Herbert Alpert was born on March 31, 1935 and raised in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, California. His family was Jewish, emigrating from Radomyshl, now present day Ukraine and Romania. His father, a talented mandolin player, his mother taught violin, and his older brother a drummer. He began trumpet lessons at the age of eight and played at dances as a teenager. Acquiring an early wire recorder in high school, he experimented on this crude equipment.
Following graduation in 1952, he joined the U.S. Army and frequently performed at military ceremonies. After his service in the Army, Alpert tried his hand at acting, but eventually settled on pursuing a career in music. While attending the University of Southern California he became a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band, and appeared in the un-credited role as “Drummer on Mt. Sinai” in the film The Ten Commandments in 1056. In 1962, he had an un-credited part in a scene in the film Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation, playing a solo in a dance band.
In 1957, Alpert teamed up with Rob Weerts, co-wrote a number of Top 20 hits including Baby Talk for Jan & Dean and Wonderful World for Sam Cooke. By 1960 he was signed with RCA Records as a vocalist under the name of Dore Alpert.
In 1962 along with Jerry Moss they founded A&M Records and their very first hit was “The Lonely Bull” adapted from the mariachi bands and the cheers of bullfighting spectators. The title song reached No. 6 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and became A&M’s first album with the original release number being #101.
By the end of 1964, with top session players he began touring with the Tijuana Brass. Television specials followed by 1967, as well as two albums, Whipped Cream and Other Delights and Going Places. The single “A Taste Of Honey” won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
The Brass would go on to perform the title tack to the first movie version of Casino Royale in 1967. His music would be used on The Dating Game, bringing him greater exposure. The band would win six Grammy Awards, fifteen of their albums went gold, fourteen platinum, and in 1966 outsold the Beatles.
Alpert’s only No. 1 single during this period, and the first No. 1 hit for his A&M label, was a solo effort of “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Bacharach/David. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Alpert enjoyed a successful solo career. In 1979 he had his biggest instrumental hit titled “Rise”. He would go on to work with Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson and Lisa Keith. He performs with Gato Barbieri, Rita Coolidge, Brian Culbertson, and others. With his wife kani Hall (Sergio Mendes fame), they have released the live album Anything Goes. In 2013, he released a new album, Steppin’ Out which won a Grammy.
Herb and Moss received a Grammy Trustees Award, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama in 2013, has a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and received the “El Premio Billboard” for his contributions to Latin music. Trumpeter, pianist, vocalist, composer, arranger, songwriter, record producer of jazz, Latin and pop music continues to perform, record and tour.
Lonnie Hillyer was born on March 25, 1940 in Monroe, Georgia but moved with his family to Detroit at age three, and began studying music at 14 under Barry Harris. By 1960, he moved to New York City where he played with Charles Mingus, Yusef Lateef and Clifford Jarvis. His association with Mingus lasted more than a decade, performing on records such as “My Favorite Quintet” and “Let My Children Hear Music”.
In 1966, Lonnie and fellow Detroit friend Charles McPherson formed a quintet performed together during the years following. Around 1983 he and former Monk tenor saxophonist Charles Rouse formed a jazz quintet “Bebop Quintessence”, with drummer Leroy Williams, pianist Hugh Lawson and bassist Ben Brown.
Over the years of his career Hillyer performed with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Willie Bobo, Barry Harris, Walter Davis Jr., Abbey Lincoln, Eric Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders among others.
Jazz trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer, who was strongly influenced by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and other bebop legends of the era, passed away of cancer on July 1, 1985 in New York City.
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King Pleasure was born Clarence Beeks on March 24, 1922 in Oakdale, Tennessee. He moved to New York City in the mid-1940s and while working as a bartender, he became a fan of bebop music. He first achieved popularity by singing the Eddie Jefferson penned vocalese classic Mood’s Mood For Love, based on a 1949 James Moody saxophone solo to “I’m In The Mood For Love”. On a night in late 1951 at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater, he won the competition and where Clarence Beeks became King Pleasure that night in Harlem.
Pleasure’s 1952 recording, featured vocalist Blossom Dearie, was his first after signing a contract with Prestige Records and is considered a jazz classic. He and Betty Carter also recorded a famous vocalese version of “Red Top”, a jazz classic penned by Kansas City’s Ben Kynard and recorded by Gene Ammons and others. Other notable recordings include “Parker’s Mood”, the year before Charlie Parker died in 1955, and Ammons’s “Hittin’ The Jug”, retitled as “Swan Blues” in 1962.
He would record with the Modern jazz Quartet, sans Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Lucky Thompson, with backup vocals by Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks along with The Three Riffs. In Los Angeles in 1960 he was recording with Teddy Edwards and Harold Land. But by this time his popularity was waning and he faded into obscurity. However, his early work influenced Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Bob Dorough, Mark Murphy, Al Jarreau, The Manhattan Transfer and others.
Jazz vocalist King Pleasure, an early master of vocalese, where a singer sings words to a famous instrumental solo passed away on March 21, 1982, three days before his 60th birthday.
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Harold Ashby was born on March 21, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri. He began playing alto and clarinet as a teenager but gave up music while he was in the US Navy from 1943 to 1945. On return to his native Kansas City in 1946, he was soon playing again and backed the singer Walter Brown, making his first recording with Brown in 1949. He spent most of the Fifties in Chicago playing in blues bands before moving to New York in 1957 to work in the bands of Milt Larkin and Mercer Ellington.
He then found the fringes of Duke Ellington’s band and accepted as a friend and colleague by Ellington’s sidemen, he recorded with Webster (1958), Hodges (1960), Gonsalves (1961) and Lawrence Brown in 1965. Once he joined the band permanently he became a regular in all the small groups that came from the band to record. He was given more prominent roles as the band played across Europe and the Far East and won many fans across the world.
After Ellington’s death, Ashby worked with Sy Oliver in 1976 and made brief tours with Benny Goodman in 1977 and 1982. He toured there with the Ellington Alumni in 1978 and returned the following year with the Kansas City pianist Jay McShann Making another European tour paired him with the pianist Junior Mance, and he was also one of the stars of the 1985 Nice Festival.
He recorded often under his own name in the late Eighties and early Nineties, but illness curtailed his activities and he confined his work to the New York area. Ashby made an exception for one of his last appearances at the 2001 Duke Ellington Conference in Ottawa when Ashby played one of Ellington’s compositions written to feature him, “Chinoiserie”. Happily he was able to regain his top form, but it was his final appearance before an audience of any size. Tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby passed away in New York City on June 13, 2003.
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Mark Murphy was born on March 14, 1932 in Syracuse, New York and raised in a musical family, his parents having met as members of the local Methodist Church choir. He grew up in the nearby small town of Fulton where his grandmother and then his aunt were the church organists. Opera was also popular in the house and he started piano lessons at the age of seven.
Murphy joined his brother’s jazz dance band as the singer when a teenager. His influences were Nat King Cole, June Christy, Anita O’Day, Ella Fitzgerald and Art Tatum. Graduating from Syracuse University in 1953, majoring in Music and Drama, university life included performing on campus and clubs playing piano and singing.
In 1954, Murphy moved to New York City working part-time as an actor and singer. He appeared in productions for the Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company, musical TV version of Casey at the Bat and twice took second place at the Apollo Theater amateur contests.
Mark’s debut recording was Meet Mark Murphy in 1956, followed closely by Let Yourself Go in ’57. In 1958 Murphy moved to Los Angeles and recorded for Capitol, but returned to New York in the early ’60s and recorded the album Rah! in 1961 for Riverside Records. By 1963, he hit the charts with his single of “Fly Me To The Moon” and was voted New Star of the Year in Down Beat Magazine’s Reader’s Poll.
The late 1960s saw Murphy moving to London, England where he worked primarily as an actor but continued to cultivate his jazz audiences in Europe. He returned to the States in 1972 and began recording an average of an album a year for more than fourteen years on the Muse label including a two volume Nat King Cole Songbook, Bop For Kerouac, Living Room, Beauty and the Beast and Stolen Moments, in which he peened lyrics to the Oliver Nelson tune. He received critical acclaim and numerous Grammy nominations.
In 1984 together with Viva Brasil he recorded the album Brazil Song (Cancões do Brasil) that featured original material by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Milton Nascimento. In 1987, Mark recorded Night Mood, an album of songs by Brazilian composer Ivan Lins, appeared on U.F.O.’s last two releases in which he has written and rapped lyrics on songs composed with the group and opened up further new audiences in the acid-jazz and hip-hop genres demonstrating jazz’s timelessness while transcending generations and styles.
Through the Nineties and into the new millennium he released Song For The Geese, Once to Every Heart, Love is What Stays and Never Let Me Go. Mark collaborated with Finish jazz band Five Corners Quintet and released a tribute EP to Shirley Horn titled Beautiful Friendship. He has guested on recordings with Madeline Eastman, Gill Manly,Guillaume de Chassy, Daniel Yvinec, Till Brönner, Pete and Conte Candoli and has amassed a catalogue of more than forty albums as a leader. Vocalist Mark Murphy has continued to tour internationally into his 80s, appearing at festivals, concerts, in jazz clubs and television.
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