Dodo Marmarosa was born Michael Marmarosa on December 12, 1925 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received the uncomplimentary nickname Dodo as a child because of his large head, short body, and bird-like nose. He began taking piano lessons at the age of 9, receiving classical music lessons, but was influenced by the jazz playing of Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, and others after fellow pianist Erroll Garner, four years his elder, introduced him to their music. Attending Peabody High School, he practiced a lot, until his left and right hands were equally strong.
Beginning his professional career in 1941 by joining the Johnny “Scat” Davis orchestra at the age of 15, he followed this stint with Gene Krupa around the end of 1942. After Krupa’s orchestra broke up he played in Ted Fio Rito’s band then moved to Charlie Barnet’s big band. He recorded debut was with Barnet in 1943 with “The Moose”, on which the 17-year-old pianist played, combining bebop and Count Basie-style minimalism. Marmarosa recorded some trio tracks with Krupa and DeFranco in 1944. He then worked with Tommy Dorsey and appeared in the MGM film Thrill of a Romance. After Dorsey he joined Artie Shaw’s big and small bands.
From the early 1940s Dodo had searched for and experimented with advanced progressive forms of jazz and became attracted to bebop after meeting and jamming with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. In 1945 Marmarosa moved to Los Angeles, California and played piano on Parker’s first recordings for Dial Records. For the next two years he recorded extensively as a sideman in both bebop and swing contexts with Wardell Gray, Lionel Hampton, Mel Tormé, Willie Smith, Lester Young, and, became the house pianist for Atomic Records, Slim Gaillard and Barney Kessel.
Making his first recordings as leader in 1946, with trio tracks that included Ray Brown on bass and Jackie Mills on drums, and in a quartet with adding saxophonist Lucky Thompson, he also recorded his only vocal track, I’ve Got News for You, in the same year. He would go on to lead the first pizzicato jazz cello sessions for Dial with Harry Babasin on cello and Jackie Mills on drums.
The Fifties were not particularly productive, suffering from psychological problems and his family getting him no help, his behavior became erratic with him disappearing for weeks at a time. He recorded an Argo Records trio session in 1962 released as Dodo’s Back!, and made his final studio recordings that same year with saxophonist Gene Ammons and another with trumpeter Bill Hardman. His last public performance was contributed to his diabetes somewhere between the late Sixties to early to mid Seventies, leading to his permanent retirement.
Living in obscurity for the rest of his life, pianist, composer and arranger Dodo Marmarosa, who played in the bebop, modern, progressive and swing genres, passed away of a heart attack on September 17, 2002, in a veterans’ hospital in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
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Bennie Wallace was born November 18, 1946 in Chattanooga, Tennessee and began playing in local clubs with the encouragement of East Ridge, Tennessee High School band director and drummer Chet Hedgecoth and professional reed player Billy Usselton, who appeared as a guest at a stage band festival and heard Wallace with the East Ridge High School Swing Band.
After studying clarinet at the University of Tennessee, Wallace settled in New York in 1971 with the encouragement of Monty Alexander, who hired him and recommended him to the American Federation of Musicians local, which virtually guaranteed his entry. He went on to play with Barry Harris, Buddy Rich, Dannie Richmond and he released his debut recording with Flip Phillips and Scott Hamilton in 1977.
Bennie has cited Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins among many major saxophone influences. He recorded on the Blue Note label in 1985 that had given him much of the key music of his formative years. The eclectic cast on the album Twilight Time reflects the mix of musical styles he encountered in the local club scene of Chattanooga.
He toured and recorded with trombonist Ray Anderson, exploring a broad repertoire not always associated with jazz, and also provided original music for Ron Shelton’s films Blaze and White Men Can’t Jump. Tenor saxophonist Bennie Wallace has released twenty albums as a leader, has recorded with George Gruntz, Eric Watson, Mose Allison and Franco Ambrosetti as well as continuing to perform, record and tour leading his own band.
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Ernie Farrow was born on November 13, 1928 in Huntington, West Virginia and is the half-brother to Alice Coltrane. It is said that he was responsible for introducing her to jazz. He had his own bands throughout high school and emerged in the professional jazz scene in the first half of the ’50s, working with a series of demanding bandleaders including Terry Gibbs and Stan Getz.
Farrow’s relationship with Yusef Lateef began around 1956, performing alongside Hugh Lawson and drummer Louis Hayes and recording a dozen albums with him from 1957 to 1964. Over the course of his short career he also worked with Barry Harris and John Williams among others.
A few years later he began leading his own group, based out of Detroit and was a strong influence on his younger piano-playing sister. In the ’60s he was featured on bass in a terrific classic jazz piano trio fronted by Red Garland.
Best known as a bassist, he however, started on piano before adding bass and drums. Multi-instrumentalist Ernie Farrow, who played piano, double bass, and drums, passed away on July 14, 1969.
Kahil El’Zabar was born on November 11, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois and attended Lake Forest College before joining the AACM, Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the early 1970s. He would go on to become its chairman in 1975.
During the 1970s, he formed the musical groups Ritual Trio and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, both of which have remained active. Kahil has collaborated include Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Cannonball Adderley, and Paul Simon.
The multi-instrumentalist, Kahil El’Zabar, who is mainly a percussionist and composer, regularly records for Delmark Records. As a leader and co-leader he has released eight albums, fourteen with the Ensemble, 14 with the Trio, two with the group Tri-Factor and has recorded four as a sideman with David Murray and Wadada Leo Smith. He continues to perform, compose and record.
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George Wallington was born Giacinto Figlia on October 27, 1924 in Palermo, Sicily and then moved to New York City with his family in 1925. His father sang opera and introduced his son to classical music, but Wallington listened to jazz after hearing the music of saxophonist Lester Young. Acquiring the name Wallington in high school by the neighborhood kids for his flashy clothes, he left school at the age of 15 to play piano in the city.
From 1943 to 1953 Wallington played with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Marsala, Charlie Parker, Serge Chaloff, Allan Eager, Kai Winding, Terry Gibbs, Brew Moore, Al Cohn, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, and Red Rodney. He recorded as a leader for Savoy and Blue Note in 1950, toured Europe in 1953 with Lionel Hampton’s big band and in 1954-60 he led bands in New York City that contained rising musicians including Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean and Phil Woods. During this period he recorded as leader with these musicians for the Prestige and Atlantic labels.
1960 saw George leaving music and moving to Florida to work in the family air conditioning business. He cited the stress of endless touring as the reason, however, he returned to music in 1984 and recorded three albums. He also performed at the 1985 Kool Jazz Festival in New York.
Pianist and composer George Wallington, whose best-known compositions are Lemon Drop, and Godchild, passed away in Cape Coral, Miami, Florida on February 15, 1993.
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