Jerry Coker was born on November 28, 1932 in South Bend, Indiana and picked up the clarinet and tenor saxophone long before going to study at Indiana University.
At the beginning of the 1950s he played tenor saxophone in the Fred Dale Big Band, but in 1953 he interrupted his studies to become a member of the Woody Herman Orchestra. During this time he also played in the Nat Pierce / Dick Collins Nonet and was a part of the formation of The Herdsman with Cy Touff and Ralph Burns in 1954. Jerry followed this musical relationship with joining the septet of Mel Lewis two years later and then with other musicians in the West Coast Jazz movement.
Coker also worked as a freelance musician and led his own bands in the second half of the 1950s. His first recordings made under his own name were recorded in Bloomington, Indiana, San Francisco, California and Paris, France.
The early 1960s saw his return to his studies and by the middle of the decade a return to Indiana University as a lecturer and active in the jazz field. With his educator hat on he headed the Duke Jazz Ensemble at Duke University from 1976 – 77 and later taught at the University of Miami, North Texas State University and the University of Tennessee .
He has written several books on improvisation, jazz keyboard and jazz history. Clarinetist, saxophonist, lecturer and author Jerry Coker continues to perform, record, tour and educate.
Randal Edward Brecker was born November 27, 1945 in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania suburb of Cheltenham to a musical family. Choosing the trumpet over the clarinet at school when he was eight, it was an easy selection after hearing Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown and Chet Baker at home. He attended Cheltenham High School and then Indiana University from 1963 to 1966 studying with Bill Adam, David Baker and Jerry Coker. He later moved to New York and performed with Clark Terry’s Big Bad Band, the Duke Pearson and the The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestras.
By 1967 Randy ventured into jazz-rock with the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, on their first album Child Is Father To The Man, but left to join the Horace Silver Quintet. He recorded his first solo album Score in 1968 and featured his brother Michael. Leaving Silver, he then joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers before teaming up with brother Michael, Barry Rogers, Billy Cobham and John Abercrombie to form the fusion group Dreams. They recorded two albums for Columbia Records before disbanding in 1971. In the early Seventies Randy performed live with The Eleventh House, Stevie Wonder and Billy Cobham and recorded several albums with his brother under pianist and composer Hal Galper.
By 1975, Randy and Michael formed the Brecker Brothers band, releasing six albums for Arista and garnered seven Grammy nominations between 1975 and 1981. After the Brecker Brothers disbanded in 1982, he recorded and toured as a member of Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth big band. It was soon thereafter that he met and later married Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias, formed their own band, toured the world several times and recorded one album named after their daughter together, Amanda on Passport Records.
The 1990s would see Randy and Michael reunited for a world tour and a triple-Grammy nomination for the GRP recording The Return of the Brecker Brothers. Their 1994 follow-up album Out of the Loop won two Grammy Awards and he went on to record an album with Polish composer Włodek Pawlik. His first Grammy as a solo artists came from his project Into the Sun and this was followed by a series of recordings over the next decade and winning his third Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album with 34th N Lex. He toured Europe, performed and recorded live and won a fourth Grammy with the WDR Big Band, and released a two CD set of live recordings with the Randy Brecker Band featuring Dave Kikoski, Victor Bailey, Steve Smith, Rodney Holmes and Hiram Bullock. He would go on to win a fifth Grammy with his album Randy in Brazil, and a sixth with Night in Calisia, a collaboration between Brecker, the Wlodek Pawlik Trio, the Kalisz Philharmonic Orchestra and Adam Klocek
Throughout the years he has performed and recorded with David Sanborn, Mike Stern, Bill Lee, Dave Weckl, Ada Rovatti, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Cobham, Larry Coryell, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Sandip Burman, Charles Mingus, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Horace Silver, Frank Zappa, Parliament-Funkadelic, Chris Parker, Dire Straits, Todd Rundgren, Blue Öyster Cult, Richard Barone, Spyro Gyra, Barbara Dennerlein Aerosmith Arkadia Jazz All Stars, Patti Austin, Gato Barbieri, George Benson, Carla Bley, Ron Carter, Robin Eubanks, Johnny Hodges, Jaroslav Jakubovič, Hubert Laws, Yusef Lateef, Arif Mardin, Brother Jack McDuff, Alphonse Mouzon, Idris Muhammad, Duke Pearson, Don Sebesky, Stanley Turrentine, Miroslav Vitous, Roseanna Vitro, Kenny Werner, Jack Wilkins, Charles Williams among others.
Trumpeter and flugelhornist Randy Brecker continues to compose, record, perform and tour.
Jack T. Perciful was born on November 26, 1925 in Moscow, Idaho and began playing the piano at the age of seven. During his high school years he was already part of the University of Idaho Jazz Band. From 1943 he served in the military in California, and from 1945 to 1946 in the Army orchestras in Japan.
Returning to the U.S. after his discharge he continued his studies at the University of Idaho, earning a Master in Music Education. After a few years, of giving music lessons, he moved into the music business, initially in Spokane, Washington. 1952 saw Jack in Los Angeles, California playing piano initially working as a studio musician, but also played with Dicky Wells, Ernie Andrews and Charlie Barnet.
Harry James brought Perciful into his big band in Las Vegas, Nevada as a pianist and arranger, contributing to a total of 25 albums. He toured with the band throughout Europe, Latin America and Japan. As a sideman he appeared in 1970 on the album Two More Tenors: Boots and Corky by Boots Randolph and Corky Corcoran. After 18 years with the James outfit, he moved Olympia, Washington in 1974 and played at one of the local clubs, Tumwater Conservatory, accompanying soloists like Ernestine Anderson, and played with Bert Wilson and other local musicians. 1989 to 1991 he was a member of the Buddy Catlett Trio.
In subsequent years, he was on several albums on the Pony Boy label recording with Lance Buller and Charlie May. Perciful also appeared on the Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson shows, performed with James in the Jerry Lewis film The Ladies’ Man in 1961 and in 2008 he was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame. Pianist and arranger Jack Perciful, who never recorded as a leader, passed away on March 13, 2008.
Willie “The Lion” Smith was born William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith on November 25, 1897 in Goshen, New York. His biological father Frank Bertholoff was a light-skinned playboy who loved his liquor, girls, and gambling. His mother, Ida, threw Frank out of the house when William was two years old. After his father died, his mother married John Smith, a master mechanic from Paterson, New Jersey and Smith was added at age three.
In 1907, the family moved to Newark, New Jersey and when he was six discovered his mother’s piano in the basement and she taught him the melodies she knew. His uncle taught him to dance and subsequently he won a dance contest. It was at this time he decided to concentrate on music.
He attended the Baxter School, but after a theft incident involving a dime to see a traveling road show, he was transferred to Morton School in the sixth grade and then went on to Barringer High School, then Newark High, and attempted swimming, skating, track, basketball, sledding, cycling, and boxing to get the ladies attention. He also hung out with prizefighters like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Gene Tunney and others, belong to a gang and eventually played piano in the back room of one of the members club.
Willie won an upright piano in a newspaper ad contest guessing the number of dots were in a printed circle. From that day forth, he sat down at the piano and played songs he heard in the clubs and saloons, including Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag by, Cannonball Rag by Joe Northrup, Black and White Rag by George Botsford, and Don’t Hit That Lady Dressed in Green, She’s Got Good Booty and Baby, Let Your Drawers Hang Low. By the early 1910s he was playing in New York City and Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Serving in World War I and seeing action in France, Willie played drums with the African-American regimental band led by Tim Brymn and played on the regimental basketball team. Legend has it that his nickname “The Lion” came from his reported bravery while serving as a heavy artillery gunner and he was a decorated veteran of the Buffalo Soldiers 350th Field Artillery regiment. Following the war he returned to work in Harlem clubs and at rent parties as a soloist, in bands or accompanying blues singers like Mamie Smith. Smith and his contemporaries James P. Johnson and Fats Waller developed a new, more sophisticated piano style later called “stride”.
By the 1940s his music found appreciation with a wider audience, and he toured North America and Europe up to 1971. He was at the taking of the jazz photograph A Great Day in Harlem in 1958, however, he was sitting down resting when the selected shot was taken, leaving him out of the final picture. The Lion was also an educator teaching privately and his students included such notable names as Mel Powell, Brooks Kerr, and Mike Lipskin. Although working in relative obscurity, he was a “musician’s musician”, influencing countless other musicians including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and Artie Shaw.
Duke Ellington demonstrated his admiration of the pianist by composing and recording the highly regarded “Portrait of the Lion” in 1939. In his later years, Newark, New Jersey honored him with Willie “The Lion” Smith Day, and Orange County, New York also proclaimed September 18th as Willie “The Lion” Smith Day, that was also the date of the first Goshen Jazz Festival.
Willie “The Lion” Smith passed away at the age of 79 on April 18, 1973 in New York City.
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Wild Bill Davis was born November 24, 1918 in Glasgow, Missouri and originally played guitar and wrote arrangements for Milt Larkin’s Texas-based big band during 1939–1942. The band included Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, and Tom Archia on horns. After leaving the Larkin orchestra, he worked in Chicago, Illinois as a pianist, recording with Buster Bennett in 1945. He played a crucial role as the pianist-arranger in Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five from 1945 to 1947 at the peak of their success.
Leaving Jordan and Harlem, he returned to Chicago for a time, recording again with Bennett, working with Claude McLin and after switching from piano to organ, Davis moved back to the East Coast. In 1950, he began recording for Okeh Records, leading an influential trio of organ, guitar, and drums. Originally slated to record April in Paris with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1955 but could not make the session, Basie used his arrangement for the full band and had a major hit.
During the Sixties, in addition to working with his own groups, Wild Bill recorded several albums with his friend Johnny Hodges, leading to tours during 1969–1971 with Duke Ellington. In the 1970s he recorded for the Black & Blue Records label with a variety of swing all-stars, and he also played with Lionel Hampton, appearing at festivals through the early 1990s.
Pianist, organist and arranger William Strethen Davis, whose stage name was Wild Bill, passed away in Moorestown, New Jersey on August 17, 1995. He recorded some four-dozen albums as a leader and co-leader and another dozen as a sideman with Ray Brown, Sonny Stitt, Gene “Mighty Flea” Conners, Billy Butler, Floyd Smith and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis among others. Prior to the emergence of Jimmy Smith in 1956, he was the pacesetter among organists and best known for his pioneering jazz electronic organ recordings.