Harold McNair was born on November 5, 1931 in Kingston, Jamaica and started his instrumental training at the Alpha Boys School. Recording and playing mostly Caribbean music styles in the Bahamas, the first decade of his career he was known as “Little G”. During this time he sang and played both alto and tenor saxophones.
McNair played a calypso singer in the 1958 film Island Women and by 1960 he was in Miami recording his first album as a leader “Bahama Bash”, with a mixture of jazz and calypso numbers. It was around this time that he began playing the flute, which would eventually become his signature instrument. Though he took a few lessons in New York, he was largely self-taught.
Departing for Europe later in 1960 Harold toured with Quincy Jones, worked on film and TV scores in Paris, then settled in London gaining a formidable reputation and leading a regular gig at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub
Drawing the admiration of bassist Charles Mingus, in London to shoot the 1961 motion picture All Night Long, McNair became a member of the rehearsal quartet and appeared on the soundtrack on the now famous Mingus composition “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”.
A brief return to The Bahamas produced his first all jazz album “Up in the Air with Harold McNair”, then back to permanent London residence to release his first UK album of hard swinging standards as a leader, “Affectionate Fink” on Island Records with Ornette Coleman.
He signed with RCA and released his most famous composition “The Hipster” in 1968 that has become a playlist fixture. He continued to perform and record into 1971 working and recording with the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Blossom Dearie, Ginger Baker’s Air Force big band and John Cameron as both leader and sideman.
Harold McNair, flautist, alto and tenor saxophonist whose unique phrasing on the flute in particular also led to great demand for his services among non-jazz musicians, passed away of lung cancer in Maida Vale, North London on March 7, 1971 at age 39.
Carlos “Patato” Valdes was born on November 4, 1926 in Cuba and learned to play the conga in his native land. Moving to New York in 1954 he began playing around the city working with Willie Bobo in Harlem. Known by his nickname “Patato”, he invented and patented the tunable conga drum in the late Forties that revolutionized use of the instrument as earlier drums only had nailed heads.
Since the 1950s Patato is among the Congueros that were in highest demand in the Latin Music and jazz world. He played, toured and recorded together with singer Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Machito, Herbie Mann, Cachao Lopez, Cal Tjader, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones among others. He also worked in the bands of and toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Mario Bauza.
Patato acted in and composed the title song of The Bill Cosby Show, contributed to the soundtrack of the film The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, gave Bridget Bardot mambo lessons in the film “And God Created Woman, led his own band Afrojazzia and toured Europe once again and mastered to the delight of his audiences, the art of actually dancing atop his congas during his performances.
For over 60 years Valdes demonstrated in his conga playing how a musician could combine technical skill with superb showmanship, fusing melody and rhythm, and understanding the rhythm is rooted in dancing. Carlos “Patato” Valdes, whose spontaneity and charm enabled him to bring together audiences of varied backgrounds and cultures to the Afro-Cuban rhythms and who Tito Puente once referred to as “the greatest conguero alive today”, passed away on December 4, 2007 in New York City.
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Pucho was born Henry Lee Brown on November 1, 1938 in New York City. Living in Harlem he cultivated a love for jazz, rhythm and blues, and mambo and largely self-taught imitating his favorite musician, Tito Puente. He started playing timbales professionally in New York City at the age of sixteen in bands led by Joe Panama in Harlem and the Bronx.
He formed his own band, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers in 1959 as a Latin jazz, soul jazz and R&B group and appeared at Count Basie’s club and a Carnegie Hall festival. Over the course of the group’s tenure of thirteen years, of the many musicians that worked in his group, Chick Corea is listed among them.
From 1966 until ’74 he recorded a series of albums for Prestige Records, and due to their musical range recorded with George Benson, Lonnie Smith and Gene Ammons. Disbanding the group in the mid Seventies he concentrated on more traditional Latin music. During the late ‘70s and ‘80s he worked the Catskill Mountain resorts with a small trio until a resurgence of interest through the acid-jazz movement in the Nineties gave way for him to re-form the group and tour Britain and Japan.
Pucho, the timbales player who just may have been to eclectic for a wider jazz audience acceptance, has since released new material, had his early material reissued and continues to perform.
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Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet was born October 31, 1922 in Broussard, Louisiana to a Sioux mother and Creole father and bandleader. They moved to Houston, Texas when he was just an infant and grew up performing in his father’s band primarily on the alto saxophone.
At 15, Jacquet began playing with the Milton Larkin Orchestra, a Houston-area dance band. In 1939, he moved to Los Angeles, California where he met Nat King Cole and would sit in with the trio on occasion. In 1940, Cole introduced Jacquet to Lionel Hampton who hired him and asked him to switch to tenor.
In 1942, at age 19, Illinois soloed on the Hampton Orchestra’s recording of “Flying Home”, one of the very first times a honking tenor sax was heard on record. The song and solo became such a hit that every sax player who followed, notably Arnett Cobb, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Forrest, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Sonny Rollins, memorized them.
Quitting the Hampton band in 1943 and joined Cab Calloway’s Orchestra appearing with the band in Lena Horne’s movie Stormy Weather. Returning to California in 1944 he started a small band with his brother Russell and a young Charles Mingus.
It was at this time that Jacquet appeared in the Academy Award-nominated short film Jammin’ the Blues with Lester Young. He also appeared at the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert and in 1946 he moved to New York City and joined Count Basie, replacing Young.
Through the 1960s and ‘70s he continued to perform mostly in Europe in small groups through the 1960s and 1970s, then led the Illinois Jacquet Big Band from 1981 until his death. He was the first jazz musician to be an artist-in-residence at Harvard University in 1983, played “C-Jam Blues” with President Clinton on the White House lawn during Clinton’s inaugural ball in 1993.
Illinois Jacquet, a skilled and melodic improviser, and a pioneer of the honking tenor saxophone that became the hallmark of early rock and roll, passed away of a heart attack in his home in Queens, New York on Thursday, July 22, 2004. He was 81 years of age.
Teo Macero was born Attilio Joseph Macero on October 30, 1925 in Glen Falls, New York. After serving in the Navy he moved to New York City in 1948, attended the Julliard School of Music, studied composition and graduated from with Bachelor and Master degrees.
In 1953, Macero co-founded Charles Mingus’ Jazz Composers Workshop, and became a major contributor to the New York City avant-garde jazz scene. As a composer, Macero wrote in an atonal style as well as in third Stream, a synthesis of jazz and classical music. He performed live, and recorded several albums with Mingus and the other Workshop members over the next three years, including Jazzical Moods in 1954 and Jazz Composers Workshop the next year.
Macero found greater fame as a producer joining Columbia Records in 1957 producing hundreds of records while at the label, working with dozens of artists including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett and Stan Getz, and was responsible for signing Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Byrd.
Over the course of his twenty-year tenure as a producer at Columbia he produced most of the Miles Davis catalogue including most notably Kind Of Blue and Bitches Brew along with Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, all three of which became three of the most influential jazz albums of all time. Beyond jazz, he produced a number of Broadway original cast recordings including A Chorus Line and Bye Bye Birdie as well as the soundtrack to the film The Graduate.
After his tenure at Columbia, Macero continued as a player and producer on other projects, working with Herbie Hancock, Michel Legrand, Wallace Roney, Shirley MacLaine, Vernon Reid, Robert Palmer and DJ Logic.
He recorded several albums as a leader and as a sideman with Mingus, contributed compositions to other albums, was included as an alternate soundtrack to the 1958 short experimental film Bridges-Go-Round. In the 1970s and 1980s, Macero again released a handful of his own albums, including Time Plus Seven, Impressions of Charles Mingus, and Acoustical Suspension, before founding his own label, Teorecords, in 1999. Subsequently, he released over a dozen albums of original compositions, and continued to produce reissues of Miles Davis and other artists for various record companies.
Teo Macero, saxophonist, composer and producer passed away on February 19, 2008.
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