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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Joseph Dwight Newman was born on September 7, 1922 in New Orleans, Louisiana. A child of a pianist father, he had his first music lessons from David Jones. He continued his study of trumpet at Alabama State College where he also played, led and toured the school band, the Bama State Collegians.
By 1941 Joe joined Lionel Hampton for two years, before signing with Count Basie, a relationship that lasted for a total of thirteen years resulting in a number of small group recordings as leader, spent time with Illinois Jacquet, and then with J.C. Heard. He also played on Benny Goodman’s 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.
Leaving the Basie band in 1961, Newman helped found Jazz Interactions, of which he became president in 1967. Jazz Interactions was a charitable organization which provided an information service, brought jazz master classes into schools and colleges, and later maintained its own Jazz Interaction Orchestra, for whom Newman wrote.
In the 1970s and 1980s Newman toured internationally, recorded for various major record labels. He suffered a stroke in 1991, however, which seriously disabled him. Joe Newman, trumpeter, composer and educator best known for his years with Count Basie passed away on July 4, 1992.
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Herman Riley was born on August 31, 1933 in Algiers, Louisiana across the river from the French Quarter in New Orleans into a family setting where his mother Nell Brooks was a hard swinging jazz and gospel singer. He attended the L.B. Landry High School and under the influence of his music teacher William Houston, heard local jazzmen playing at assemblies and school dances.
In his mid-teens Herman took to the saxophone after seeing Illinois Jacquet but inspired by the locals he organized a jazz combo with his friends and took part in his school orchestra and marching band. It wasn’t long before he “was on the street, playing professionally”, taking short-lived gigs with R&B bandleaders like Ivory Joe Hunter, Guitar Slim and Paul Gayten. By the time he was majoring on cello and bassoon at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Riley had completed eight years of study of European music.
After two non-musical years in the US army and a short spell in New York, he ended up in San Diego, California, pursuing his music studies at City College, while playing in clubs and taking private lessons. After winning an award as outstanding solo artist at the 1962 California colleges’ jazz festival at Monterey, Riley felt confident enough to make for Los Angeles.
Recruited for some of LA’s better jazz groups, he played and recorded with Dolo Coker, Bobby Bryant, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, Della Reese, Sammy Davis Jr, Gene Ammons, Bobby Hutcherson and Blue Mitchell among others. Over the course of his illustrious career Riley added flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet and bass clarinet to the arsenal of saxophones that he carried to meet the demands of studio sessions. He toured with Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Mercer Ellington, Monk Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Etta James, as well as with the Count Basie, Bill Berry and Juggernaut big bands. Quiet in manner and self-effacing, bebop and blues tenor saxophonist Herman Riley died on April 14, 2007 at the age of 73.
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Wayne Shorter was born August 25, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey and attended Newark Arts High School where his love of music flourished under the encouragement of his father to take up the saxophone. In his youth Shorter had acquired the nickname “Mr. Gone”, which later became an album title for Weather Report.
Graduating in 1952, he matriculated through New York University in 1956, spent two years in the Army, during which he briefly played with Horace Silver and after his discharge, he played with Maynard Ferguson.
In 1959, Shorter became a Messenger joining Art Blakey, stayed five years and became the bands musical director. When Coltrane left Miles Davis’ band he proposed Wayne, as his replacement but his unavailability di not release him from Blakey until 1964. Along with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, the Second Great Quintet was born.
During his tenure with Miles, Wayne would compose “Prince of Darkness”, “E.S.P.”, “Footprints”, “Sanctuary”, “Nefertiti”, and many others; often providing half of the compositions on an album, typically hard bop workouts with long, spaced-out melody lines above the beat. He remained in Davis’s band after the breakup of the quintet in 1968, playing on the early jazz-fusion recordings including “In A Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew”.
Until 1968, he played the tenor saxophone exclusively but the next year he put down the tenor after his final Davis recording of Filles de Kilimanjaro and began playing the soprano, which he used on his own Super Nova release with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. By the early 1970s, however, he chiefly played soprano.
Shorter recorded eleven albums for Blue Note Records featuring almost exclusively his own compositions, with a variety of line-ups, quartets and larger groups. He would enlist the talents of Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones.
Juju, Speak No Evil and Adam’s Apple The All Seeing Eye and Schizophrenia played in the spaces between free-jazz and carefully constructed melodies. Hey incorporated old friends like Hancock, Carter, Curtis Fuller and Joe Chambers. He recorded occasionally in the sideman slot with Donald Byrd, McCoy tyner, Grachan Moncur III, Hubbard, Morgan, Hancock and Williams.
In 1970, Shorter formed the fusion group Weather Report with Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitous, Airto Moreira and Alphonse Mouzon. They lasted until 1985. One of the most notable alumni included revolutionary bassist Jaco Pastorious and the band produced funk, bebop, Latin jazz, ethnic music and futuristic recordings.
He would record with Milton Nascimento, Carlos Santana, V.S.O.P Quintet, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan’s Aja, Terri Lynne Carrington, Marilyn Mazur, Jim Beard, Don Henley, Wallace Roney, and can be heard on the Harrison Ford film soundtrack of The Fugitive. By the mid 90s Wayne released his Verve Records debut High Life and received a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1997.
Into the millennium Shorter has continued to receive wide acclaim working with Hancock once again in 1997, on the much acclaimed and heralded album 1+1. The song “Aung San Suu Kyithem won them both a Grammy Award. He continues to work in a number of group configurations and winning Grammys for his Beyond The Sound Barrier & Alegria – Best Instrumental Jazz Album amongst his 10 Grammy Awards, and has been a Down Beat reigning critics’ poll winner for ten consecutive years and the readers’ for 18. The soprano saxophonist has amassed an impressive discography and continues to compose, reinvent his music, perform and tour.
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Lex Humphries was born on August 22, 1936 in New York City and passed away on July 11, 1994 in his hometown. A jazz drummer, he worked with two musicians known for mixing world music with jazz: Sun Ra and Yusef Lateef. As a member of Sun Ra’s “Arkestra” he appeared in the film Space Is The Place.
Humphries played on the Giant Steps sessions with John Coltrane. The renditions he and Cedar Walton recorded with Coltrane were released as alternative tracks in 1974. He was also the first drummer in the Art Farmer and Benny Golson Jazztet, appearing on their first album titled Meet The Jazztet in 1960.
Between 1959 and 1973 Lex also played and recorded albums with Donald Byrd, John Coltrane including The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings, Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Wes Montgomery, Duke Pearson, Sonny Red, Chet Baker, Junior Mance, Sonny Stitt, McCoy Tyner and Doug Watkins among numerous others.
The understated drummer and solid bebopper cited Philly Joe Jones as his only influence. He was also a member of the band that accompanied Leon Thomas, and amassed a catalogue of over 70 sessions and was a steady collaborator. Though his reputation was firmly established, Lex Humphries, however, only rated a mere five lines in Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz.
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