Della Griffin was born June 12, 1925 in Newberry, South Carolina but grew up in New York, the 19th of 20th children. She greatly admired and was influenced by Count Basie, Charlie Barnet, and most specifically Billie Holiday. She began singing when she was 12 and a few years after her graduation in 1943 from Jamaica High School in Queens, New York, she began singing professionally.
1950 found Griffin and Frances Kelley forming one of the first all female R&B singing group that played in small clubs whenever they could for about a year. In 1951, Della invited Jerry Blaine, the owner of Jubilee Records, to hear the group perform. So impressed by the group that he signed them the next day and in January 1952 Jubilee released “The Enchanters” first record, they began touring, dropped their second record and two members left the group.
Della and Kelley were determined to continue their careers and replaced the two members becoming the “Dell-Tones” after lead singer and drummer Della. They went on to record with Brunswick and Rainbow record labels, and toured with Jimmy Forrest. By 1957 the Dell-Tones slowly began to drift apart and Della left to perform on her own.
Over the years Griffin migrated towards jazz touring with and playing in support to many artists including Sonny Stitt, Benny Green, Illinois Jacquet, and Etta Jones. She began performing again in New York City clubs including the Blue Note and The Blue Book where she stayed for years.
In 1984, Della was hit by a car and took a break from singing. She came back as a featured singer that garnered her more attention than her drumming. Recording with Houston Person, she began performing overseas at age 88, she has since all but ceased her performances and appearances. While singing remained her passion, vocalist Della Griffin is also proficient on the drums, alto saxophone, and piano.
Nils Lindberg was born on June 11, 1933 in Uppsala, Sweden to a family of musicians from Gagnef, Dalecarlia. His musical taste and influence come from the traditional folk music of his home. He studied piano as a child and classical composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm with Lars-Erik Larsson and Karl-Birger Blomdahl.
Lindberg is known both as a jazz composer and musician, but also compases for choir and symphony. Several of his works are written in a style combing elements of jazz, Swedish folk music and classical music. He has recorded sixteen albums as a leader since his debut with Sax Appeal in 1960.
For several years Nils Lindberg worked together with one of Sweden’s leading vocalists Alice Babs, as a composer, arranger, pianist and conductor. He has also written arrangements for Duke Ellington, with whom Babs performed and recorded with. He has collaborated with internationally renowned artists like Josephine Baker, Mel Tormé and Judy Garland, and has toured Europe and Brazil, as well as the United States, where he has also been invited to give lectures.
Nils Lindberg, pianist and composer was awarded the Jussi Björling scholarship in 1990 and the medal Litteris et Artibus in 2006 for his contributions to music. He continues to compose, perform, record and tour.
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Albert “Tootie” Heath was born May 31, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the brother of tenor saxophonist Jimmy and bassist Percy. He first recorded in 1957 with John Coltrane but the following year started his career as a consummate sideman and for a decade an a half he performed and recorded with J. J. Johnson, Wes Montgomery, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Cedar Walton, Bobby Timmons, Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Herbie Hancock, Friedrich Guida, Nina Simone, Johnny Lytle, Milt Jackson, Clifford Jordan, The Young Lions and Yusef Lateef among numerous others.
In 1975, he, Jimmy and Percy formed the Heath Brothers and remained with the group until 1978, then left to freelance. Amongst his many workshop and classroom teaching assignments, Tootie Heath is a regular instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.
Tootie Heath is now the producer and leader of The Whole Drum Truth, a jazz drum ensemble featuring Ben Riley, Ed Thigpen, Jackie Williams, Billy Hart, Charlie Persip, Leroy Williams and Louis Hayes. Hard bop drummer Tootie Heath has a small catalogue of four albums as a leader and more than five dozen as a sideman. He continues to perform, tour and record.
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Dave McKenna was born on May 30, 1930 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Starting out at the age of 15, he played with Boots Mussulli in 1947, Charlie Ventura in 1949 and the Woody Herman Orchestra from 1050-1951. He then spent two years in the military brfore rejoining Ventura in 1953.
McKenna worked with a variety of top swing and Dixieland musicians including Gene Krupa, Joe Venuti, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Bob Wilbur, Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett. By 1967 he was pursuing a solo career in the NE United States and played with Louis Armstrong at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival.
Known as a wonderful accompanist, Dave recorded with singers Rosemary Clooney, Teddi King and Donna Byrne in addition to recording a PBS special with Tony Bennett. Gaining recognition in his own right during the Seventies he chose to play locally rather than travel extensively. His preference was clubs and hotels over getting center stage in major venues. A decade-long run at Boston’s grand Copley Plaza Hotel ended his successful engagement in 1991 when the Plaza was sold.
He was fond of staying close to the melody, was a loyal Boston Red Sox fan, often listening to games on his transistor radio while performing, would walk to Fenway from the Plaza, and had a musical style relied on two key elements relating to his choices of tunes and set selection, and the method of playing that has come to be known as “three-handed swing”.
McKenna had clarity, taste, beauty, and swing in his playing and was dubbed “The Bell Ringer” for the clear, bell-like sound he evoked from the instrument. He had an extensive recording career from 1958 to 2002, recording for ABC-Paramount, Epic, Bethlehem, Realm, Chiaroscuro and Concord record labels.
Pianist Dave McKenna retired around the turn of the millennium due to increasing mobility problems brought on by his long battle with diabetes and passed away on October 18, 2008 from lung cancer.
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Rufus “Speedy” Jones was born May 27, 1936 in Charleston, South Carolina. Starting out on trumpet he switched to drums at the age of 13. He got an early start in 1954 with Lionel Hampton before being drafted. While stationed at Fort Jackson, Rufus played in a quintet every Saturday night at the black United Service Organization clubhouse in Columbia.
From 1959 to 1963 Rufus played with Henry “Red” Allen and Maynard Ferguson’s Orchestra. He led his own quintet during 1963-1964 producing a Cameo LP, his only album as a leader. He gained fame for his flamboyant work with Count Basie in the mid-1960s and backed that up with Duke Ellington in the latter half of the decade. He also notably appeared with James Brown. On April 25, 1990 drummer Rufus “Speedy” Jones passed away in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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