Joe Darensbourg was born Joseph Wilmer Darensbourg on July 9, 1906 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He received some of his earliest training from Alphonse Picou. After playing with local groups, and traveling with a medicine show and a circus band, he settled in Los Angeles, California and worked with Mutt Carey’s Liberty Syncopators.
He worked in Seattle from 1929 to 1944, working on cruise lines, playing in after-hours clubs and roadhouses, and backing several non-jazz entertainers. Darensbourg resumed playing jazz in 1944, in a traditional group with Johnny Wittwer. When he returned to Los Angeles, he recorded with Kid Ory and worked briefly with R&B bandleader Joe Liggins.
From 1947 to 1953 Joe worked solely with Ory, then spent the rest of his career in traditional ensembles, working with such musicians as Gene Mayl, Teddy Buckner and Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. He led his own groups, and had a hit with the song Yellow Dog Blues, and toured with the Legends of Jazz from 1973 to 1975. He also worked with Buddy Petit, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Creath, Fate Marable, Andy Kirk, Johnny Wittwer and Wingy Manone. Clarinet and saxophonist Joe Darensbourg, one of the purest soloists in traditional jazz, passed away in Van Nuys, California on May 24, 1985.
Seger Ellis was born on July 4, 1904 in Houston, Texas. He began his career as pianist playing live for a local Houston radio station KPRC in the early 1920s. In 1925 he was added to the orchestra of Lloyd Finlay for a “field trip” recording session for Victor Records and was also allowed to cut two piano solos.
The recordings led to Ellis being invited to Victor’s regular recording studio in Camden, New Jersey to cut a number of piano solos, all or most of them compositions of his own. These were among the earliest records Victor made using the new electric microphone and recording equipment, a technique that was yet not perfected which probably explains why only four of the titles were eventually issued. Of these the coupling Prairie Blues and Sentimental Blues became a minor hit.
After his first recording experiences Seger returned to Houston and radio work as well as playing in vaudeville theaters. During this period he started adding singing to his piano playing and was well received by audiences. In 1927 he was invited to New York to make vocal test recordings, his first issued vocal record was Sunday on the Columbia label. This was followed by a string of records for Okeh Records and he chose the best musicians to play with him such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Andy Sannella and Louis Armstrong.
His first recording career ended in 1931, however towards the end of the decade he returned with a big band of his own, the Choirs of Brass Orchestra with himself conducting and taking occasional vocals and featuring his wife, Irene Taylor as a vocalist. In 1939 Ellis reorganized and his new band featured the conventional four-man reed section but disbanded in 1941 and enlisted in the Army-Air Force in 1942.
A move back to Texas saw him being less active as a performer and more involved in songwriting. Many of compositions were recorded by Harry James, Gene Krupa, Bing Crosby, Count Basie and the Mills Brothers. Pianist and vocalist Seger Ellis gradually retired and took up residence in Houston where he passed away in a retirement home on September 29, 1995.
Eli Robinson was born on June 23, 1911 in Greenville, Georgia. After working in Cincinnati in bands led by Speed Webb and Zack White, he worked as well with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.
Robinson made his first recordings in 1935 with Blanche Calloway. In 1936 he moved to New York City where he played with Teddy Hill, and Willie Bryant. After working briefly with Roy Eldridge in Chicago in 1939, he joined Count Basie from 1941 to 1947.
During the 1950s and 60s, he worked with Lucky Millinder and Buddy Tate. Trombonist and arranger Eli Robinson passed away on December 24, 1972.
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Ray McKinley was born on June 18, 1910 in Fort Worth, Texas. He got his start at age 9 working with local bands in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. Leaving home when he was 15, he played with Milt Shaw’s Detroiters and the Smith Ballew and Duncan-Marin bands. It was with the Smith Ballew band in 1929 that McKinley met Glenn Miller. The two formed a friendship that lasted from 1929 until Miller’s death in 1944. McKinley and Miller joined the Dorsey Brothers in 1934.
The Dorsey brothers split in 1935 and Ray remained with Jimmy Dorsey until 1939, when he joined Will Bradley, becoming co-leader. His biggest hit with Bradley, as a singer, was Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar, which he recorded in 1940 and got a partial songwriting credit. Known also as Eight Beat Mack, taken from the lyrics to Down the Road a Piece, he recorded the song a trio with Will Bradley and Freddie Slack.
Splitting with Bradley in 1942, McKinley formed his own band and recorded for Capitol Records. The band was short-lived and he joined Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band, which he co-led with arranger Jerry Gray after Miller’s disappearance in December 1944. Upon discharge he formed a modern big band that featuring original material by legendary arranger Eddie Sauter and vocals by the leader. However, with business declining, by 1950 that band was history and his interest turned towards becoming a part-time leader and radio and TV personality.
In 1956, capitalizing on the popularity of The Glenn Miller Story movie with James Stewart, McKinley was chosen to be the leader of the revived Glenn Miller band, which he led until 1966. He co-hosted, with former Air Force band vocalist Johnny Desmond, a 13-week CBS-TV summer replacement series with the band called Glenn Miller Time in 1961. He also wrote the lyrics to the 1945 wartime song My Guy’s Come Back with music by Mel Powell and recorded by Benny Goodman with vocals by Liza Morrow on Columbia Records. His final recording session was in 1977 for Chiaroscuro Records. Drummer, singer, and bandleader Ray McKinley passed away on May 7, 1995.
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Stanley Aubrey Wrightsman was born on June 15, 1910 in Gotebo, Oklahoma. He began playing professionally in a Gulfport, Mississippi hotel, and in territory bands in Oklahoma. In 1930, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where he played with Ray Miller. From 1935–1936 he worked with Ben Pollack in Chicago, Illinois.
His career was interrupted by an illness, but then worked in California with the Seger Ellis Orchestra in 1937. He made his debut recordings were made soon thereafter with Spike Jones and his City Slickers. In the Forties and Fifties, Stan played with various big bands and ensembles in the traditional jazz genre, including Artie Shaw, Wingy Manone, Eddie Miller, Rudy Vallee, Nappy Lamare, Johnny Mercer, Harry James, Bob Crosby, Matty Matlock, Pete Fountain, The Rampart Street Paraders, Ray Bauduc, Wild Bill Davison, and Bob Scobey.
Wrightsman appeared in films and on the soundtrack of Blues in the Night, in which he stood in for Richard Whorf on piano, Syncopation, the Jack Webb film Pete Kelly’s Blues, the Red Nichols biopic The Five Pennies and in the feature film The Crimson Canary he appeared as a pianist.
During the 1960s, Wrightsman reunited with Pete Fountain and continued his work with Hollywood film studios. At the end of the decade, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he played as a sideman for Wayne Newton and Flip Wilson.
From 1937 to 1971 he recorded 174 sessions that included Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, George Van Eps, and Peggy Lee, whom he accompanied on the celesta for the song That Old Feeling in 1944. On December 17, 1975 pianist Stan Wrightsman passed away in Palm Springs, California.
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