Gene Rodgers was born on March 5, 1910 in New York City. He worked professionally as a pianist from the mid-1920s and over the next few years made recordings with Clarence Williams and King Oliver while also playing with Chick Webb and Teddy Hill.
Rodgers started his own variety show in the 1930s, doing tours of Australia and England recording with Benny Carter in 1936 while in the latter. Upon his return to the States in ‘39 he played with Coleman Hawkins, Zutty Singleton and Erskine Hawkins into the early 40s. During the Forties he worked in Hollywood appearing in the film Sensations of 1945 with Cab Calloway and Dorothy Donegan. After this he worked mainly in New York, leading a trio for many years.
Rodgers appears, with opening title credits, in the 1947 film “Shoot To Kill”, and appearing in the film are two of his compositions “Ballad of the Bayou” and later is “Rajah’s Blues”.
Rodgers recorded sparingly as a leader; he did two sides for Vocalion in 1936, four in a session for Joe Davis in 1945, and albums as a trio leader for EmArcy, Black & Blue Records and 88 Up Right. He played with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band in 1981-82.
Gene Rodgers, pianist and arranger, best known for his contributions on Coleman Hawkins’ 1939 recording of “Body and Soul”, passed away on October 23, 1987 in New York City.
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Jason Marsalis was born on March 4, 1977 in New Orleans, Louisiana and is the youngest son of pianist Ellis Marsalis. Inheriting the virtuosity and compositional skills associated with the Marsalis family, Jason developed a distinctive, polyrhythmic drumming style. His first professional gig was with his father at the age of twelve, he studied classical percussion at Loyola University in New Orleans, and has worked as a sideman with straight-ahead combos, funk fusion bands, with Casa Samba, a Brazilian percussion ensemble and even a Celtic group.
Jason introduced percussionist Bill Summers to trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and together they co-founded the wildly successful Los Hombres Calientes. Then, at the height of that band’s popularity he left to join up with acclaimed pianist Marcus Roberts.
Most recently, Jason has been playing vibraphone, releasing his first album as a leader on vibes in 2009 titled “Music Update”. Earning 4.5 out of 5 stars in Downbeat Magazine, it showcases Jason playing the vibes with his working quartet as well as several over-dubbed drum ensembles titled the “Disciplines”.
Jason also continues to work as a sideman with among others Marcus Roberts, Ellis and Delfeayo Marsalis, John Ellis, Dr. Michael White and Shannon Powell. Along with his father and brothers, he is a recipient of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award and is featured in the non-fiction film on New Orleans jazz culture, “Tradition Is A Temple”.
Jimmy Garrison was born on March 3, 1933 in Miami, Florida but grew up in Philadelphia where he learned to play the bass, coming of age during that city’s thriving jazz scene that including McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Henry Grimes and Lee Morgan. He played around Philadelphia with local groups until 1958 when Philly Joe Jones brought him to New York City.
During the time he would freelance with Lennie Tristano, Benny Golson, Bill Evans and Kenny Dorham but got seriously noticed when he joined Ornette Coleman at the Five Spot. Garrison’s long association with Ornette Coleman produced his first recording with him on “Ornette on Tenor” and “Art of the Improvisers”.
Jimmy would go on to play and record with Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders but his greatest collaboration was his six-year collaboration with the John Coltrane Quartet when he replaced Reggie Workman. In concert with Trane he would play unaccompanied solos, sometimes as a prelude to a song before the other musicians joined in.
He and drummer Elvin Jones have been credited with eliciting more forceful playing than usual from Coleman on the albums “New York Is Now” and “Love Call”. Before his passing he would play with Kenny Dorham, Curtis Fuller, Jackie McLean, Lee Konitz, Hampton Hawes, Benny Golson and Tony Scott. Bassist Jimmy Garrison passed away on April 7, 1976.
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Douglas Watkins was born on March 2, 1934 in Detroit Michigan. After gaining experience and a reputation as one of many very talented jazzmen on the local Detroit scene, Watkins began touring with James Moody in 1953 followed by a stint with the Barry Harris Trio. In 1954 he settled in New York City and was an original member of the Jazz Messengers from 1955 – 56.
Doug went on to spend a year with Horace Silver and then freelanced with a who’s who list of the hard boppers such as Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, Phil Woods and Hank Mobley. In 1956 at just 21 years old he was a sideman on Sonny Rollins’ “Saxophone Colossus” alongside Max Roach and Tommy Flanagan, showcasing examples of his fine work on Blue 7 and St. Thomas.
In 1958 Watkins joined Donald Byrd for a European tour, taking up extended residence at Le Chat Qui Peche, a jazz club on Paris’ Left Bank. Along with Byrd, tenor saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, pianist Walter Davis, Jr. and drummer Art Taylor, Watkins made two albums with Byrd during this period, one recorded in the club and another at a formal concert featuring Byrd’s quintet. In 1961 he joined Charles Mingus’ group when Mingus temporarily ventured onto the piano stool, producing such gems as “Oh Yeah!!!” and “Tonight At Noon”.
Doug was known for his superb walking tone and distinct phrasing that was right on the beat, forming an organic, indivisible relationship with his instrument as he swayed with it in perfect time. Throughout his short but prolific career Watkins produced only two sessions as a leader but became the bassist of choice when his cousin by marriage, Paul Chambers was unavailable. He appeared on over 350 recordings working with Red Garland, Yusef Lateef, Philly Joe Jones, Bill Hardman, Gene Ammons and Lee Morgan just to name a few giants.
The hard bop jazz bassist Doug Watkins died in a head-on automobile crash on February 5, 1962 when he fell asleep behind the wheel while driving from Arizona to San Francisco to play a gig with Philly Joe Jones. He was just 27 years old but his legacy as a superb musician, unselfish and enabling ensemble player and a bassist-walker with few peers remains today.
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Golden Boy opened the Majestic Theatre on October 20, 1964 starring Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Daniels, Paula Wayne, Johnny Brown, Lola Falana and Lou Gossett. Charles Strouse & Lee Adams composed the music from which Night Song was plucked to become a jazz standard for a show that ran 568 performances.
The Story: The play reflects the struggle of an ambitious young black man in America and focuses on Joe Wellington, a young man from Harlem who, despite his family’s objections, turns to prizefighting as a means of escaping his ghetto roots to find fame and fortune. He crosses paths with a Mephistopheles-like promoter Eddie Satin and eventually betrays his manager Tom Moody when he becomes romantically involved with Moody’s girlfriend Lorna Moon. In his quest for glory loses his soul and his life.
Broadway History: These innovations in lighting also made advertising on Broadway much more effective. The world’s first electrically lit large commercial billboard was erected over Madison Square in 1892. It read, “Buy Homes On Long Island/Swept By Ocean Breezes” and was paid for by the Long Island Rail Road. Though the sign had disappeared from the New York skyline by 1895, its brief exposure caught the eye of every business owner on Broadway, which by then included the square intersection at W. 42nd, Broadway, and 7th Avenue (the tourist-glutted hotspot we all know and love, “Times Square”, which was named after The New York Times in 1904, when the publication moved into its new headquarters building there, had decided to advertise with the new “spectaculars,” so called because of their large, complex light displays and intricate designs, some flashed, and some even had animated sections that moved.