Charles Earland was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1941 and learned to play the saxophone in high school. By age 17 he was playing tenor with Jimmy McGriff and in 1960 started his first group. He didn’t start playing the organ until after a stint with Pat Martino, then joined Lou Donaldson’s band until 1969.
Earland led a successful group in 1970 that included Grover Washington, Jr. and he eventually started playing the soprano saxophone and synthesizer but it was his simmering organ grooves the earned him the nickname “The Mighty Burner”.
In 1978 Earland hit the disco/club scene with “Let the Music Play” written by Randy Muller from Brass Construction. The record hit the U.S. charts for 5 weeks and reached number 46 in the U.K. Singles chart. From 1988 he traveled extensively performing worldwide with one of his many career highlights being to play the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1994.
He continued to perform throughout the U.S. and abroad until his death from heart failure in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of fifty-eight on December 11, 1999. Charles Earland, The Mighty Burner, was a composer, organist, and saxophonist in the soul jazz idiom.
Eugene Ammons was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 14, 1925 to one of the greatest boogie-woogie pianist, Albert Ammons. At the age of 18 he left Chicago to go on the road with King Kolax for a year and in 1944 and ‘49 he worked as a featured soloist with Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman respectively. By 1950 he formed a duet with Sonny Stitt and recorded as a leader from 1947 to 1953 for the Mercury, Aristocrat, Chess, Decca, United and for the rest of his career he was affiliated with Prestige.
Known as “Jug” and “The Boss”, Gene’s playing showed influences from Lester Young and Ben Webster and both helped develop higher levels of expressiveness with from the tenor. Along with Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, he integrated those developments into the emerging vernacular of bebop. His adeptness with technical aspects did not abandon the commercial blues and R&B sounds and he became an important part of the soul jazz movement in the mid-50s combining the tenor with the Hammond B3.
Using a thinner drier tone Ammons exploited a vast textural range that would later influence Stanley Turrentine, Houston Person and Archie Shepp and much later Joshua Redman. Yet he had little interest in the modal jazz of Coltrane, Henderson or Shorter. His ballads are classic, a testament to his sense of intonation, melodic symmetry and lyrical expressiveness.
Along with Von Freeman, they founded the Chicago School of Tenor Saxophone. On August 6, 1974 Gene Ammons passed away after a battle with cancer.
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Edward Davis was born on March 2, 1922 in New York City. He was known to his friends, peers, jazz enthusiasts and aficionados by his nickname “Lockjaw” and became one of the pre-eminent jazz saxophonists of the 20th century.
In the early to mid-forties he played with Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk, Louis Armstrong and Cont Basie. By 1946 he was leading his own band “Eddie Davis and His Beboppers” that housed Fats Navarro, Al Haig, Huey Long, Gene Ramey and Denzil Best.
In the 50’s he teamed with Sonny Stitt, from 1960 to ’62 he co-led a quintet with Johnny Griffin, and he and Griffin performed as part of the Kenny Clarke-Franz Boland Big Band. Davis recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, collaborated with Shirley Scott and played off and on with Count Basie’s Orchestra in the early 70’s.
In his later years he played with Harry “Sweets” Edison and remained busy as a soloist until his death on November 3, 1986 at the age of 64. Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis performed within the jazz genres swing, bop, hard bop, Latin and soul jazz.
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Born Curtis Ousley on February 7, 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas he was known to the jazz world as King Curtis. He learned to play the saxophone and as a youth he played in the same high school band as Ornette Coleman. He led his own group while in school and by 19 was touring with Lionel Hampton before settling in New York. Once there he led a trio containing Horace Silver.
Becoming involved in session work in the mid-50’s Curtis’ prominence rose, playing behind the Coasters and others, then replaced Red Prysock in the Alan Freed radio show band. Regular live appearances at Small’s Paradise and the Apollo Theatre between the late 50’s and early 60’s led him to become musical and studio director for Aretha Franklin and others. During this period he recorded a number of singles for Atco, Prestige and Capitol and Atlantic record labels cranking out hits like Soul Serenade, Memphis Soul Stew and Ode To Billy Joe.
Curtis played tenor, alto and soprano saxophones and was the last of the great R&B tenor sax giants. He was known for his distinctive riffs and solos and loved playing jazz, funk, and rhythm and blues, but chose to make his living playing rock and roll.
All aspects of his career were in full swing at the time he became embroiled in an argument with two men outside his 86th Street apartment in New York City. One of the men stabbed him in the heart and after being rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, King Curtis died from his wound on August 13, 1971. He was 37 years old. On the day of his funeral, Atlantic Records closed its offices.
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One of the many jazz musicians to come out of St. Louis, Missouri was Jimmy Robert Forrest Jr., born January 24, 1920. Working with pianist Eddie Johnson, Fate Marable and the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra while in high school, he went on the road with Dan Albert in 1938 and then the Jay McShann Orchestra from 1940 to 1942.
Forrest moved to New York and played with Andy Kirk and Duke Ellington before returning to St. Louis. His recording of “Night Train” with it’s hook and classic tenor solo reached the #1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart in 1952 and stayed for seven weeks. Gathering greater attention Jimmy recorded a series of jazz influenced R&B singles for United Records including two other hits “Hey Mrs. Jones” and “Bolo Blues”.
“Night Train” became the theme song for a nightly rhythm and blues program of the same name hosted by William A. “Rascal” McCaskill on KREL-AM in Houston market from 1954-1957 that virtually introduced white teenagers to what was called race music.
During the fifties he led his own combos and played with Miles Davis but Jimmy Forrest’s most important associations were with Harry “Sweets” Edison from ’58-’63, the Count Basie Orchestra from ’72-’77 and Al Grey with whom he co-led a quintet until his death.
Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, bandleader and sideman, died on August 26, 1980 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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