William “Sonny” Criss was born on October 23, 1927 in Memphis, Tennessee and at the age of 15 moved to Los Angeles. Developing a concise, bluesy tone he easily fit into the bands he drifted between such as Howard McGhee’s playing alongside Charlie Parker, Johnny Otis and Billy Eckstine.
As his ability continued to increase his first major break came in 1947 with Norman Granz, playing on a number of jam sessions. In 1956 he was signed to Imperial Records, recorded a number of underground classics like “Jazz U.S.A.”, “Go Man” and “Sonny Criss Play Cole Porter” that featured Sonny Clark on piano.
He would go on to record for Muse, Impulse and Prestige record labels, worked with Wynton Kelly, rooted himself in the hard bop tradition recording charts by Horace Tapscott and also several well-acclaimed albums like Sonny’s Dream.
Alto saxophonist Sonny Criss settled in Los Angeles and continued to perform and record but by 1977 had contracted stomach caner. Unable to bear the pain, he committed suicide by gunshot on November 19, 1977. after contracting stomach cancer earlier that year and unable to bear the painful condition he was experiencing.
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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