Lenny Breau was born Leonard Harold Breau on August 5, 1941 in Auburn, Maine. His francophone parents were professional country and western musicians who started their son playing guitar at the age of eight. At twelve he started a small band with friends and by the age of fourteen he was the lead guitarist for his parents’ band, billed as Lone Pine Junior, playing Merle Travis and Chet Atkins instrumentals and occasionally singing. He made his first professional recordings in Westbrook, Maine at the age of 15 while working as a studio musician. Many of these recordings were released posthumously on Boy Wonder.
In 1957 the family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba,, and their new touring band became the CKY Caravan. It was at one of these shows that he met sixteen year old Randy Bachman and they soon became friends, eventually Lenny began informally teaching the young guitarist. Two years later he left his parents after his father slapped him in the face for using jazz improvisations on stage. He then sought out local jazz musicians and met pianist Bob Erlendson, who began teaching him more of the foundations of jazz.
1962 saw Breau leaving for Toronto and soon created the jazz group Three with singer/actor Don Francks and bassist Eon Henstridge. They performed in Toronto, Ottawa, and New York City, their music was featured in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz, recorded a live album at the Village Vanguard and appeared on the Jackie Gleason and Joey Bishop shows. Returning to Winnipeg he became a regular session guitarist recording for CBC Radio, CBC Television and contributed to CBC-TV’s Teenbeat, Music Hop, and his own Lenny Breau Show.
An ensuing friendship with Chet Atkins resulted in Lenny’s first two LP issues, Guitar Sounds from Lenny Breau and The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau. Live! on RCA. Moving around over Canada and the United States he finally settled in Los Angeles, California in 1983. There he spent years performing, teaching, and writing for Guitar Player magazine. Unfortunately he had continual drug problems stemming from the mid-1960s, which he managed to get under control during the last years of his life. However, on August 12, 1984 his body was found in the swimming pool at his apartment complex in Los Angeles and the coroner reported that he had been strangled. Though his wife Jewel was the chief suspect but was never charged with murder and the case is still unsolved.
Several tributes were created in honor of his contributions to guitar playing and jazz. A documentary titled The Genius of Lenny Breau was produced in 1999 by his daughter Emily Hughes that included interviews with Chet Atkins, Ted Greene, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Leonard Cohen, and Bachman. In 2006 the book One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau written by Ron Forbes-Roberts was published by the University of North Texas Press. CBC Radio presented a documentary-soundscape on Lenny Breau entitled On the Trail of Lenny Breau in 2009.
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Gil Evans came into this world on May 13, 1912 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as Ian Ernest Gilmore Green. His name was changed to his stepfather’s Evans early in his life. His family moved to Stockton, California where he spent most of his youth.
Between 1941 and 1948, Evans worked as an arranger for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. His basement apartment behind a New York City Chinese laundry became a meeting place for musicians looking to develop new musical styles outside of the dominant bebop style of the day that included the leading bebop performer Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and John Carisi.
In 1948, Gil collaborated with Miles Davis, Mulligan and others to create a nonet utilizing French horns and tubas keeping the big sound with less cost. The Davis-led group was booked for a week at the Royal Roost as an intermission group on the bill with the Count Basie Orchestra. Subsequently, Capitol Records recorded 12 numbers at three sessions in 1949 and 1950 that were reissued on the 1957 Miles Davis LP titled Birth Of The Cool. He was also instrumental in contributing behind the scenes to Davis’ classic quintet albums of the 1960s.
From 1957 onwards Evans recorded albums under his own name. He brought tubist Bill Barber, trumpeter Louis Mucci along with im and featured soloists Lee Konitz, Jimmy Cleveland, Steve Lacy, Johnny Coles and Cannonball Adderley. By 1965 he was arranging the big band tracks on Kenny Burrell’s Guitar Forms album.
Evans’ influence by Latin, Brazilian and Spanish composers Manuel de Falla and Joaquin Rodrigo as well as German expat Kurt Weill led him to create arrangements that included two basses, using Richard Davis, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Ben Tucker and Milt Hinton on many of his recordings. He was prolific in his recording until he became discouraged by the commercial direction Verve Records was taking with his arrangements for Astrud Gilberto’s Look To The Rainbow, causing him to take a hiatus from music.
During this period he began listening to Jimi Hendrix at the suggestion of his wife. He became interested in scoring the music of the rock guitarist, put together another orchestra in the Seventies and began working with in the free jazz and jazz rock idioms. He eventually released an album of arrangements of Hendrix’s music with John Abercrombie and RyoKawasaki and his ensembles featured electric guitars and basses, like that of Jaco Pastorious, from that date forward.
He would go on to release Where Flamingos Fly in 1981 with Coles, Harry Lookofsky, Richard Davis and Jimmy Knepper, Howard Johnson, Don Preston and Billy Harper. He created his Monday Night Orchestra in 1983 that became a staple for five years at Sweet Basil Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. Members of the band were Lew Soloff, Hiram Bullock, David Sanborn, Mark Eagan and Tom “Bones” Malone and Gil Goldstein among others. He recorded a big band album of The Police songs with Sting collaborating with apprentice arranger Maria Schneider.
Gil won two Grammy awards, has four films to his credit and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986. He ha a catalogue of eighteen studio albums, 16 live albums, arranged fifteen albums for Miles Davis, Hal McKusick, Helen Merrill, Johnny Mathis, Macy Lutes, Don Elliott, Astrud Gilberto and Kenny Burrell.
Pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Gil Evans, who played an important part in the development of cool, modal, free and fusion styles of jazz, passed away of peritonitis in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the age of 75 on March 20, 1988.
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Horace Silver was born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva on September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut to a mother from Connecticut and a father from Maio, Cape Verde. He began playing the piano as a child, receiving classical music lessons and Cape Verde folk music from his father. When he turned 11 he became interested in becoming a musician, after hearing the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.
From ninth grade Silver played tenor saxophone in the Norwalk High School band and orchestra, influenced by Lester Young. He played gigs locally on both instruments while still at school and around 1946 he moved to Hartford, Connecticut, taking a regular job as house pianist in a nightclub. His big break came around 1950, backing saxophonist Stan Getz at a Hartford club. Liking what he heard, Getz took Silver’s band on the road. With Getz he made his recording debut on the Stan Getz Quartet album, along with bassist Joe Calloway and drummer Walter Bolden.
The following year Horace left Getz, moving to New York City and worked at Birdland on Monday nights. During that year, he met the executives of Blue Note Records, eventually signed with them, and remained there until 1980. He also co-founded the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey.
From 1951 he free-lanced around New York, recorded mostly his own compositions with his trio, featuring Blakey on drums and Gene Ramey, Curly Russell or Percy Heath on bass. Throughout his career he would record with Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Junior Cook, Blue Mitchell, Louis Hayes, Carmell Jones, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Tyrone Washington, Michael and Randy Brecker, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis All Stars.
He music reflected the social and cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s as he briefly played electric piano and including lyrics in his compositions, and his interested in spiritualism also came into his music.
He received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, recorded his final studio session in 1998 titled Jazz Has A Sense of Humor, was awarded the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, penned his autobiography Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace Silver and published by University of California Press, and many of his compositions have become jazz standards.
Horace Silver, whose early influences were Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole and Thelonious Monk, and who and influence for Bobby Timmons, Le McCann, Ramsey Lewis and Cecil Taylor, passed away of natural causes in New Rochelle, New York on June 18, 2014. The pianist and composer known for his distinctive playing style and pioneering compositional contributions to hard bop, featured surprising tempo shifts from aggressively percussive to lushly romantic merged with funk long before that word could be used in polite company.
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William John Evans was born August 16, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey and grew up in a turbulent household of abuse. While staying with his aunt family somewhere between age 3 and five he soon began to play what he had heard during his brother’s class and soon he would also receiving piano lessons. At age 7, Bill began violin lessons and also flute and piccolo but eventually dropped those instruments, though it is believed they later influenced his keyboard style.
From age 6 to 13 Evans would only play classical music scores of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. During high school he was exposed to Stravinsky and Milhaud but also the jazz of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James. At 13 he stood in for a sick pianist in Buddy Valentino’s rehearsal band where he got his first deviation from the written music, in an arrangement of Tuxedo Junction, leading him to listen to Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, George Shearing, Stan Getz and Nat King Cole among others.
Bill was soon playing dances and weddings throughout New Jersey and then formed his own trio, met Don Elliott, and bassist George Platt who taught him the harmonic principles of music. He would go on to study at Southeastern Louisiana University and in 1955 he moved to New York City where he worked with bandleader and theorist George Russell. In 1958, he joined the Miles Davis Sextet, where he was to have a profound influence. In 1959, the band, then immersed in modal jazz recorded Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time.
In late 1959, Evans left the Miles Davis band and began his career as a leader with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, a group now regarded as a seminal modern jazz trio. In 1961, ten days after recording the highly acclaimed Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, LaFaro died in a car accident. After months of seclusion he re-emerged with bassist Chuck Israel. In 1963, Evans recorded his first innovative solo project Conversations with Myself, and in ’66 met bassist Eddie Gomez who he would work with for eleven years.
He would work with Don Elliott, Tony Scott, Mundell Lowe, Jerry Wald, Lucy Reed, George Russell, Dick Garcia, Art Farmer, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Joe Puma, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Eddie Costa, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Sam Jones, Marc Johnson, Tony Bennett, Marty Morell, Joe LaBarbera and the list goes on.
Despite his success as a jazz artist, Bill suffered personal loss and struggled with drug abuse. Both his girlfriend Elaine and his brother Harry committed suicide, and he was a long time user of heroin and later cocaine. As a result, his financial stability, personal relationships and musical creativity all steadily declined during his later years.
On September 15, 1980 pianist, compose and arranger Bill Evans who played in the modal, third stream cool and post-bop genres, passed away at age 51in New York City from complications due to peptic ulcer, cirrhosis, bronchial pneumonia and untreated hepatitis. His recordings for Riverside, Fantasy and Verve record labels left a seminal collection for the avid and casual listener, he was inducted in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame, was nominated for 31 Grammys, winning seven awards, and was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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George Allen Russell was born on June 23, 1923 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the adopted only child of a nurse and a chef on the B & O Railroad. He sang in the choir of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and listened to the Kentucky Riverboat music of Fate Marable and made his stage debut at age seven, singing “Moon Over Miami” with Fats Waller.
Surrounded by the music of the black church and the big bands played on the Ohio Riverboats, he started playing drums with the Boy Scouts and Bugle Corps, receiving a scholarship to Wilberforce University. There he joined the Collegians, a band noted as a breeding ground for great jazz musicians including Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Freeman, Frank Foster and Benny Carter. He was a member noted jazz composer, Ernie Wilkins. When called up for the draft at the beginning of WWII he was hospitalized with tuberculosis where he was taught the fundamentals of music theory by a fellow patient.
Following his release from the hospital, he played drums with Benny Carter’s band, but after hearing Max Roach decided to give up drumming as a vocation. Inspired by hearing Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, George moved to New York in the early Forties and became a member of a coterie of young innovators who frequented the 55th Street apartment of Gil Evans. This clique included Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis.
Back to the hospital in 1945 for 16 months with another bout of tuberculosis Russell worked out the basic tenets of what was to become his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. This was his theory encompassing all of equal-tempered music which has been influential well beyond the boundaries of jazz. At that time, Russell’s ideas were a crucial step into the modal music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis on his classic recording, Kind Of Blue, and served as a beacon for other modernists such as Eric Dolphy and Art Farmer.
George would go on to compose Cubano Be,Cubano Bop for the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, becoming the pioneering experiment of fusing bebop and Cuban jazz elements. The following year he composed A Bird In Igor’s Yard in tribute to Charlie Parker and Igor Stravinsky and recorded at a session led by Buddy DeFranco. He would start playingpiano and go on to work with Artie Shaw, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Hal McCusick, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Paul Motian, Paul Bley, Jon Hendricks, Bob Brookmeyer, Steve Swallow, Dave Baker, Eric Dolphy, Sheila Jordan, Tom Harrell, Ray Anderson and numerous and others.
Russell recorded his debut album as a leader, Jazz Workshop, playing very little but masterminding the events of the session in the same vein as Gil Evans. He was to record a number of impressive albums over the next several years, sometimes as primary pianist.
Over the course of his career he would be commissioned to compose a piece for Brandeis University and Swedish Radio for the Radio Orchestra, tour Europe, live in Scandinavia, assume the presidency of the New England Conservatory of Music and was appointed to teach the Lydian Concept in the newly created jazz studies department. He continued to compose major orchestral and chorus works, earned two Grammy nominations for his 45-minute opus The African Game, and toured with a group of American and British musicians, resulting in The International Living Time Orchestra, a group comprised of Dave Bargeron, Steve Lodder, Tiger Okoshi, Brad Hatfield, and Andy Sheppard, who still tour and perform today.
He received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, NEA American Jazz Master Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships and a British Jazz Award. He taught throughout the world, and was a guest conductor for German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish radio groups. Pianist, composer, arranger and theorist George Russell died of complications from Alzheimer Disease in Boston, Massachusetts on July 27, 2009.
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