Jimmy “Spanky” DeBrest was born on April 24, 1937 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He took up the bass and during his early years in Philadelphia he played with Lee Morgan’s earliest band while the virtuoso trumpeter was still a teenager. In 1957 he was a member of Ray Draper’s Quintet, Jackie McLean, pianist Mal Waldron and drummer Ben Dixon.
Spanky’s most famous affiliation was with master drummer Art Blakey until 1958 on a series of recordings that includes a spellbinding collaboration with pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. His performance credits include work with John Coltrane, Clifford Jordan and J. J. Johnson. He continually recorded until 1971.
Bassist Spanky DeBrest passed away on March 2, 1973 leaving the world his legacy of seventeen recording sessions as a sideman predominately with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
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Vernice “Bunky” Green was born on April 23, 1935 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Originally strongly influenced by Charlie Parker, it was Charles Mingus’ sparing use of notation and his belief that there was no such thing as a wrong note that made a deep impression and had a lasting influence on Green’s own style.
Green began playing the alto saxophone around Milwaukee, mainly at a local club called “The Brass Rail.” His first big break came when he was hired in New York City by Charles Mingus to replace Jackie McLean in the 1960s. This was followed by a move to Chicago, Illinois that gave him the opportunity to perform with Sonny Stitt, Louie Bellson, Andrew Hill, Yusef Lateef and Ira Sullivan.
Gradually withdrawing from the public eye to develop a career as a leading jazz educator, Bunky taught at Chicago State University from 1972-1989 and in the 1990s took up the directorship of the Jazz Studies Program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He also served a term as the president of the IAJE/International Association for Jazz Education and has been elected to the Jazz Education Hall of Fame.
Green recorded several fine albums beginning in the 1960s working with Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Elvin Jones, Jason Moran and Lonnie Plaxico; was leader of the Vanguard label in the 70s, and awarded the coveted 5 Star Review from Down Beat Magazine for his 1989 commemoration of his parents death with “Healing The Pain”. Bunky Green continues to record and pursue his educator endeavors. He is currently Professor Emeritus and Director of Jazz Studies Emeritus at the University of North Florida.
Charles Mingus Jr. was born on April 22, 1922 in Nogales, Arizona of Chinese, English, African and Swedish heritage. His mother allowed only church-related music in their home, but Mingus developed an early love for jazz, especially the music of Duke Ellington. He first studied trombone, later adding cello, which prepared him for the double bass in high school. He studied five years with H. Rheinshagen, principal bassist of the New York Philharmonic and compositional techniques with Lloyd Reese.
Beginning in his teen years, Mingus was writing quite advanced pieces incorporating elements of classical music. A number of them were recorded in 1960 with conductor Gunther Schuller and released as “Pre-Bird”, referring to Charlie “Bird” Parker. Mingus was one of many musicians whose perspectives on music were altered by Parker into “pre- and post-Bird” eras.
Gaining a reputation as a bass prodigy, his first major professional job was playing with former Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard. This followed by a tour with Louis Armstrong in 1943 that led to his recording in a band led by Russell Jacquet that included Teddy Edwards and Chico Hamilton. He went onto record with Howard McGhee and into the late ‘40s played with Lionel Hampton’s band performing several of his pieces.
A popular Mingus trio had Red Norvo and Tal Farlow in tow in the early 50s with considerable acclaim but his mixed heritage caused problems with club owners and he left the group. Charles was briefly a member of Ellington’s band until his temper got him fired. He went on to record and play with Max Roach, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Pepper Adams, Jaki Byard, Horace Parlan, Booker Ervin, John Handy, Charles McPherson, Eric Dolphy and Johnny Coles among others through the Sixties and into the next decade. By the mid-1970s, Mingus was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease that eventually stopped his playing, leaving him to continue composing and supervising recordings prior to his death on January 5, 1979 at age 56 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Composer, bandleader, bassist and civil rights activist Charles Mingus left a legacy of an autobiography, Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty, Mingus Orchestra, the Charles Mingus High School Competition, the catalogue of Mingus compositions in the Music Division of the New York Public Library and the collected papers of Charles Mingus housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Richard Davis was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 15, 1930 who began his musical career as a singer with his brothers. Davis sang bass in his family vocal trio in addition he began studying the double bass in high school with his music theory and band director, Captain Walter Dyett. After graduation, he went on to study the double bass with Rudolf Fahsbender of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while attending Vandercook College.
After college, Davis performed in dance bands making a name for himself around Chicago, making connections that led him to pianist Don Shirley. In 1954 he and Shirley moved to New York City, performed together until 1956, when he began playing with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.
Richard then toured and recorded as part of Sarah Vaighan’s band, worked with Dorothy Ashby, Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, Charles Lloyd, Candido Camero, Jimmy Forrest and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra among others. Some of his most famous contributions were Eric Dolphy’s 1964 “Out To Lunch”, Andrew Hill’s “Point Of Departure” and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, Laura Nyro’s “Smile” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”.
He has recorded fifteen albums as a leader and over a hundred as a sideman. A long-time educator, he has been a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1977 where he teaches bass, jazz history, and improvisation. Bassist Richard Davis received the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters award.
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Milton “Shorty” Rogers was born Milton Rajonsky on April 14, 1924 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He worked first as a professional trumpeter with Will Bradley and Red Norvo. For two years beginning in 1947 he worked extensively with Woody Herman and then from 1950 to1951 he played with Stan Kenton.
Rogers appeared on Shelly Manne’s 1954 album “The Three and the Two” along with Jimmy Guiffre, later recording with Guiffre showing his experimental side, resulting in an early form of avant-garde jazz. Settling in Los Angeles in the early fifties, by 1953 he was recording as a leader with RCA through 1962 that incorporated avant-garde, cool jazz and the “hot” style of Count Basie, who was a great inspiration for him.
Shorty’s composer credits include Mr. Magoo cartoon “Hotsy Footsy” and the Looney Tune “Three Little Bops”, scored the Brando film “The Wild One” and the Sinatra vehicle “The Man With The Golden Arm”. Becoming better known for his skills as a composer and arranger than as a trumpeter in the early ‘60s he stopped performing on trumpet, left the jazz scene and concentrated on writing for television and film for many years.
In 1982, he returned to the trumpet and jazz and by the 1990s formed a Lighthouse All Stars group with Bud Shank, Bill Perkins and Bob Cooper. Trumpeter, composer and arranger Shorty Rogers, a figurehead in the West Coast era of “cool jazz” passed away on November 7, 1994.
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