Butch Ballard was born George Edward Ballard on December 26, 1918 in Camden, New Jersey but grew up in Frankford, Pennsylvania. Following American Legion parades near his home, as a child he focused on the drummer and around 10 years old, his father bought him a set of drums. He took lessons for 75 cents each and continued his musical education Northeast High School in Philadelphia.
By 16 Ballard saw Herb Thorton, sat in and played and was invited to join a band by a man who heard him, and over the next few months rehearsed and played. In 1938, he started playing with Louis Armstrong’s band The Dukes, followed by stints with Cootie Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Pearl Bailey.
Butch served in the Navy during WWII, then went to New York and worked with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Eddie Vinson, Arnett Cobb and Clark Terry. He replaced Shadow Wilson in the Basie band in the late 1940s. The Fifties saw him touring Europe with the Ellington outfit and playing with Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Billy Strayhorn, Kay Davis and Wendell Marshall. He declined the invite to join permanently because he didn’t want to change his drumming style to suit Duke, though he did record with him on such tunes as Satin Doll.
By the Sixties he was back in Philadelphia leading his own band and over the course of his career worked with the likes of John Coltrane, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Cat Anderson, Fats Waller, Lucky Millinder, Bootsie Barnes and Mercer Ellington among others.
In his later years he became a music teacher and played with the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra and was honored with the Mellon Jazz Community Award for his continued education of young jazz musicians. Butch Ballard, who got the nickname after Machine Gun Butch, a character in the 1930 film The Big House, passed away on October 1, 2011.
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Reunald Jones Sr. was born December 22, 1910 in Indianapolis, Indiana and studied trumpet at the Michigan Conservatory. He played with territory bands such as Speed Webb’s outfit and then into the 30s worked with Charlie Johnson, the Savoy Bearcats, Chick Webb, Sam Wooding, Claude Hopkins and others.
By the 1940s he would work with Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Lucky Millinder and Sy Oliver; and worked extensively as a studio musician. During the Fifties, Jones toured with Woody Herman, and played lead trumpet with the Count Basie Orchestra gaining some fame due to his “one-handed” solo style of playing, but was rarely featured.
However, Jones was featured as a member of the Quincy Jones group, “The Jones Boys” from 1956-58, a session conceived by Leonard Feather featuring a number of musicians named “Jones,” though none of them were related.
The Sixties saw him playing and touring with George Shearing and with orchestra accompanying Nat King Cole. By the 70s he was playing less and on February 26, 1989 he passed away.
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Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was born on December 18, 1917 in Houston, Texas and took up the alto saxophone in his youth. By the late 30s he joined Milton Larkin’s Orchestra and at various times sat next to Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Cedric Haywood and Wild Bill Davis.
Exiting Larkin’s employment in 1941, Vinson picked up a few vocal tricks while touring with bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, moved to New York City joining and recording with Cootie Williams, and then struck out on his own in 1945, Eddie formed his own large band that performed, recorded and toured over the next ten years.
He signed with Mercury Records, and enjoying a double-sided hit in 1947 with his R&B chart-topper “Old Maid Boogie”, and the song that would prove to be his signature number, “Kidney Stew Blues”.
Vinson leaned towards jazz during the early 50s when his band included John Coltrane. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles working with Johnny Otis and by the late 60s he was touring in a strict jazz capacity with Jay McShann and his career took an upswing. A 1970 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Otis spurred a bit of a comeback for Vinson and throughout the decade worked high-profile blues and jazz sessions for Count Basie, Johnny Otis, Roomful of Blues, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate.
During this period he also composed steadily, including “Tune Up” and “Four”, both of which have been incorrectly attributed to Miles Davis. Vinson recorded extensively during his fifty-odd year career and performed regularly in Europe and the United States.
Jump blues, R&B, jazz and bebop alto saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, whose nickname came from a hair straightening incident in which the lye destroyed his hair, passed away on July 2, 1988 from a heart attack whilst undergoing chemotherapy in Los Angles, California.
Jackie Davis was born on December 13, 1920 in Jacksonville, Florida. He first learned to play by spending hours poking at his grandmother’s piano. By the age of eight, he was playing with a local dance band. By the age of eleven, he’d earned enough from playing to buy his own piano, and music enabled him to pay his way through Florida A&M College, graduating in 1943.
After serving time in the Army, he worked as a pianist, usually as an accompanist for singers such as Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Daniels. Although he was attracted to the organ, he was intimidated at the prospect of playing jazz on it, particularly when his idol at the time was the lightning-fast Art Tatum. However, the Hammond Organ Company began selling electric organs in the late 40s, and in 1951 he bought his first organ. He appeared at Club Harlem in Philadelphia, and a two-week gig turned into nearly five months. Jackie became the first musician to popularize jazz on the Hammond organ, years before Jimmy Smith’s name became synonymous with organ jazz.
Davis signed with RCA to record a couple of 45s but no album so he went to Trend Records in Los Angeles and released a 10” album. He joined Louis Jordan’s outfit and learned stage presentation and in 1956 signed with Capitol Records, became their leading performer on the organ at a time when relatively few mainstream labels were willing to put a black musician on the cover of an album and released a total of nine albums. He went on to sign with Warner but that proved to be the end of his recording career.
Over the next thirty years of his career he performed in clubs from Vegas to Atlantic City, jazz festivals and restaurants, produced Ella Fitzgerald records, and was hired by Norman Granz for her Lady Time session, and was a regular fixture at a Hilton Head, South Carolina club. He worked with the likes of Paul Quinichette, Junior Mance, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Clark Terry, Ray Brown, Keter Betts, Max Roach and many others.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew wiped out his home in Florida causing a financial and physical strain on his health and he suffered a series of strokes. He attempted to perform but his health didn’t hold up and on November 15, 1999 pianist and organist Jackie Davis passed away in his hometown of Jacksonville.
Eddie Johnson was born Edwin Lawrence Johnson on December 11, 1920 in Napoleonville, Louisiana. Gleaning his style from the pre-war tenor greats like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, he combined the big brawling sound with romantic lyricism to come into his own.
Settling in Chicago in 1941 the tenor saxophonist freelanced around town until joining Cootie Williams and His Orchestra in 1946, appearing on several Capitol and Majestic recordings. Leaving Williams to join the Louis Jordan outfit he would go on to play with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, and regretfully turning down an offer to join the latter’s orchestra.
By the end of the 40’s Eddie retired from music, took a 9-5 job with the city to raise his family and didn’t pick up his horn until some 30 years later when he retired to music. He started playing at Andy’s in Chicago with a quintet and become a member of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.
He soon became one of the city’s enduring tenor icons alongside Fred Anderson and Von Freeman. As a leader he released two albums, “Indian Summer” on the Nessa label and “Love You Madly” for Delmark. Tenor saxophonist Eddie Johnson passed away on April 7, 2010 at age 89.
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