Enoch Henry Light was born August 18, 1905, in Canton, Ohio and became a classically trained violinist. The leader of various dance bands that recorded as early as 1927 and continued to 1940. For a time in 1928 he also led a band in Paris and in the 1930s studied conducting in Paris with French conductor Maurice Frigara.
Throughout the 1930s, Light was steadily employed in the generally more upscale hotel restaurants and ballrooms in New York mixing current popular songs with jazz. At some point his band was tagged “The Light Brigade”, often broadcasting over radio live from the Hotel Taft in New York where they had a long residency.
The 1940s saw Enoch recording for Brunswick, ARC, Vocalion and Bluebird, going on to become A&R (Artists and Repertoire) chief and vice-president of Grand Award Records, and then founded his own label Command Records in 1959. His name was prominent on many albums both as musician and producer. He revolutionized the creation of high-quality recordings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly stereo effects that bounced the sounds between the right and left channels, often described as ping-pong recording. This technique had huge influence on the whole concept of multi-track recording that would become commonplace in the ensuing years.
The first of the albums produced on his record label was Persuasive Percussion, that became one of the first big-hit LP discs based solely on retail sales with little or no radio airplay because AM radio was monaural and had very poor fidelity. He did however,record several successful big band albums with an ace-group of New York studio musicians of the Swing Era.
His album covers were generally designed with abstract, minimalist artwork that stood out boldly from other album covers. Light developed the “gatefold” sleeve to fit his lengthy descriptions of the sleeve, enabling it to fold like a book, thus popularizing the gatefold packaging format. The gatefold sleeve became extremely popular in later decades, and was used on albums produced by CTI.
He would go on to work with The Free Design, The Critters, Rain, Doc Severinsen, Tony Mottola, Dick Hyman, organist Virgil Fox and arranger, Lew Davies, was one of the label’s most important contributors.
Violinist, bandleader and recording engineer Enoch Light retired from music entirely in 1974 and passed away four years later on July 31, 1978 in Redding, Connecticut.
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Anna Mae Winburn was born Anna Mae Darden on August 13, 1913 to a musical family in Port Royal, Tennessee and along with her three sisters migrated to Kokomo, Indiana, at a young age. Her first known publicized performance was singing with the studio band of Radio WOWO, Fort Wayne, Indiana. She worked at various clubs in Indiana, at times appearing under the pseudonym Anita Door.
From there she moved to North Omaha, Nebraska where she sang and played guitar for a variety of territory bands, or groups whose touring activities and popularity were geographically limited to several adjoining states, that were led by Red Perkins. During that time Winburn was a collaborator of Lloyd Hunter, frequently singing with Lloyd Hunter’s “Serenaders”. She also led the Cotton Club Boys out of Omaha, a group that at one point included the amazing guitarist Charlie Christian.
When many of the musicians were lost to the World War II draft she left for Oklahoma City and led bands for a short while. It was there that she led Eddie Durham’s “All-Girl Orchestra”, which eventually earned her an invite to join the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Durham had been the composer for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm for two years before leaving to join Count Basie’s band.] After being recommended by Jimmie Jewel, who owned North Omaha’s Dreamland Ballroom, Anna Mae became the leader of the band in 1941. She was reportedly hired for her attractive figure, with the intention of doing little actual composing or singing but was the leader of the band until it folded in late 1949.
Vocalist and bandleader Anna Mae Winburn, who flourished beginning in the mid-1930s and led the all-female big band International Sweethearts of Rhythm, that was perhaps one of the few and one of the most racially integrated dance-bands of the swing era, passed away in Hempstead, New York on September 30, 1999.
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Nat Towles was born on August 10, 1905 in New Orleans, Louisiana the son of string bassist Phil “Charlie” Towles. Starting his musical career as a guitarist and violinist at the age of 11, he switched to the bass at the age of 13. Performing in New Orleans through his teenage years with Gus Metcalf’s Melody Jazz Band, he eventually played with a number of bands, including those of Buddie Petit, Henry “Red” Allen, Jack Carey, and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra.
In 1923 he formed The Nat Towles’ Creole Harmony Kings and this jazz band became one of the prominent territory bands in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. By 1925 he was playing bass for Fate Marable, and the following year reformed his own band. 1934 saw him organizing a band of young musicians studying music at Wiley College in Austin, Texas.
Nat worked a club circuit in Dallas during this period, reportedly for a gangster who owned 26 nightclubs throughout the city. During this period T-Bone Walker and Buddy Tate worked for him. During the 1930s he transformed his band into The Nat Towles Dance Orchestra, signed with the National Orchestra Service, and focused on swing music through the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1934 Towles took up residence in North Omaha, Nebraska, where his band was stationed for the next 25 years. With this outfit he dueled with Lloyd Hunter for dominance over the much-contested Near North Side in North Omaha, where he was held over at the Dreamland Ballroom for several weeks. In 1936 and 1937 his band held residence at Omaha’s Krug Park.
In 1943 he also held a three-month stint at the Rhumboogie Club in Chicago, and later that year took up residency again with Billy Mitchell in tow in Omaha’s Dreamland Ballroom. He went on to play extensively throughout New York City, playing with trombonist Buster Cooper, saxophonists Red Holloway, Buster Bennett and Preston Love.
As their bandleader, Towles is credited with influencing a variety of musicians including Sir Charles Thompson and Neal Hefti, as well as superior saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Oliver Nelson and Paul Quinichette. As an educator he influenced many younger musicians such as pianist Duke Groner and trombonist Buddy McLewis, aka Joe McLewis.
Continuing to lead bands throughout the 1950s, in 1959 he retired to California and opened a bar. Bassist, guitarist and violinist Nat Towles, who feared the limelight would steal away his best players thus never sought national recognition and leaving no known recordings, passed away in January of 1963 in Berkeley, California of a heart attack.
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Knocky Parker was born John William Parker, II on August 8, 1918 in Palmer, Ellis County, Texas. By the Thirties he was playing in Western Swing bands such as The Wanderers and the Light Crust Doughboys through the end of the decade before serving in the military during World War II.
After the war Parker worked with Zutty Singleton and Albert Nicholas, then earned a Ph.D in English and taught at Kentucky Wesleyan College and the University of South Florida. While fulfilling his teaching responsibilities he worked with Doc Evans, Omer Simeon, and Tony Parenti, among others, as well as working as a solo artist.
In the early 1960s he recorded every Scott Joplin rag, one of the first to do so. In addition, he recorded the complete works of Jelly Roll Morton. Knocky recorded extensively, for the labels Texstar, Paradox, GHB, London, Audiophile, Jazzology, and Euphonic.
Pianist Knocky Parker, who played primarily ragtime and Dixieland jazz passed away on September 3, 1986 in Los Angeles, California.
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Ikey Robinson also known as Banjo Ikey was born Isaac L. Robinson on July 28, 1904 in Dublin, Virginia. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1926, playing and recording with Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and Jabbo Smith during 1928-1929.
He went on to put together groups that included Ikey Robinson and his Band with Jabbo Smith, The Hokum Trio, The Pods of Pepper, Windy City Five, and Sloke & Ike.
His jazz style influenced many subsequent players, and his 1929 recording Rock Me Mama is often cited as an early use of the term “rock” as it evolved from black gospel into rock and roll.
Robinson reunited in the 1970s with Jabbo Smith for a global tour and appeared in the 1985 film Louie Bluie, a documentary about fellow musician Howard Armstrong. Having never previously met Armstrong he was initially hesitant to meet him because of their differing musical styles. However, the two got on well and perform together in the documentary. Banjoist and vocalist Ikey Robinson passed away on October 25, 1990.