J. C. Heard was born James Charles Heard on October 8, 1917 in Dayton, Ohio. A very supportive drummer, versatile enough to fit comfortably into swing, bop and blues settings, he landed his first important professional job with Teddy Wilson in 1939. This kicked off a long and fruitful career.
By 1946 he was recording with top bop musicians such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon. Heard would go on to lead his own groups and in the Fifties spent a few years in Japan. Late in the decade he returned to New York and freelanced, even reuniting with Teddy Wilson in ’61.
Throughout his career J. C. would play, record and tour with Lena Horne, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Erroll Garner, Jazz At The Philharmonic, Pete Johnson, Sir Charles Thompson and Roy Eldridge among others.
In 1966 J.C. Heard moved to Detroit, worked as a bandleader and a mentor to younger musicians into the mid-’80s and passed away on September 27, 1988 in Royal Oak, Michigan.
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Oscar Pettiford was born September 30, 1922 in Okmulgee, Oklahoma to a Choctaw mother and Cherokee/African American father. Growing up playing in the family band in which he sang and danced, he switched to piano at the age of 12 then to double bass when he was at the age of 14. Despite being admired by the likes of Milt Hinton, he stopped playing in 1941, feeling he couldn’t make a living. Five months later, he once again met Milt, who persuaded him to return to music.
In 1942 he joined the Charlie Barnet band and 1943 saw him gaining wider public attention after recording with Coleman Hawkins on his “The Man I Love.” He also recorded with Earl Hines, Ben Webster, led a group with Dizzy Gillespie and went to California with Hawkins to play in the film The Crimson Canary and on the soundtrack.
Following this he joined Duke Ellington, then Woody Herman but by the 50s mainly became a leader. It was in this role he inadvertently discovered Cannonball Adderley after one of his musicians tricked him into letting Adderley, an unknown music teacher, onto the stand, he had Adderley solo on a demanding piece, on which Adderley performed impressively.
Pettiford is considered the pioneer of the cello as a solo instrument in jazz music, first played the cello as a practical joke on Woody Herman. However, in 1949, after breaking his arm and finding it impossible to play his bass, he started playing the cello allowing him to perform during his rehabilitation. He made his first recordings with the instrument in 1950. The cello thus became his secondary instrument, and he continued to perform and record with it throughout the remainder of his career.
He recorded extensively during the 1950s for the Debut, Bethlehem and ABC Paramount labels among others, and for European companies after his move to Copenhagen, Denmark in 1958. Oscar Pettiford passed away from a virus associated with polio on September 8, 1960 in Copenhagen and along with his contemporary, Charles Mingus, he stands out as one of the most-recorded bassist and bandleader/composers in jazz
Red Rodney was born Robert Roland Chudnick on September 27, 1927 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became a professional musician at age 15 working in the mid-Forties Jerry Wald, Jimmy Dorsey, George Auld, Benny Goodman and Les Brown. Inspired by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker he turned to bebop and began playing with Claude Thornhill, Gene Krupa and Woody Herman.
Red joined Parker’s quintet in 1949 and was billed as Albino Red when playing in the racially segregated South. Leaving Parker he moved to join Charlie Ventura. Recording extensively over the next ten years he left jazz in 1958 due to diminishing opportunities, lack of acceptance as a white bebop trumpeter, and problems with the police about his drug addiction.
He continued to work in other musical fields and although he continued to be paid well, he supported his drug habit through theft and fraud, eventually spending 27 months in prison. In the early 1970s he was bankrupted by medical costs following a stroke and returned to jazz.
From 1980 to 1982, Rodney made five highly regarded albums with multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, worked with The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, provided an early showcase for saxophonist Chris Potter, a member of his working group when Rodney recorded “Red Alert” in late 1990. Bebop and hard bop trumpeter Red Rodney passed away on May 27, 1994.
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Slam Stewart was born Leroy Eliot Stewart on September 21, 1914 in Englewood, New Jersey. He originally played violin before switching to bass at the age of 20. While attending the Boston Conservancy he heard Ray Perry singing along with his violin giving him the inspiration to follow suit with his bass.
In 1937 Stewart teamed with Slim Gaillard forming the novelty jazz act Slim and Slam. The duo’s biggest hit was in 1938 with Flat Foot Floogie (With A Floy Floy).
Stewart found regular session work throughout the 1940s with Lester Young, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Johnny Guarnieri, Red Norvo, Don Byas, Benny Goodman Sextet and Beryl Booker among others.
One of the most famous sessions he played on took place in 1945, when Stewart played with Dizzy Gillespie’s group during Charlie Parker’s tenure. Out of those sessions came some of the classic bebop tunes such as “Groovin’ High” and “Dizzy Atmosphere”.
Throughout the rest of his career, Stewart worked regularly and employed his unique and enjoyable bass-playing style trademark of bowing the bass (arco) while simultaneously humming or singing an octave higher until his death on December 10, 1987 in Binghamton, New York.
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Earl May was born on September 17, 1927 in New York City first gravitated to drums, but at 14 acquired an acoustic bass, later making his professional debut at the Bronx’s 845 Club. While working an insurance job by day, 1949 saw May moonlighting across the New York club circuit, eventually catching the attention of drummer Connie Kay, who invited him to sit in behind Lester Young at Harlem’s now-legendary Minton’s Playhouse. He continued honing his craft in clubs like Minton’s Playhouse with musicians such as Lester Young and Mercer Ellington. A protégé of the legendary Charles Mingus, in 1951 Earl joined the Billy Taylor Trio, appearing regularly in such clubs as the Hickory House, Birdland and the Downbeat Club.
During the Fifties Earl also worked with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Chet Baker, and Lorez Alexandria, Webster Young among others and recorded the classic “Lush Life” with John Coltrane. He left the Billy Taylor Trio in 1959 to form his own group and act as musical director and arranger for Gloria Lynne.
By the mid-sixties May took up the electric bass and led the Earl May Quartet at The New York Playboy Club and the group rapidly became the epitome of great music in the New York club scene.
Over the years Earl has performed or recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster, Cab Calloway, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Junior Mance, Benny Powell, Carmen Bradford, Frank Foster, Dizzy Gillespie, Linda Hopkins, Doc Cheatham, Charles Brown, Claude Williams, Jon Hendricks, Charles McPherson, Marlena Shaw, Ruth Brown, Winard Harper and Phyllis Hyman to name a few more.
Jazz bassist Earl May, one of the most prodigious and prolific bassists of the postwar era, lent his rich, round sound to every session and performance, was the only bassist to play with his left hand but kept the strings in their normal order and was a member of Local 802 since 1947, passed away on January 5, 2008. He was 80 years old.
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