Sing Miller was born James Miller in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 17, 1914. He started out his career singing with the Harmonizing Browns Quartet and playing banjo, but in the late 1920s he switched to piano. He did solo freelance work and as an accompanist in New Orleans in the 1930s, playing with Percy Humphrey for a time.
Serving in the military during World War II, after his discharge he played with Earl Foster’s band from 1945 to 1961. During the 1960s he was a regular at Preservation Hall, working with Kid Thomas Valentine, Kid Sheik Colar, The Humphrey Brothers, Jim Robinson, and Polo Barnes. He did asolo tours of Europe in 1979 and 1981, and recorded two full-length albums under his own name, a 1972 effort for Dixie Records and one in 1978 for Smoky Mary.
Pianist Sing Miller, who was a longtime performer on the New Orleans jazz scene, passed away on May 18, 1990.
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John Simmons was born June 14, 1918 in Haskell, Oklahoma and played trumpet at first, but a sports injury prevented him from continuing on the instrument. He picked up bass instead, landing his first professional gigs a mere four months after starting on the instrument. Early on he played with Nat King Cole and Teddy Wilson in 1937 before moving to Chicago, Illinois where he played with Jimmy Bell, King Kolax, Floyd Campbell, and Johnny Letman.
1940 saw him playing with Roy Eldridge and then spent 1941 to 1942 playing at various times with Benny Goodman, Cootie Williams, and Louis Armstrong. From 1942 to 1943 John played in the CBS Blue Network Orchestra, then played with Duke Ellington, Eddie Heywood and Illinois Jacquet through 1946, in addition to doing much studio work.
Simmons recorded with Lester Young, James P. Johnson, Hot Lips Page, Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Sidney DeParis, Sid Catlett, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Benny Carter, Bill DeArango, Al Casey, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Thompson, Milt Jackson, Buddy Rich, Tadd Dameron, Matthew Gee, Maynard fErguson and Thelonious Monk among numerous others.
Much of the 1950s Simmons continued to work as a studio musician recording with Erroll Garner, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Art Tatum, and the Rolf Ericson/Duke Jordan band. One of his last associations was with Phineas Newborn in 1960 before ill health forced his retirement not long afterwards. Bassist John Simmons passed away on September 19, 1979 in Orange, New York.
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Sanford Gold was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 9, 1911. He played locally in Cleveland and led regional bands before moving to New York City in the 1930s. It was in New York that he collaborated with Babe Russin and Raymond Scott in 1935.
Forming a trio with Dave Barbour in 1941 by 1942 Gold was working as a studio musician for CBS before serving in World War II from 1942 to 1946. After his discharged from the military, he worked with Don Byas, Mary Osborne and others before he going to work for NBC from 1949-1954. Gold recorded an album as a leader titled Piano d’Or on the Prestige label in 1955. He also performed as a sideman with Johnny Smith, Al Cohn, Vic Dickenson, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Sally Blair.
As an educator Sanford was considered one of the premier jazz piano teachers of his time. His self-published book, A Modern Approach to Keyboard Harmony and Piano Techniques, distills the complexities of jazz and classical harmony down to a simple yet far-reaching system of pianistic and harmonic exercises. It has become an underground classic for serious students of the instrument.
Pianist Sanford Gold, whose one of his biggest fans was Bill Evans and who often steered students his way, passed away on May 29, 1984 in Danvers. Massachusetts.
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Charles Edward Smith was born June 8, 1904 in Thomaston, Connecticut and began collecting Hot Records from early jazz in the 1920s. He worked with William Russell, Eugene Williams, John Hammond, Hugues Panassié and Charles Delaunay in the Hot Record Society from 1937, from which the jazz label HRS Records was established. Along with Steve Smith, he was editor of the jazz magazine Hot Record Society Rag.
Smith was among the early representatives of jazz criticism in the 1930s, having published essays in journals such as the Symposium, The Daily Worker and Esquire. He published the book Jazzmen with Frederic Ramsey in 1939 and was one of America’s first jazz books along with Wild Hobson’s American Jazz Music.
He wrote articles on groups like the Austin High School Gang as well as interviews with early jazz musicians like Willie Cornish, Papa Jack Laine, Leon Roppolo and Nick LaRocca. With the 1942 The Jazz Record Book, an attempt was made to list a canon of important jazz records, which prompted future writers to produce further books such as Marshall Stearns’ The Story of Jazz, Joachim-Ernst Berendt & Günther Huesmann’s Jazz Book, Barry Kernfeld’s Encyclopedia of Jazz and Allen Lowes That Devilin’ Tune.
Charles also wrote for The New Republic, the magazine Jazz Information and a series of liner notes from folk music albums, folk blues and early jazz players such as Pee Wee Russell, Jelly Roll Morton as well as modern jazz musicians Al Cohn, Miles Davis/Milestones, Chico Hamilton/South Pacific in Hi-Fi and J.J. Johnson/Dial JJ 5. He also wrote the accompaniment text for the LP edition of John Hammond’s Concert Series, From Spirituals to Swing – Carnegie Hall Concerts, 1938/39 on the Vanguard label.
Author and critic Charles Edward Smith, who is considered one of the early serious jazz critics, passed away on December 16, 1970 in New York City.
James Melvin Lunceford was born on June 6, 1902 on a 53 acre farm in the Evergreen community, west of the Tombigbee River, near Fulton, Mississippi. They moved seven months after his birth to his other’s hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and as a child he learned several instruments. By high school they were living in Denver, Colorado where he studied music under Wilberforce J. Whiteman, father of bandleader Paul Whiteman. He went on to continue his studies at Fisk University. By 1922, he was playing alto saxophone in a local band led by the violinist George Morrison which included Andy Kirk, another musician destined for fame as a bandleader.
In 1927 he organized a student band at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee called the Chickasaw Syncopators, and later changed to the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Under the new name, the band started its professional career in 1929 and made its first recordings in 1930. He gained recognition as the first public high school band director in Memphis. After a period of touring, the band accepted a booking at the Harlem nightclub The Cotton Club in 1934 for their revue ‘Cotton Club Parade’ starring Adelaide Hall. His orchestra, with their tight musicianship and the often outrageous humor in their music and lyrics, made an ideal band for the club, and his reputation began to steadily grow.
The band’s style of playing was based its ensemble work and for using a two-beat rhythm, called the Lunceford two-beat, as opposed to the standard four-beat rhythm, a distinction made possible by the imaginative arrangements by trumpeter Sy Oliver. Comedy and vaudeville also played a distinct part in Jimmie’s presentation incorporating costumes, skits and jabs at mainstream white bands.
Over the next decade the orchestra recorded on the Decca and Vocalion labels, toured Europe extensively, lost arranger Oliver to the Dorsey band and appeared in the movie Blues In The Night. Unfortunately, most of Lunceford’s sidemen were underpaid and left for better paying bands, leading to the band’s decline.
On July 12, 1947 while signing autographs at a local record store in Seaside, Oregon, saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jimmie Lunceford collapsed and passed away on the way to the hospital. Accounts from other bandmates who also got sick within hours of the meal, substantiate the claims that they were poisoned by a disgruntled restaurant owner unhappy with having to serve Negroes. However the official autopsy has his caused of death as coronary occlusion.