Richard Alan Berk was born on May 22, 1939 in San Francisco, California. He studied at the Berklee College of and played in the Boston area early in the 1960s.
In 1962 he moved to New York City and played with Ted Curson and Bill Barron in a quintet until 1964. Following this Dick played with Charles Mingus, Mose Allison, Freddie Hubbard, and Walter Bishop Jr. among others.
A move to Los Angeles late in the decade saw Berk playing with Milt Jackson, George Duke, Cal Tjader, John Hicks, Ray Drummond, Ted Curson, Don Friedman, . Jean-Luc Ponty and Blue Mitchell, to name a few. He went on to establish the Jazz Adoption Agency in the early 1980s, played well into the 2000s; among this group’s alumni are Andy Martin, Mike Fahn, Nick Brignola, John Noagormey, Keith Saunders, Tad Weed and John Patitucci.
He recorded eight albums as a leader and another nine as a sideman. Drummer and bandleader Dick Berk passed away on February 8, 2014 at the age of 74.
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Bob Florence was born on May 20, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He began taking piano lessons at five and initially intended to be a concert pianist. His direction changed when he was exposed to jazz while attending Los Angeles City College.
At the beginning of his career Bob worked as a pianist and arranger with Dave Pell. He went on to found his first band in the late 1950s, working with, amongst others, Herb Geller, Bud Shank, Frank Capp and Enevoldsen.
Florence later participated in big band projects in the Los Angeles area, working mainly with session musicians and as an accompanist to various singers. Throughout his career he worked as an arranger for Harry James, Louis Bellson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Count Basie and Doc Severinsen.
In 2000, Florence won a Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Performance. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on May 15, 2008 at the age of 75.
Sonny Fortune was born on May 19, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After moving to New York City in 1967 he recorded and appeared live with drummer Elvin Jones’s group. In 1968 he was a member of Mongo Santamaria’s band. He subsequently performed with singer Leon Thomas and then with McCoy Tyner from 1971–1973.
In 1974 Sonny replaced Dave Liebman in Miles Davis’s ensemble and remained until spring 1975. He went on to join Nat Adderley after his brief tenure with Davis, and then formed his own group, recording two albums for A&M’s Horizon label. During the 1990s, he recorded several acclaimed albums for Blue Note.
Alto saxophonist and flautist Sonny Fortune also plays the soprano, tenor and baritone saxophone and clarinet. He has performed with Roy Brooks, Buddy Rich, George Benson, Rabih Abou Khalil, Roy Ayers, Oliver Nelson, Gary Bartz, Rashied Ali and Pharoah Sanders, and was a part of the live album The Atlantic Family Live at Montreux. He continues to perform, record and tour.
Jackie McLean was born John Lenwood McLean on May 17, 1931 in New York City. His father played the guitar in Tiny Bradshaw’s orchestra and started the young man’s musical education until he was eight when the senior John passed away. His godfather, his stepfather who owned a record store and several noted teachers continued his education. He received informal training by neighbors Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Charlie Parker.
In high school Jackie played in a band with Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins and Andy Kirk Jr. By the time he was twenty he was playing alongside Rollins on Miles Davis’ Dig album and went on to record with Gene Ammons, Charles Mingus, George Wallington and to become one of Art Blakey’s Messengers, joining the group after reportedly being punched by Mingus and pulling a knife on the bassist. Fortunately for the jazz world no one was stabbed.
Throughout his early career he was addicted to heroin, which resulted in the loss of his New York City cabaret card. To make a living he undertook a large number of session dates that produced an extensive body of recorded work in the 1950s and 1960s. He recorded for Prestige, then Blue Note both as a leader and sideman. His early recordings as leader were in the hard bop school but later McLean became an exponent of modal jazz without abandoning his foundation in hard bop. His adaptation of modal jazz and free jazz innovations to his vision of hard bop made his recordings from 1962 on distinctive.
He worked with the greats of the time not limited to Donald Byrd, Sonny Clark, Lee Morgan, Ornette Coleman, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Redd, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Grachan Moncur III, Bobby Hutcherson, Mal Waldron, Chalres Tolliver, Tony Williams, Michael Carvin, Carl Allen, Bill Hardman, Larry Wilis and Tina Brooks.
By 1967 he abandoned recording for touring and the following year started his teaching career at The Harrt School at the University of Hartford. He would establish the university’s African American Music Department that evolved into the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz) and its Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies program.
Along with his wife Dollie, they founded the Artists Collective, Inc. of Hartford, and his bands were drawn from his students including Steve Davis, his adopted son Rene and pianist Mark Berman. He received an American Jazz Masters fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame, and a biography titled Sugar Free Saxophone, as well as numerous other national and international awards. McLean is the only American jazz musician to found a department of studies at a University and a community-based organization almost simultaneously and they each have existed for over three decades.
After a long illness, alto saxophonist, composer, educator and bandleader Jackie McLean passed away on March 31, 2006 in Hartford, Connecticut.
Irving Berlin composed Blue Skies in 1926 as a last-minute addition to the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy. After only 39 performances the song was an instant success, though the show closed. However, in 1927, it became one of the first songs to be featured in a talkie, when Al Jolson performed it in The Jazz Singer.
The Story: The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy the traditions of his religious father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz singer. Cantor Rabinowitz is concerned and upset because his son Jakie shows so little interest in carrying on the family’s traditions and heritage. For five generations, men in the family have been cantors in the synagogue, but Jakie is more interested in jazz and ragtime music. One day, they have such a bitter argument that Jakie leaves home for good. After a few years on his own, now calling himself Jack Robin, he gets an important opportunity through the help of well-known stage performer Mary Dale. But Jakie finds that in order to balance his career, his relationship with Mary, and his memories of his family, he will be forced to make some difficult choices.