Helen O’Connell was born on May 23, 1920 in Lima, Ohio but grew up in Toledo, Ohio. By the time she was 15, she and her older sister, Alice, were singing duets in clubs and hotels and on hometown radio stations. She launched her career as a big-band singer with Larry Funk and his Band of a Thousand Melodies. She was singing with Funk’s band in Greenwich Village when Jimmy Dorsey’s manager discovered her. She joined the Dorsey band in 1939 and achieved her best selling records in the early 1940s with Green Eyes, Amapola, Tangerine and Yours.
By 1953, O’Connell and Bob Eberly were headlining TV’s Top Tunes with Ray Anthony and his orchestra. She became a featured singer on The Russ Morgan Show and had her own 15-minute program, The Helen O’Connell Show, twice a week on NBC.
She retired from show business upon her first marriage in 1943 but returned when her marriage ended in 1951, achieving some chart success and making regular appearances on television. At one point she was interviewing celebrities on her own NBC program Here’s Hollywood, hosted the pageants and sang duets with Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer and Dean Martin.
She won the Down Beat Readers Poll as best female singer in 1940 and 1941, won the 1940 Metronome magazine poll for best female vocalist and was named as the darling of GIs during World War II.Her 1942 recording of Brazil with the Jimmy Orchestra was a 2009 addition to the Grammy Hall of Fame. On September 9, 1993 vocalist Helen O’Connell succumbed to her battle with Hepatitis C in San Diego, California.
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Richard Alan Berk was born on May 22, 1939 in San Francisco, California. He studied at the Berklee College of and played in the Boston area early in the 1960s.
In 1962 he moved to New York City and played with Ted Curson and Bill Barron in a quintet until 1964. Following this Dick played with Charles Mingus, Mose Allison, Freddie Hubbard, and Walter Bishop Jr. among others.
A move to Los Angeles late in the decade saw Berk playing with Milt Jackson, George Duke, Cal Tjader, John Hicks, Ray Drummond, Ted Curson, Don Friedman, . Jean-Luc Ponty and Blue Mitchell, to name a few. He went on to establish the Jazz Adoption Agency in the early 1980s, played well into the 2000s; among this group’s alumni are Andy Martin, Mike Fahn, Nick Brignola, John Noagormey, Keith Saunders, Tad Weed and John Patitucci.
He recorded eight albums as a leader and another nine as a sideman. Drummer and bandleader Dick Berk passed away on February 8, 2014 at the age of 74.
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Larance Marable was born on May 21, 1929 in Los Angeles, California and was related to Mississippi riverboat bandleader Fate Marable. He first had a strong career as a bop musician in the 1950s working with the likes of Dexter Gordon and Charlie Parker among others.
In the 1960s Marable started to venture into the cool jazz idiom with musicians like Zoot Sims, George Shearing, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker, working with the latter as early as 1956 on the album Chet Baker Sings.
In the Seventies he toured with Supersax and Bobby Hutcherson but recorded Tenorman as a leader with James Clay. He also played with Kenny Drew, Teddy Edwards, Stan Getz, Hampton Hawes, and Milt Jackson. Earlier in his career, he was known as Lawrence but the hard bop drummer Larance Marable, best known for his work as a regular member of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, passed away on July 4, 2012 in his hometown of Los Angeles.
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Bob Florence was born on May 20, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He began taking piano lessons at five and initially intended to be a concert pianist. His direction changed when he was exposed to jazz while attending Los Angeles City College.
At the beginning of his career Bob worked as a pianist and arranger with Dave Pell. He went on to found his first band in the late 1950s, working with, amongst others, Herb Geller, Bud Shank, Frank Capp and Enevoldsen.
Florence later participated in big band projects in the Los Angeles area, working mainly with session musicians and as an accompanist to various singers. Throughout his career he worked as an arranger for Harry James, Louis Bellson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Count Basie and Doc Severinsen.
In 2000, Florence won a Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Performance. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on May 15, 2008 at the age of 75.
Sonny Fortune was born on May 19, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After moving to New York City in 1967 he recorded and appeared live with drummer Elvin Jones’s group. In 1968 he was a member of Mongo Santamaria’s band. He subsequently performed with singer Leon Thomas and then with McCoy Tyner from 1971–1973.
In 1974 Sonny replaced Dave Liebman in Miles Davis’s ensemble and remained until spring 1975. He went on to join Nat Adderley after his brief tenure with Davis, and then formed his own group, recording two albums for A&M’s Horizon label. During the 1990s, he recorded several acclaimed albums for Blue Note.
Alto saxophonist and flautist Sonny Fortune also plays the soprano, tenor and baritone saxophone and clarinet. He has performed with Roy Brooks, Buddy Rich, George Benson, Rabih Abou Khalil, Roy Ayers, Oliver Nelson, Gary Bartz, Rashied Ali and Pharoah Sanders, and was a part of the live album The Atlantic Family Live at Montreux. He continues to perform, record and tour.