Helen Sachs was born December 17, 1934 in Indonesia and began taking classical piano lessons at the age of six. During her school days, she appeared as a vocalist with her own jazz trio. Her idols were the jazz singers of the 1940s like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, as well as Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé.
In 1957 Helen moved to Germany and from 1969 she began to perform with small combos and big bands. She worked with various radio and television stations in Europe, including TROS and VARA in the Netherlands, Südwestfunk and Süddeutscher Rundfunk and TV Bratislava.
She made recordings with Mel Lewis and Jeff Hamilton, and appeared with Hank Jones, Art Farmer and Toots Thielemans. She taught from 1973 to 1988 at the University of Duisburg, and in 1997 she moved to the United States.
She works with her septet Crossings and the Big Band On The Rio Grande in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Since then vocalist Helen Sachs has frequently performed in Germany, and with her quintet and the Ralf Butscher Trio together with Curt Warren.
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Joe Fonda was born on December 16, 1954 in Amsterdam, New York to parents who both played jazz. He played guitar in his youth but switched to bass guitar later on. He studied bass at Berklee College of Music, where he also began playing upright bass.
In the early 1980s he played in the New Haven, Connecticut area and recorded with Wadada Leo Smith. Fonda explored dance and its relationship to jazz music, playing bass with a dance company in the 1980s and incorporating a tap dancer into his ensemble for the albums From the Source and The Healing.
1994 began his playing with Anthony Braxton, collaborating with him extensively for the next five years and recording fifteen albums. He and Michael Jefry Stevens co-lead an ensemble, the Fonda-Stevens group, that began in 1991. The group has recorded ten sessions and continues to perform extensively in Europe and the United States.
Bassist Joe Fonda has recorded seventeen albums as a bandleader and continues to record, perform and explore free jazz.
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John Hammond Sr. was born into a wealthy family on December 15, 1910 in New York City. Educated at Yale, he had a great love for Black music and as early as 1933, at 22, he was active in the music business, discovering Billie Holiday and getting her into the recording studio, producing Bessie Smith’s final sessions, and becoming a friend of young Benny Goodman. One of swing music’s greatest propagandists, he was responsible for at least partly discovering a remarkable list of musicians through the years making their rise to fame much more swift.
Hammond was a masterful talent scout, producer, promoter, and an early fighter against racism, he produced freewheeling American jazz sessions for the European market, worked with Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter, and encouraged Goodman to form his first big band. In 1935 he teamed Lady Day with pianist Teddy Wilson for a series of recordings, and the following year he discovered Count Basie’s orchestra while randomly scanning the radio dial. He then flew to Kansas City, encouraged Basie to come East and in 1938 and 1939 he organized the famous “Spirituals to Swing” all-star Carnegie Hall concerts.
After hearing about Charlie Christian in 1939, he flew out to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to listen to the young guitarist and flew him to Los Angeles, California where he had set up an audition for an initially reluctant Goodman. In addition to his work as a promoter and a record producer, most notably for Columbia during 1937-1943, John was a jazz critic.
After World War II military service felt misplaced in the jazz scene of the mid-’40s, never gaining a taste for bebop. However, by the Fifties he produced a superior series of mainstream dates for Vanguard featuring swing era veterans. Hammond worked through the years for Keynote, Majestic, and Mercury, and during 1959-1975 he was again a major force at Columbia, where he helped the careers of Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bruce Springsteen, and Adam Makowicz, among others.
1967 saw him organizing a new “Spirituals to Swing” concert, and in 1977 his autobiography John Hammond on Record was published. Producer, promoter, critic and talent scout John Hammond Sr. passed away on July 10, 1987 in New York City.
Martha Davis was born on December 14, 1917 in Wichita, Kansas, and was raised in Chicago, Illinois. By the mid-1930s, she had met and been influenced by Fats Waller, and performed regularly as a singer and pianist in Chicago clubs. In 1939, she met, and later married, bassist Calvin Ponder, who went on to play in Earl Hines’ band.
In 1948, Davis moved to California, and developed her recording career on Jewel Records in Hollywood with a trio including Ponder, guitarist Ralph Williams and drummer Lee Young. Their cover of Dick Haymes’ pop hit Little White Lies followed by a duet with Louis Jordan, Daddy-O in 1948, reached # 11 and #7, respectively, on the Billboard charts.
Davis and Ponder also began performing together on stage, developing a musical and comedy routine as “Martha Davis & Spouse” which played on their physical characteristics, she was large, he was smaller. The act became hugely popular, touring and having a residency at the Blue Angel in New York City. They appeared together in movies including Smart Politics with Gene Krupa, and in the mid-Fifties, variety films Rhythm & Blues Revue, Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue and Basin Street Revue. Several of their performances were filmed by Snader Telescriptions for video jukeboxes, and they also broadcast on network TV, particularly Garry Moore’s CBS show.
In 1957, after a break of several years, they resumed recording for the ABC Paramount label, with whom they cut two LPs. Singer and pianist Martha Davis passed away from cancer in New York on April 6, 1960 at age 42.
Borah Bergman was born on December 13, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. He began took piano lessons as a child and then changed to clarinet, before returning to piano after being discharged from the army. As an adult, he developed his left hand playing to the point where he became essentially ambidextrous as a pianist, and could play equally fast in both hands.
Bergman cited Earl Hines, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, Ornette Coleman chamber music, Bach and Dixieland as formative influences, due to the contrapuntally and polyphonically play.
Until the 1970s Borah played little in public, concentrating on private practice and his work as a school teacher. He recorded four albums as a soloist, most notably on the European label Soul Note, before embarking on duo and trio albums beginning in the 1990s. A small number of solo and quartet albums were also released from the middle of the decade.
Free jazz pianist Borah Bergman passed away on October 18, 2012.
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