Eddie Harris was born on October 20, 1934 in Chicago, Illinois to a Cuban father and New Orleans mother. He studied music at DuSable High School, then Roosevelt University becoming proficient on piano, vibraphone and tenor saxophone and playing professionally with Gene Ammons.
After graduating and a stint in the 7th Army Band playing alongside Leo Wright, Don Ellis and Cedar Walton, he worked in New York City prior to his Chicago return. He signed with Vee Jay Records and released his debut “Exodus To Jazz” and his jazz arrangement of the theme to Exodus was so heavily played on radio, it became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold.
Throughout his career he recorded for Columbia and Atlantic Records, ventured into electric piano and Varitone saxophone mixing jazz with funk on albums like “The Electrifying Eddie Harris” and crossing into rhythm and blues markets. By 1969 he would perform with Les McCann at Montreux with an unrehearsed band that produced the seminal work Swiss Movement that became one of the best selling jazz albums ever.
In the early to mid ‘70s Harris experimented with altering instruments like his reed trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, saxobone with a trombone mouthpiece and guitorgan, a guitar/organ combination. He also forayed into singing blues, played with jazz-rock, and comic R&B consisting of mostly stand-up comedy all of which ultimately declined his popularity.
He would work with Horace Silver in the ‘80s, record regularly well into the 1990s, tour and perform in Europe and return to hard bop. His move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s allowed him the opportunity to provide much of the music for The Bill Cosby Show.
Eddie Harris, tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist and composer of “Freedom Jazz Dance” popularized by Miles Davis in the Sixties and also the tune “Listen Here”, passed away from bone cancer and kidney disease at the age of 62 on November 5, 1996.
Raymond Matthews Brown was born on October 13, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and started piano lessons at age eight. By high school he noticed a proliferation of pianists, unable to afford his first choice of trombone, took the upright bass vacancy in the high school jazz orchestra.
Influenced early by bassist Jimmy Blanton, the young Brown started making a name for himself around Pittsburgh playing with Jimmy Hinlsey and Snookum Russell. After graduating from high school he bought a one-way ticket to New York, met up with hank Jones, met Dizzy Gillespie who hired him on the spot and started working alongside Art Tatum and Charlie Parker.
During his five-year tenure with Gillespie he met and married Ella Fitzgerald, then worked with Jazz At The Philharmonic, recorded with Blossom Dearie on her first five albums between ‘57 and ‘59, joined Oscar Peterson in 1951 becoming a mainstay for the next 15 years.
In 1966 Ray moved to Los Angeles where he was in high demand by several television show orchestras, worked with Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. Becoming a manager and promoter as well as a performer, Brown managed the Modern Jazz Quartet and a young Quincy Jones, produced shows at the Hollywood Bowl, wrote jazz bass instruction books and developed a jazz cello.
Over the course of his career he has recorded prolifically with a luminary list of musicians, was award a Grammy for his composition Gravy Waltz, reunited with the legendary Oscar Peterson Trio and subsequent albums earned no less than four Grammys. He continued to tour and perform up until the time of his death. Double bassist Ray Brown passed away in his sleep on July 2, 2002 after having played a round of golf in Indianapolis, Indiana. The following year he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
Melvin Rhyne was born on October 12, 1936 in Indianapolis, Indiana and started playing the piano shortly thereafter. By the time he turned 19 he was playing piano with then-unknown tenor saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk but quickly switched to the Hammond B3 organ. His skills as a pianist fluidly translated to the organ fluently and he soon became a sideman for B.B. King and T-Bone Walker.
Melvin’s big break came in 1959 when he joined fellow Indianapolis jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s newly formed trio. Playing with Montgomery for five years, he recorded four sessions with the trio: Guitar on the Go, Round Midnight, Boss Guitar, and Portrait of Wes.
After the Montgomery years, Rhyne moved to Wisconsin and largely kept to himself for the next two decades. However, in 1991 Rhyne returned to the jazz scene in full force, playing on Herb Ellis’ album Roll Call, with Brian Lynch on At the Main Event, and his own comeback The Legend. Rhyne continued to be prolific in the years to come, releasing eight more solo albums for the Criss Cross jazz label.
In 2008 Rhyne teamed up with Rob Dixon forming the Dixon-Rhyne Project, a boundary-pushing jazz quartet and released Reinvention for Owl Studios in 2008. Melvin continues to perform live and record with his trio consisting of drummer Kenny Washington and guitarist Peter Bernstein. On March 5, 2013 hard bop organist, bandleader and composer Melvin Rhyne passed away in his hometown of Indianapolis at age 76.
Amos Leon Thomas Jr was born on October 4, 1937 in East St. Louis, Illinois. He studied music at Tennessee State University and went on to become the vocalist for Count Basie and others in the Sixties. In 1969, Leon released his first solo album for the prestigious Flying Dutchman label, however, an earlier album he recorded still remains unreleased.
Thomas is best known for his work with Pharoah Sanders, particularly the 1969 song “The Creator Has a Master Plan” from the Karma album. His most distinctive attribute was that he often broke out into yodeling in the middle of a vocal, developed after he fell and broke his teeth before a show. This style influenced singers James Moody and Tim Buckley.
Thomas toured and recorded as a member of the band Santana in 1973 but was largely forgotten until a resurgence of interest in soul jazz and several of his tracks have been sampled in hip-hop and down-tempo records. Leon Thomas, jazz singer, often in the avant-garde genre, died of heart failure on May 8, 1999.
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George Wein was born on October 3, 1925 in Boston, Massachusetts. As a youth he was a jazz pianist and while studying at Boston University led a small group, playing professionally around the Boston area. In 1950 he opened a jazz club and record label called Storyville.
In 1954 Newport residents Louis and Elaine Lorillard invited him to organize a festival in their hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, with funding to be provided by them; the subsequent festival was the first outdoor jazz festival in the United States, becoming an annual tradition. Wein went on to start a number of festivals in other cities, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles and the Newport Folk Festival. In the 60s he set up Festival Productions, a company dedicated to promoting large-scale jazz events.
Pioneering the idea of corporate sponsorship, his “Schlitz Salute to Jazz” and “Kool Jazz Festival” were the first jazz events to feature title sponsors. His JVC Jazz Festivals are worldwide hosting New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, Warsaw and Tokyo.
Wein has received a wide array of honors for his work with jazz concerts being honored at the White House by both Presidents Carter and Clinton. He has also received the Patron of the Arts from the Studio Museum in Harlem, France’s Legion d’Honneur and appointed Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres and named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts to name a few.
He has written his autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, received honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music and the Rhode Island College of Music, is a Lifetime Honorary Trustee of Carnegie Hall and sits as a distinguished member of the Board of Directors Advisory committee of The Jazz Foundation of America.