Ray Crawford was born on February 7, 1924 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the war years from 1941-1943 he played tenor saxophone and clarinet with Fletcher Henderson but tuberculosis forced him to give them up.
Switching to guitar he became an important part of Ahmad Jamal’s early groups from 1949 to 1955. Ray’s ability to make his guitar sound like bongos by hitting it was soon adopted by Herb Ellis. He went on to record with Gil Evans from 1959 to 1960, then played off and on with Jimmy Smith from 1958 into the Eighties.
In the Sixties he settled in Los Angeles, California. He led fairly obscure records for Candid in 1961 that were not released until the 1980s, and also recorded for Dobre and United National record labels in the Seventies. Guitarist Ray Crawford, who played mainly in the hard bop and soul jazz genres, passed away on December 30, 1997 in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
More Posts: guitar
John Richard Handy III was born on February 3, 1933 in Dallas, Texas and first came to prominence while working with Charles Mingus in the 1950s. By the 1960s, he was leading several groups, among them a quintet with violinist Michael White, Jerry Hahn on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, and drummer Terry Clarke. This group’s performance at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival was recorded and released as an album and he received Grammy nominations for jazz performance of Spanish Lady and jazz composition for If Only We Knew.
As an educator Handy has taught music history and performance at San Francisco State University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and other schools.
The 1980s saw John working on the Mel Martin project Bebop & Beyond, recording tribute albums to Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He has recorded some eighteen albums as a leader for Roulette, Columbia, Impulse!, Warner, MPS, Milestone, Koch Int’l and Boulevard record labels. He has had one compilation released of selections from In The Vernacular and No Coast Jazz, and and has recorded two albums with Brass Fever, as well as, five albums during his time with Mingus.
Alto saxophonist John Handy, who also plays tenor and baritone saxophone, saxello, clarinet, oboe and sings, continues to perform and record.
James Black was born on February 1, 1940 in New Orleans, Louisiana and though he’s little known outside of his native city and never recorded an album under his own name, the drummer was a Crescent City legend. Soaking up the city’s trademark “second line” rhythms from a young age, by the early 1960s he was already doing session work for the likes of Fats Domino. His main interest was jazz, however, and he played in a group with the young Ellis Marsalis on piano and Nat Perrilliat on saxophone. This trio was part of the Nat Adderley 1962 session In the Bag, to which he contributed two compositions. The following year, Marsalis cut an underrated album of modern jazz called Monkey Puzzle and this time out Black handled four of the seven compositions, including the intricate 5/4 piece Magnolia Triangle, which ranks as perhaps his greatest work.
James went on to play with Yusef Lateef and Lionel Hampton in the mid-’60s. However, his career was interrupted by a stint in the Angola State Penitentiary,during which time he actually played in a prison band with blues pianist James Booker and saxophonist Charles Neville. The late Sixties saw him on the R&B circuit around New Orleans, and in 1968 became the house drummer at the Scram label. He played on Eddie Bo’s Hook and Sling, helping to make it one of the great New Orleans funk singles, and soon took his place alongside Smokey Johnson and the Meters’ Ziggy Modeliste as one of the city’s top funky drummers.
He continued to play jazz on the side as part of Ellis Marsalis’ band ELM Music Company. They took up residency at Lu and Charlie’s beginning in 1972 and became local favorites. During the ’70s, Black also led his own group, the James Black Ensemble, which often featured his longtime girlfriend “Sister Mary” Bonette on vocals. He attempted several times to record a full-length album, including once for the Sound of New Orleans label and another time at Allen Toussaint’s studio, but the sessions never progressed beyond a few tracks.
He would continue performing in New Orleans into the ’80s playing with Ellis Marsalis and then teenager Harry Connick Jr., and served as the drummer for the 1982 Marsalis Family album Fathers and Sons. Drummer James Black passed away of a drug overdose on August 30, 1988 in New Orleans.
More Posts: drums
Beverly Kenney was born on January 29, 1932 in Harrison, New Jersey and her life saw her working for Western Union as a telephone birthday singer. After moving to New York City in 1954, she recorded a demo with Tony Tamburello and by the end of the year she had moved to Miami, Florida where she landed a recurring engagement at the Black Magic Room. Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey heard her and for several months she toured with the orchestra they co-led.
Moving back to New York, Beverly worked in clubs with George Shearing, Don Elliott and Kai Winding. After a short tour of the Midwest with Larry Sonn, she signed to Roost Records and released her first album in 1956. This recording, Beverly Kenney Sings for Johnny Smith with the quartet of the jazz guitarist Johnny Smith. The album was a success and as a result she secured a residency at the Birdland jazz club, where she was accompanied by the Lester Young Quintet. Her second release was Come Swing with Me with Jimmy Jones led an ensemble behind her for her third and final release for Roost in 1957.
She moved to Decca Records and released three further albums with them, including Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys in 1958, Born to Be Blue and Like Yesterday in 1959. Beverly Kenney Sings For Playboys featured liner notes by Steve Allen, in which he praised her vocal style and stated, “A word to Playboys: I would not recommend this album as Music to Make the Romantic Approach By. You’re apt to get more interested in Beverly than the girl you’re trying to impress”.
Kenney was a critically acclaimed musician, but she saw little widespread acceptance, due at least in part to the burgeoning rock & roll movement. She had an intense personal dislike for this music, even going so far as to compose a song called “I Hate Rock and Roll”, which she performed on The Steve Allen Show in 1958.
On April 13, 1960, vocalist Beverly Kenney committed suicide with an overdose of alcohol and seconal. She was 28 years old. She remains a cult figure in Japan, where all of her albums have been reissued to CD and have remained in print on a relatively steady basis. Japan’s SSJ Records have released three collections of unreleased Beverly Kenney material between 2006 to 2009: Snuggled on Your Shoulder, Lonely and Blue and What Is There To Say?, culminating in a dozen albums.
More Posts: vocal
Ronnie Stephenson was born January 26, 1937 in Sunderland, England and as a boy wanted to become a tap dancer like his idol Gene Kelly, but he was persuaded by his father and his pianist brother to take up the drums. Already playing his first public gig the same week he took his first drum lesson at the age of 14, Ronnie was soon working with his elder brother Bob’s band, and then with the Ray Chester’s Sextet. Moving to Birmingham he joined the Cliff Deeley Band at the Tower Ballroom, and played for several months before going on the road.
At 16 he joined singer Lita Roza, a national star who had left the Ted Heath band to tour the variety theatre circuit as a soloist. The 10 months he spent with her garnered him great experience in the music business. Conscripted into the Army, Stephenson performed in The Royal Signals Band until he was demobbed in 1957. Having a close association with Ronnie Scott, he spent two years in Scott’s Quartet, playing the club and accompanying many visiting stars.
He toured Germany with Tom Jones in 1969 and then sat the resident drum chair with the Kurt Edelhagen Band after moving to Cologne, Germany with his wife and two children. After three years with Edelhagen, Ronnie teamed up with pianist Paul Kuhn in Berlin, Germany and toured all over Europe with a variety of bands and artists. He played on the Bond themes Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice and on other film scores, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Stephenson joined the Theater des Westens Orchestra in Berlin from 1981 to 1995, and taught at the University of Berlin from 1990 to 1993. He retired from music due to poor health, settled in Scotland, and turned to golf as a restorative, becoming a member of Strathmore Golf Club.
Drummer Ronnie Stephenson, one of the most in-demand drummers of the British jazz scene, passed away on August 8, 2002. Over the course of his career he performed or recorded with Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, Zoot Sims, Quincy Jones, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Stitt, Barney Kessel, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett, Ronnie Ross, Stan Tracey, Ted Heath, Dick Morrissey, Terry Smith, Jack Parnell, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, Cleo Laine, Peter Herbolzheimer, Horst Jankowski, Paul Kuhn, Rolf Kuhn, Kenny Clarke, Victor Feldman, Heinz von Hermann and Hans Rettenbacher, among many others including pop stars Matt Monro, Engelbert Humperdinck, Cilla Black and Shirley Bassey.
More Posts: drums