Jimmy Garrison was born on March 3, 1933 in Miami, Florida but grew up in Philadelphia where he learned to play the bass, coming of age during that city’s thriving jazz scene that including McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Henry Grimes and Lee Morgan. He played around Philadelphia with local groups until 1958 when Philly Joe Jones brought him to New York City.
During the time he would freelance with Lennie Tristano, Benny Golson, Bill Evans and Kenny Dorham but got seriously noticed when he joined Ornette Coleman at the Five Spot. Garrison’s long association with Ornette Coleman produced his first recording with him on “Ornette on Tenor” and “Art of the Improvisers”.
Jimmy would go on to play and record with Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders but his greatest collaboration was his six-year collaboration with the John Coltrane Quartet when he replaced Reggie Workman. In concert with Trane he would play unaccompanied solos, sometimes as a prelude to a song before the other musicians joined in.
He and drummer Elvin Jones have been credited with eliciting more forceful playing than usual from Coleman on the albums “New York Is Now” and “Love Call”. Before his passing he would play with Kenny Dorham, Curtis Fuller, Jackie McLean, Lee Konitz, Hampton Hawes, Benny Golson and Tony Scott. Bassist Jimmy Garrison passed away on April 7, 1976.
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Douglas Watkins was born on March 2, 1934 in Detroit Michigan. After gaining experience and a reputation as one of many very talented jazzmen on the local Detroit scene, Watkins began touring with James Moody in 1953 followed by a stint with the Barry Harris Trio. In 1954 he settled in New York City and was an original member of the Jazz Messengers from 1955 – 56.
Doug went on to spend a year with Horace Silver and then freelanced with a who’s who list of the hard boppers such as Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, Phil Woods and Hank Mobley. In 1956 at just 21 years old he was a sideman on Sonny Rollins’ “Saxophone Colossus” alongside Max Roach and Tommy Flanagan, showcasing examples of his fine work on Blue 7 and St. Thomas.
In 1958 Watkins joined Donald Byrd for a European tour, taking up extended residence at Le Chat Qui Peche, a jazz club on Paris’ Left Bank. Along with Byrd, tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, pianist Walter Davis, Jr. and drummer Art Taylor, Watkins made two albums with Byrd during this period, one recorded in the club and another at a formal concert featuring Byrd’s quintet. In 1961 he joined Charles Mingus’ group when Mingus temporarily ventured onto the piano stool, producing such gems as “Oh Yeah!!!” and “Tonight At Noon”.
Doug was known for his superb walking tone and distinct phrasing that was right on the beat, forming an organic, indivisible relationship with his instrument as he swayed with it in perfect time. Throughout his short but prolific career Watkins produced only two sessions as a leader but became the bassist of choice when his cousin by marriage, Paul Chambers was unavailable. He appeared on over 350 recordings working with Red Garland, Yusef Lateef, Philly Joe Jones, Bill Hardman, Gene Ammons and Lee Morgan just to name a few giants.
The hard bop jazz bassist Doug Watkins died in a head-on automobile crash on February 5, 1962 when he fell asleep behind the wheel while driving from Arizona to San Francisco to play a gig with Philly Joe Jones. He was just 27 years old but his legacy as a superb musician, unselfish and enabling ensemble player and a bassist-walker with few peers remains today.
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Benjamin Gordon Powell Jr. was born on March 1, 1930 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He first played professionally at age 14 and by 18 he was playing with Lionel Hampton. In 1951 he left Hampton’s band and joined Count Basie, where he remained until 1963. Powell takes the trombone solo in the bridge of Basie’s 1955 recording of “April In Paris”.
After leaving Basie, Benny freelanced in New York City and from 1966 to 1970 he was a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, playing Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. Among other engagements, he played in the house band of the Merv Griffin Show, relocating to Los Angeles, California when the show moved to the West Coast in 1970.
During this period Powell did extensive work as a session musician working with Abdullah Ibrahim, John Carter and Randy Weston. In the 80s he moved back to New York and added educator to his resume becoming part of the Jazzmobile and later, in 1994 teaching at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
Benny Powell, tenor and bass trombonist, died following back surgery on June 26, 2010 in Manhattan, New York City. He was 80 years old.
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Donald Rafael Garrett was born on February 28, 1932 in El Dorado, Arkansas but was raised in Chicago, Illinois. While in high school he first studied clarinet and then bass under Captain Walter Dyett. By the late 50s he was working closely with Muhal Richard Abrams, becoming a member of his Experimental Band in the Sixties.
It was during this time that he worked with Ira Sullivan, Eddie Harris, Dewey Redman and Rahsaan Roland Kirk but by the mid-sixties he relocated to San Francisco and formed a band called Sound Circus. He stayed on the West coast into the 70s working with such jazz greats as Archie Shepp, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders and numerous more including performing and recording on four John Coltrane albums – Om, Kulu Se Mama, Selflessness and Live In Seattle.
In 1971 he formed the Sea Ensemble with Zusaan Kali Fasteau and embarked on a world tour for the next several years, the duo funding their travels with Fasteau giving music lessons and Garrett skillfully making bamboo flutes. Throughout his career he studied Turkish music, added flute to his instrumental repertoire, became an educator, writer, researcher and continued to perform and record with Johnny Griffin, Sonny Stitt, Joe Henderson, Billy Bang and other great jazz musicians.
Donald Garrett, multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with John Coltrane and the free jazz musicians and improvisers of the 60s and 70s, passed away on August 17, 1989.
Dexter Gordon was born in Los Angeles on February 27, 1923 to a doctor who counted Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton among his patients. He played clarinet from the age of 13, before switching to saxophone, initially alto then tenor at 15. While still at school, he was playing in bands with such contemporaries as Chico Hamilton and Buddy Collette.
By 1940 he was on the road with Lionel Hampton playing alongside Illinois Jacquet and Marshall Royal. In 1943 he made his first recordings under his own name with Nat Cole and Harry Edison. During the next two years he was featured in the Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson bands before joining Billy Eckstine. In 1945, Gordon left the Eckstine band and was resident in New York performing and recording with Charlie Parker as well as recording under his own name. Dexter was a virtuoso particularly famous for his titanic saxophone duels with fellow tenor Wardell Gray, that were a popular live attraction and that were documented in several albums between 1947 and 1952.
In 1960 he signed with Blue Note Records, a collaboration that produced some of his highly regarded recordings such as “Doin’ Alright”, “Go”, “Dexter Calling”, and a “Swinging Affair”. After that he spent 15 years in Europe, mostly in Paris and Copenhagen, where he played regularly with fellow expatriate jazzmen such as Bud Powell, Benn Webster Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Drew, Bobby Hutcherson and others. He occasionally returned to Blue Note creating such masterpieces as “Our Man In Paris”, “One Flight Up” and “Getting’ Around”.
His stature of 6’6” earned him the nicknames of “Long Tall Dexter” and “Sophisticated Giant” and he is one of the most influential and iconic figures in Jazz and is largely credited for establishing the classic, modern sound and stylistic concept for the saxophone in general, and the tenor in particular. His studio and live performance career were both extensive and multifaceted; spanning over 50 years in recorded jazz history. Dexter Gordon passed away on April 25, 1990 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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