Big John Patton was born on July 12, 1935 in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, a church pianist, taught him how to play the fundamentals. When he was about 13 years old, in 1948, he began to teach himself. He was inspired by the music he heard in Kansas City, but he wanted to play beyond his hometown jazz scene.
In 1954 after high school, he headed east and found professional work in Washington D.C., he found out that R&B star Lloyd Price was playing at the Howard Theater, that he had just fired his pianist and needed a new player. John played a few bars from the introduction to “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” and was given the job.
It was a five-year relationship that gave him an education he couldn’t have gotten elsewhere. He was Lloyd’s “straw boss” and the leader, he recruited top players including drummer Ben Dixon, who encourage him to check out the Hammond B-3 organ when they played in clubs that had one. A man called Butts first showed Patton how to set up the organ and find the right registrations. When he moved to New York in late 1959, it was his friend Herman Green who played with Lionel Hampton who helped him learn how to play it.
That same year Big John formed his own Hammond organ trio. Blue Note artist Ike Quebec became his mentor, introducing him into Blue Note and to one of the most important relationships in his career, with guitarist Grant Green. He went on to work as a sideman for Lou Donaldson for three and a half years. During the 1960s he became one of the most recognizable figures on the jazz scene and was a driving force of the sound of electric organ.
Over the years he recorded for Blue Note with Harold Alexander, George Coleman, George Braith, Don Wilkerson, Clifford Jordan, Harold Vick, Johnny Griffin, Grachan Moncur III, Ron Carter, Black Star, James “Blood” Ulmer, John Gilmore, John Zorn, Jimmy Ponder, Johnny Lytle, Red Holloway, Art Blakey and Marshall Allen to name a few.
Patton’s style has been resistant to imitation because of its space and economy, often being called minimalist. But he claimed that he emulated the sounds of his favorite trumpet and reed players. By the time the Acid Jazz movement emerged in the 1980s there was a resurgence in interest in his music in the UK and he made several trips to England where he was embraced by the Acid Jazz community.
Patton continued recording until the late Nineties and he developed a loyal following in both Japan and Europe, both of which he toured in addition to his dates in the United States. He recorded as a part of the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album Red Hot + Indigo in tribute to Duke Ellington. He recorded 16 albums as a leader and another twenty-six as a sideman.
Pianist and organist Big John Patton, a major figure in the development of the funk and blues rooted jazz known as soul jazz and considered the inspiration for the Acid Jazz movement, passed away from complications arising from diabetes in Montclair, New Jersey on March 19, 2002.
Javon Anthony Jackson was born June 16, 1965 in Carthage, Mississippi and raised in Denver, Colorado by parents who were musicians. His mother played the piano, and his father played trumpet, but he didn’t begin playing alto saxophone until age 10. By 16 he changed to the tenor saxophone and was taught by pianist Billy Wallace.
He briefly enrolled at the University of Denver prior to spending part of 1985-86 at Berklee College of Music, which he abandoned to become a Messenger with Art Blakey. Jackson would later finish his undergraduate degree and obtained a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Purchase where he later taught.
The hard bop, soul and mainstream tenor saxophonist has played with the Harper Brothers, Benny Green, Freddie Hubbard and Elvin Jones among others. He has fourteen albums as a leader, mainly on the Criss Cross and Blue Note labels. In between performing, touring or recording, he heads the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford and has been doing so since 2013.
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Bobbi Humphrey was born Barbara Ann Humphrey on April 25, 1950 in Marlin, Texas but was raised in Dallas. She studied classical and jazz styles before graduating from Lincoln High School in 1968 and then continued her studies at Texas Southern University and Southern Methodist University. When Dizzy Gillespie saw her play at a talent contest at Southern Methodist, he inspired her to pursue a musical career in new York City.
Humphrey followed his advice, getting her first big break performing at the Apollo Theatre on Amateur Night. She eventually began playing regularly throughout the city. By 1972, she was recording for the Blue Note Jazz label, one of the first female instrumentalists to do so. Since her debut for the label she has performed with Duke Ellington, Lee Morgan, George Benson and Stevie Wonder amongst a host of other musicians.
In 1976, she was named Best Female Instrumentalist by Billboard. In 1994 Humphrey launched her label, Paradise Sounds Records, releasing Passion Flute, which continues to be one of her best-selling recordings. She has played the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Montreux Jazz Festival and the Russian River Jazz Festival in Northern California, as well as other venues around the world.
Flautist and vocalist Bobbi Humphrey has a dozen albums in her catalogue, having taken a break from recording from 1979-1989 and has not recorded an album since her best selling Passion Flute in 1994. She continues to perform fusion, jazz funk and soul jazz music styles, compose, produce and tour.
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Jimmy McGriff was born James Harrell McGriff on April 3, 1936 in Germantown, Pennsylvania and started playing piano at the age of five. By his teens he learned to play vibes, alto saxophone, drums and upright bass. His first group was as bassist in a piano trio. When he joined the United States Army he served as an MP during the Korean War, later became a police officer in Philadelphia for two years.
Music kept drawing McGriff’s attention away from the police force. His childhood friend, Jimmy Smith began earning a substantial reputation and he became entranced by the organ sound while Richard Groove Holmes played at his sister’s wedding. Holmes went on to become his teacher and friend.
Buying his first Hammond B-3 organ in 1956, spent six months learning the instrument, and then studied at New York’s Juilliard School. Influenced by Count Basie, Howard “The Demon” Whaley, Austin Mitchell and Milt Buckner with whom he studied privately and as well with Jimmy Smith and Sonny Gatewood.
Forming a combo Jimmy played around Philadelphia often featuring tenor saxophonist Charles Earland, who soon switched to the instrument. During this time, McGriff also accompanied such artists as Don Gardner, Arthur Prysock, Candido and Carmen McRae, who came through town for local club dates.
In 1961, McGriff’s trio recorded an instrumental version of Ray Charles’ hit “I Got A Woman” for Jell Records, and after the record received substantial local airplay, Sue Records picked it up and recorded a full album of McGriff’s trio, released in 1962. The album established his credentials as a fiery blues-based organist, well versed in gospel, soul and “fatback groove”.
McGriff would recorded a series of popular albums by the mid Sixties ending with what still stands as one of his finest examples of blues-based jazz, Blues for Mister Jimmy. Over the next decade he went on to continue recording for Solid State, opened his own supper club “The Golden Slipper” in Newark, New Jersey and performed regularly performed with the Buddy Rich Band.
Though he retired from the music industry in 1972 to start a horse farm in Connecticut his records were being issued at three to four a year by Sonny Lester’s Groove Merchant label. By 1973, Jimmy was touring relentlessly and actively recording again and though disco was gaining a hold it did little to stop the organist. He produced some of his best music during this period: Stump Juice, Red Beans and Outside Looking In.
The 1980s saw McGriff working with Rusty Bryant, Al Grey, Red Holloway, David “Fathead” Newman, Frank Wess and Eric Alexander, and started a longtime partnership with Hank Crawford. Into the new millennium he experimented with the Hammond XB-3 and organ synthesizer with Midi enhancements. Along with his soul jazz sound, forming the Dream Team group he recorded and released his last album, McGriff Avenue in 2001.
On May 24, 2008 at the age of 72, hard bop and soul jazz organist and bandleader Jimmy McGriff, who left a catalogue of 57 albums to posterity, passed away in Voorhees Township, New Jersey from complications due to multiple sclerosis.
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Ralph MacDonald was born on March 15, 1944 in Harlem, New York under the close mentorship of his Trinbagonian father, Patrick MacDonald, a calypsonian and bandleader known on stage as “Macbeth the Great”. He began showing his musical talent, particularly the steelpan and at 17 started playing pan for the Harry Belafonte show.
Remaining with the Belafonte band for a decade, he struck out on his own in 1967, together with Bill Eaton and William Salter, he formed Anisitia Music, based in Stamford, Connecticut.
MacDonald’s composition Where Is The Love written with Salter was recorded in 1971 by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and received a gold record status. One of his best-known compositions, Just The Two Of Us” was recorded by Bill Withers with saxophone by Grover Washington, Jr reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been sampled by many.
Ralph worked with Quincy Jones, Ron Carter, Milt Jackson, Paul Desmond, Max Roach, Don Sebesky, Shirley Scott, Arif Mardin, Hubert Laws, Bob James, David Sanborn, George Benson, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Patti Austin, Bernard Purdie and Grover Washington as well as Burt Bacharach, Carle King, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Average White Band, Art Garfunkel, Ashford & Simpson and numerous others.
He travelled regularly back to Trinidad and Tobago, where he renewed his work in the steelpan, “beating iron” in “The Engine Room”, a steel band’s rhythm section is often called. At 12:50 AM on Sunday, December 18, 2011, songwriter, arranger, record producer, percussionist Ralph MacDonald passed away of lung cancer.