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.
Matt Dennis was born on February 11, 1914 in Seattle, Washington. His early exposure to music came from the family business of vaudeville, his mother who was a violinist and his father a singer. In 1933 he joined Horace Heidt’s orchestra as a vocalist and pianist. Later he would form his own band, with Dick Haymes as vocalist.
Dennis became a vocal coach, arranger, and accompanist for Martha Tilton and then worked with a new vocal group, The Stafford Sisters. Jo Stafford, one of the sisters, joined the Tommy Dorsey band in 1940 and persuaded Dorsey to hire him as arranger and composer. He would go on to wrote prolifically, with 14 of his songs recorded by the Dorsey band in one year alone, including “Everything Happens To Me”, an early hit for Frank Sinatra.
With four years in the U.S. Air Force in World War II behind him, Matt returned to music writing and arranging. He got a boost from his old friend Dick Haymes, who hired him to be the music director for his radio program, and with lyricist Tom Adair wrote songs for Haymes’ program.
Dennis made six albums, most of which are out of print; however, his 1953 song Angel Eyes that he composed with lyricist Earl Brent has become a frequently recorded jazz standard. Added to that list of standards are Will You Still Be Mine, The Night We Called It A Day and Violets For Your Furs.
Composer, pianist, arranger, singer and bandleader Matt Dennis passed away on June 21, 2002 in Riverside, California at the age of 88.
Roy Eldridge was born David Roy Eldridge on January 30, 1911 on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother was a gifted pianist with a talent for reproducing music by ear, a talent inherited from her. He began playing piano at age five, took up drums at six, played bugle in church and by eleven began seriously honing the instrument, especially the upper register. Though lacking a proficiency at sight-reading, he could replicate melodies by ear effectively.
Eldridge’s early years had him leading and playing in a number of Midwest bands and absorbed the influence of saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins in developing an equivalent trumpet style. Leaving home after expulsion from high school in ninth grade he joined a traveling show at sixteen until it folded in Youngstown, Ohio. He then joined a carnival, returned home and found work in another traveling show. By 20, he led an orchestra, auditioned for Horace Henderson, played in a number of territory bands, formed his own short-lived band once again, moved to Milwaukee and took part in a cutting contest with Cladys “Jabbo” Smith.
Eldridge moved to New York in 1930, playing in Harlem dance bands, and got the nickname “Little Jazz” from Ellington saxophonist Otto Hardwick. He laid down his first recorded solos with Teddy Hill in 1935, led his own band at the reputed Famous Door nightclub and recorded a number of small group sides with singer Billie Holiday. He would join Fletcher Henderson’s band, becoming his featured soloist because of his ability to swing a band. He would move to Chicago to form a band with his older brother, playing saxophone and arranging. In the 40s he joined the Gene Krupa Orchestra, staying until the band broke up after Krupa was jailed for marijuana possession.
Over the course of his career, Little Jazz would play with Anita O’Day, Jazz At The Philharmonic, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Earl Hines, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, Max Roach, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and the list goes on and on. His sophisticated use of harmony, including the use of triton substitutions, his virtuosic solos exhibiting a departure from the smooth and lyrical style of earlier jazz trumpet innovator Louis Armstrong, and his strong impact on Dizzy Gillespie mark him as one of the most influential musicians of the swing era and a precursor of bebop.
In 1971 trumpeter Roy Eldridge was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. After suffering a heart attack in 1980, he gave up playing. He died at the age of 78 on February 26, 1989 at the Franklin General Hospital in Valley Stream, New York, three weeks after the death of his wife, Viola.
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Jean Reinhardt better known as “Django” was born on January 23, 1910 in Liberchies, Pont-a-Celles, Belgium into a French family of Manouche Romani descent. His family made cane furniture for a living but it was comprised of several good amateur musicians. He spent most of his youth in Romani encampments close to Paris, where he started playing violin, banjo and guitar.
Reinhardt was attracted to music at an early age, first playing the violin. At age 12, he received a banjo-guitar as a gift and quickly learned to play by mimicking the fingerings of musicians he watched. By age 13, Reinhardt was able to make a living playing music. He received little formal education and acquired the rudiments of literacy only in adult life. His first known recordings, made in 1928, were of him playing the banjo.
At age 18 in 1928 Reinhardt was injured in a fire started by a knocked over candle. Over half his body suffered burns, two fingers and one leg were paralyzed and it was thought he would never walk or play again. But with therapy and practice he re-learned to play differently and walked with a cane.
The years between 1929 and 1933 were formative musically for Django when he became attracted to jazz listening to Louis Armstrong. Shortly thereafter he met Stephane Grappelli who had similar interests. The two became musical partners. In 1934, with an invitation by Hot Club de France secretary Pierre Nourry, he and Grappelli formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Over the years it hosted different players and adding a singer but for the most part allowed only stringed instruments.
In 1933, Reinhardt recorded two takes each of vocal numbers “Parce-que je vous aime” and “Si, j’aime Suzy”, continued to record into 1934, and in 1935 he and Stephane recorded sides for Decca Records. He played and recorded with Adelaide Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington.
By 1946, he was debuting at the Cleveland Music Hall as a special guest soloist with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. As part of the U.S. tour Django also played two nights at Carnegie Hall, then secured an engagement at Café Society Uptown, where he played four solos a day, backed by the resident band drawing large audiences.
Returning to France in ’47, Reinhardt became re-immersed in Gypsy life, finding it difficult to adjust to the postwar world. Missing sold-out concerts, showing up without guitar or amplifier and wandering off were commonplace. However, during this period he continued to attend the R-26 artistic salon in Montmartre, improvising with his devoted collaborator, Stéphane Grappelli.
From 1951 until his death at age 43 on May 16, 1953 of a brain hemorrhage, Reinhardt retired to Samois-sur-Seine near Fontainbleau. He had continued to play in Paris jazz clubs and began playing electric guitar. (He often used a Selmer fitted with an electric pickup, despite his initial hesitation about the instrument.) His final recordings made with his “Nouvelle Quintette” in the last few months of his life show him moving in a new musical direction; he had assimilated the vocabulary of bebop and fused it with his own melodic style.
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Gene Krupa was born Eugene Bertram Krupa on January 15, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. Originally groomed for the priesthood by his parents, he He spent his grammar school days at various parochial schools and upon graduation, attended Saint Joseph’s College for a year, but later decided it was not his vocation. He studied with Sanford A Moeller and began playing drums professionally in the mid-1920s with bands in Wisconsin.
Gene broke into the Chicago scene in 1927, when he was picked by MCA to become a member of Thelma Terry and Her Playboys, the first notable American Jazz band to be led by a female musician. The Playboys were the house band at The Golden Pumpkin nightclub in Chicago and also toured extensively throughout the eastern and central United States.
Making his first recordings in 1927 with a band under the leadership of guitarist Eddie Condon and Red McKenzie, Krupa recorded others on the Chicago scene such as Bix Beiderbecke. His big influences during this time were Tubby Hall, Zutty Singleton and Baby Dodds.
By 1934 he joined Benny Goodman’s band, where his featured drum work made him a national celebrity. His tom-tom interludes on their hit “Sing, Sing, Sing” were the first extended drum solos to be recorded commercially. He made a cameo appearance in the 1941 film, Ball of Fire, in which he and his band performed an extended version of the hit Drum Drum Boogie, which he had composed with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. He also appeared in The Best Years Of Our Lives in 1946 during the waning years of the big band era.
1951 saw Gene leading a trio or quartet, appeared regularly with the Jazz At The Philharmonic band, never quite adjusted to be-bop, and by the end of the decade returned to Hollywood appearing in such films as The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story and had a biography starring Sal Mineo titled The Gene Krupa Story, featuring a cameo appearance by Red Nichols.
During the 1960s he played clubs in Washington, DC and New York but increasingly troubled by back pain, he retired in the late 1960s and opened a music school. He would give instruction to future KISS drummer Peter and Jerry Nolan of the New York Dolls. He occasionally played in public in the early 1970s until shortly before his death. Gene Krupa, big band drummer, band leader, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style passed away on October 16, 1973.
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