Sonny Payne was born on May 4, 1926 in New York City. His father was Wild Bill Davis’ drummer Chris Columbus. After early study with Vic Berton, in 1944 he started playing professionally around New York with the Dud and Paul Bascomb band, Hot Lips Page, Earl Bostic, Tiny Grimes and Lucille Dixon through the decade.
From 1950 to 1953, Payne played with Erskine Hawkins’ big band and led his own band for two years, but in late 1954 he made his most significant move, joining Count Basie’s band for more than ten years of constant touring and recording. He recorded Counting Five In Sweden with Joe Newman in 1958 on the Metronome label..
Leaving Basie in 1965, he again led his own trio and toured with Illinois Jacquet in 1976. He went Frank Sinatra’s personal drummer for all of the singer’s appearances with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1965 and 1966, and he later rejoined Basie as the regular drummer from 1973–1974. Most of the rest of his career, however, was spent in the Harry James band, which he joined in 1966, and with whom he was working when he passed away of pneumonia at the age of 52 on January 29, 1979 in Los Angeles, California. Harry James paid all of his medical bills and subsequent funeral costs.
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Jymie Merritt was born James Raleigh Merritt on May 3, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother was a choral director, voice and piano teacher and his father a businessman and author. After serving in the U.S. Army during WWII from 1944 to 1946 he returned home to work for a short time in his father’s real estate business. After a brief flirtation with the clarinet he was inspired by a Duke Ellington recording featuring bassist Jimmy Blanton. Encouraged by his mother he studied with Philadelphia Orchestra double bassist Carl Torello and at the Ornstein School of Music
Over the course of his career Merritt has worked in jazz, R&B and blues. In the early 1950s he toured with rock and roll pioneers Bullmoose Jackson and Chris Powell moving on to work with legendary bluesman B.B. King from 1955 to 1957. In 1957 he moved to Manhattan to work with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers featuring his friend Benny Golson, as well as Bobby Timmons and Lee Morgan. He touring and recording with Blakey extended until 1962, when an unknown ailment forced him to stop touring.
By 1964 Merritt was back, working with the trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker and is featured prominently in Baker’s unfinished autobiography published under the title As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir. From 1965 to 1968 he worked with drummer, composer and activist Max Roach, not only in the rhythm section but as a composer, recording his Downbeat Magazine Critic Poll for Best Jazz Composer “Nommo” on Roach’s critically acclaimed 1966 Atlantic album The Drum Also Waltzes. He left in the late 1960s to work with Dizzy Gillespie and appear with him on the Dick Cavett Show.
One of Jymie most productive showcases as a composer was his reuniting recording of trumpeter Lee Morgan’s 1970 Blue Note release Live at the Lighthouse featuring his composition Absolutions that has become a jazz classic. In 1962 he formed and fronted the Forerunners with Odean Pope, Kenny Lowe, Donald Bailey and September Wrice and they evolved into a music cooperative exploring his system of chord inversions, harmonics, and unique approaches to composition and rehearsals, producing a lexicon of its own known as the Forerunner system or concept.
This group performed regularly in and around Philadelphia for five years, until he joined Roach’s band. Pope would also join Roach’s band, playing with him into the 1970s. Forerunner was on and off periodically from the 1960s through the 1980s, depending on what band Merritt was playing with at the time as well as how his health was. Of the second incarnation in 1982 saxophonist Bobby Zankel, Alan Nelson, Odean Pope, Julian Pressley, Colmore Duncan and Warren McLendon. Approaching his 90th birthday Merritt continues to rehearse and perform with the current incarnation of The Forerunners, many of whom have been with the ensemble from its inception.
In 2013, along with bassist Reggie Workman, he received the Clef Club of Philadelphia’s Living Legend Jazz Award as well as the Jazz Heritage Award and the Don Redman Heritage Award. Double-bassist electric-bass pioneer, bandleader and composer Jymie Merritt, who mainly performed as a sideman with Art Blakey, Sonny Clark, Curtis Fuller, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan and Jimmy Witherspoon, occasionally performs.
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Eddy Louiss was born May 2, 1941 in Paris, France. Throughout his life his primary instrument was the Hammond organ, but as a vocalist, he was a member of Les Double Six of Paris from 1961 through 1963. He would worked with Kenny Clarke, Rene Thomas and Jean-Luc Ponty and was a member of the Stan Getz Quartet with Thomas and Bernard Lubat. This group recorded Getz’s album Dynasty in 1971.
In duet, Eddy recorded with pianist Michel Petrucciani in 1994 and with accordionist Richard Galliano in 2002. His later recordings, for example, Sentimental Feeling and Récit proche combined jazz with rock and world music.
Louiss spent most of his career leading his own group in France, but twice has made particularly notable recordings, both on organ. He played piano with Johnny Griffin in the mid-’60s, and in 1964, he was awarded the Prix Django Reinhardt.
Hammond organist Eddy Louiss, who left the world a catalogue of some twenty recordings as a leader, passed away on June 30, 2015.
James W. Newton was born May 1, 1953 in Los Angeles, California and grew up immersed in the sounds of African-American music, including urban blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel. As a tee he played electric bass guitar, alto saxophone, and clarinet. In high school he took up the flute, influenced by Eric Dolphy. In addition to taking lessons in classical music on flute, he also studied jazz with Buddy Collette and completed his formal musical training at California State University, Los Angeles.
From 1972 to 1975, along with David Murray, Bobby Bradford and Arthur Blythe, he was a member of drummer and later critic Stanley Crouch’s band Black Music Infinity. Three years later in 1978 he lived in New York, leading a trio with pianist and composer Anthony Davis and cellist Abdul Wadud, that lasted until 1981. These three played extended chamber jazz and Third Stream compositions by Newton and Davis. With Davis, he founded a quartet and toured successfully in Europe in the early 1980s.
Following his European tour James performed with a wide variety of musicians, including John Carter, Mingus Dynasty, Leroy Jenkins and Chico Freeman. He would go on to release four solo improvisations for flute recordings, work with musicians from other cultures including Jon Jang, Gao Hong, Kadri Gopalnath and Shubhendra Rao. He has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, the San Francisco Ballet, California EAR Unit and the L’Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris among others around the world. He served for five years as Musical Director/Conductor of the Luckman Jazz Orchestra.
As an educator Newton has taught at the University of California Irvine, the California Institute of the Arts, and California State University Los Angeles. In 1989 he became a published author with a method book entitled The Improvising Flute and in 2007 he published Daily Focus For The Flute.
He is an accomplished composer of classical works for chamber ensemble and orchestra, electronic music, jazz and opera, the latter composing The Songs of Freedom. He has received a Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships, Montreux Grande Prix Du Disque, and Down Beat International Critics Jazz Album of the Year and has been voted the top flutist for 23 consecutive years in Down Beat magazine’s International Critics Poll. Post bop flautist James Newton continues to perform, record, tour and compose.
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Sid Weiss was born April 30, 1914 in Schenectady, New York and learned clarinet, violin, and tuba when young. He switched to bass in his teens. He moved to New York City around 1931 and worked the following decade with Louis Prima, Bunny Berigan, Wingy Manone, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Adrian Rollini.
He was with Benny Goodman from 1941–1945, then played in the second half of the 1940s and the early 1950s with Muggsy Spanier, Pee Wee Russell, Cozy Cole, Bud Freeman, Duke Ellington and Eddie Condon. He quit full-time performing in the mid-1950s and in 1968 was an executive of the musicians’ union in Los Angeles, California. Bassist Sid Weiss passed away on March 30, 1994.
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