Dick McPartland was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 18, 1905, the older brother of Jimmy McPartland. His father was a music teacher and a baseball player butt family problems caused the siblings to be partly raised in orphanages. He was an early member of the Austin High School Gang that helped establish Chicago-style jazz in the 1920s.
McPartland started out on the violin and then switched to the banjo and guitar. He played primarily in Chicago during the 1920s including with Red McKenzie, replacing Eddie Lang. He recorded with Irving Mills in 1928 and Jack Teagarden in ’29.
Dick’s rhythm guitar can be heard on sessions led by his brother Jimmy in 1936 and 1939. Unfortunately an early heart attack forced his retirement from full-time music by his early 30s. He later became a cab driver and only appeared at an occasional concert, including in 1955 when he played his final gig. He never led his own record date and on November 30, 1957, guitarist Dick McPartland passed away at the age of 52.
Red Nichols was born Ernest Loring Nichols on May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah. A child prodigy, he learned to play the cornet and by the age of twelve he was playing difficult set pieces for his father’s brass band. Hearing the early recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and later those of Bix Beiderbecke, they had a strong influence and his style became polished, clean and incisive.
In the early 1920s, Nichols moved to the Midwest and joined a band called The Syncopating Seven, then joined the Johnny Johnson Orchestra and went with it to New York City in 1923. In New York he met and teamed up with trombonist Miff Mole and the two of them were inseparable for the next decade.
Nichols had good technique, could read music, and easily got session and studio work. In 1926 he and Miff Mole began a prodigious stint of recording over 100 sides for the Brunswick label, with a variety of bands, most of them known as “Red Nichols and His Five Pennies”. Very few of these groups were actually quintets; the name was simply a pun on “Nickel”, since there were “five pennies” in a nickel
He also recorded under a number of other names, employing Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Gene Krupa among others. He would go on to record for Edison, Victor, Bluebird, Variety and Okeh record labels.
By the time the Swing Era arrived his recording career stalled even though he formed his own band. The transition from Dixieland to swing was not easy for him and the critics who once lauded him now trashed his output. During the Depression he played in show bands and pit orchestras, moved out to California and led Bob Hopes orchestra and during WWII gave up music for an Army commission. After the war he returned to music playing small clubs, hosting jam sessions and getting better engagements at the top clubs in the city – Zebra room, Tudor room in San Francisco’s palace Hotel and Pasadena’s Sheraton.
He toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department, performed in Mickey Rooney film Quicksand, and was the subject of This Is Your Life. By 1965 he was in Las Vegas with his band playing the Mint Hotel. Only a few days into the date, he was sleeping in his suite and was awakened by paralyzing chest pains. He managed to call the front desk and an ambulance was summoned, but it arrived too late.
On June 28, 1965, cornetist, composer, and bandleader Red Nichols, rumored to have appeared on over 4000 recordings during the 1920s alone, passed away. That night the band went on as scheduled, but at the center of the band a spotlight pointed down at an empty chair in Nichols’ customary spot. He has been the subject of a film biography portrayed by Danny Kaye, had a cameo in the biopic the Gene Krupa Story and in 1986 was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
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Karl Curtis George was born on April 26, 1913 in St. Louis, Missouri. Early in his career he played with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1933, and Cecil Lee. in the 1930s he spent time in the Jeter Pillars Orchestra and then in the orchestras of Teddy Wilson from 1939–40, followed by a year-long stint with Lionel Hampton in 1941.
George served in the Army from 1942 to 1943, then moved to California and played with Stan Kenton, Benny Carter, spent a spring with Count Basie and in Los Angeles with Happy Johnson, his final collaboration of note.
He also played in sessions led by Charles Mingus, Slim Gaillard, Oscar Pettiford, Dinah Washington and Lucky Thompson. During years1945-1946 Karl led his own group on record the track “Peek-A-Boo” by the Karl George Octet, originally released on Melodisc, has been reissued on a Topnotch compilation.
Jazz trumpeter Karl George retired back in his hometown once his health got the better of him, while recordings he had played on continued to be stocked on record store shelves. He lived out the rest of his life in almost total obscurity until passing away in May 1978.
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Flip Phillips was born Joseph Edward Filipelli on March 26, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York. In the mid-1940s, he was one of the anchors of the Woody Herman band, and also played with the Woodchoppers, a small spin-off group that Herman led. After this period he went out on his own and joined Jazz at the Philharmonic. His deep, strong and articulate playing with a very full sound contrasted him to his successors such as Stan Getz in the subsequent Herman bands.
Phillips recorded extensively for Clef Records, now Verve, in the 1940s and 1950s, including a 1949 album of small-group tracks under his leadership, with Buddy Morrow, Tommy Turk, Kai Winding, Sonny Criss, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. He accompanied Billie Holiday on her 1952 Billie Holiday Sings album. He became a frequent player at the Odessa Jazz Party in Odessa, Texas from 1971 to 1991.
Tenor saxophonist and clarinet player Flip Phillips, best known for his work with Jazz At The Philharmonic from 1946 to 1957, passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 17, 2001 at the age of 86.
Nat King Cole was born Nathaniel Adams Coles on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama, one of four brothers and a half sister. His brothers Ike and Freddy would follow in his footsteps and pursue careers in music. When he was four years old his family moved to Chicago, Illinois where his father became a Baptist minister and where the young lad learned to play the organ from his mother. His first performance was at age four and he began formal lessons at 12, eventually learning jazz, gospel and Western classical. He went to DuSable High School and studied in the music program under Walter Dyeth.
Sneaking out of the house and to hang around outside the clubs, he listening to artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Noone and Earl Hines, the latter who inspired him. Cole began his performing career in the mid-1930s while still a teenager, adopting the name Nat Cole. His older brother, Eddie, a bass player, joined Cole’s band playing clubs and made their first recording in 1936 under Eddie’s name. They also were regular performers at clubs. He got his nickname, “King”, presumably reinforced by the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole”.
Nat went on to be the pianist in the national tour of Shuffle Along revue about theatre legend Eubie Blake. When it closed in Long Beach, he decided to stay in California. He formed Cole and two other musicians formed the “King Cole Swingsters” that eventual became the King Cole Trio. Their first radio broadcast on NBC’s Blue Network in 1938 led to their Swing Soiree, the Old Gold, Chesterfield Supper Club, Kraft Music Hall and The Orson Welles Almanac.
Cole frequently sang in between instrumental numbers. Noticing that people started to request more vocal numbers, he obliged. There was a customer who requested a certain song one night, but it was a song that Cole did not know, so instead he sang “Sweet Lorraine”. The King Cole Trio signed with the fledgling Capitol Records, known as the “House That Nat Built” in 1943. Revenues from Cole’s record sales fueled much of the label’s success during this period including the construction of the circular building.
Nat would perform in the first Jazz At The Philharmonic, have his revolutionary lineup of piano, guitar, and bass was emulated by many musicians, among them Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Charles Brown and Ray Charles. He played with Lester Young, Red Callender and Lionel Hampton.
Cole’s first mainstream vocal hit was his 1943 recording of one of his compositions, “Straighten Up And Fly Right”, selling over 500,000 copies.
In 1946, the King Cole Trio Time program was on the air, recorded with a string orchestra and his pop stature came with his recording of “The Christmas Song” followed by a string of hits such as Nature Boy, Route 66, Mona Lisa, Too Young and Unforgettable. While this shift to pop music led some jazz critics and fans to accuse Cole of selling out, he never completely abandoned his jazz roots and in 1956 he recorded an all-jazz album After Midnight. He had one of his last major hits in 1963, two years before his death, with “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer”, which reached #6 on the Pop chart.
He would go on to have a variety show on NBC without national sponsorship despite appearances of Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee and Eartha Kitt. He would record Cole Espanol in Havana, Cuba, retool his final Nelson Riddle arranged album Wild Is Love into an Off-Broadway show titled “I’m With You”. Cole performed in many short films, sitcoms, and television shows such as St, Louis Blues, The Blue Gardenia, the Nat King Cole Story and on of his final appearances in Cat Ballou.
Cole was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame, the Down Beat Hall of Fame, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and has an official U.S. postage stamp in his honor.
Pianist, vocalist, composer and bandleader Nat King Cole, whose baritone voice performed in big band and jazz trio settings passed away on February 15, 1965 of lung cancer. He maintains worldwide popularity.