una Mae Carlisle passed away of pneumonia in a Harlem hospital on November 7, 1956.