Eddie Harris was born on October 20, 1934 in Chicago, Illinois to a Cuban father and New Orleans mother. He studied music at DuSable High School, then Roosevelt University becoming proficient on piano, vibraphone and tenor saxophone and playing professionally with Gene Ammons.
After graduating and a stint in the 7th Army Band playing alongside Leo Wright, Don Ellis and Cedar Walton, he worked in New York City prior to his Chicago return. He signed with Vee Jay Records and released his debut “Exodus To Jazz” and his jazz arrangement of the theme to Exodus was so heavily played on radio, it became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold.
Throughout his career he recorded for Columbia and Atlantic Records, ventured into electric piano and Varitone saxophone mixing jazz with funk on albums like “The Electrifying Eddie Harris” and crossing into rhythm and blues markets. By 1969 he would perform with Les McCann at Montreux with an unrehearsed band that produced the seminal work Swiss Movement that became one of the best selling jazz albums ever.
In the early to mid ‘70s Harris experimented with altering instruments like his reed trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, saxobone with a trombone mouthpiece and guitorgan, a guitar/organ combination. He also forayed into singing blues, played with jazz-rock, and comic R&B consisting of mostly stand-up comedy all of which ultimately declined his popularity.
He would work with Horace Silver in the ‘80s, record regularly well into the 1990s, tour and perform in Europe and return to hard bop. His move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s allowed him the opportunity to provide much of the music for The Bill Cosby Show.
Eddie Harris, tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist and composer of “Freedom Jazz Dance” popularized by Miles Davis in the Sixties and also the tune “Listen Here”, passed away from bone cancer and kidney disease at the age of 62 on November 5, 1996.
Amos Leon Thomas Jr was born on October 4, 1937 in East St. Louis, Illinois. He studied music at Tennessee State University and went on to become the vocalist for Count Basie and others in the Sixties. In 1969, Leon released his first solo album for the prestigious Flying Dutchman label, however, an earlier album he recorded still remains unreleased.
Thomas is best known for his work with Pharoah Sanders, particularly the 1969 song “The Creator Has a Master Plan” from the Karma album. His most distinctive attribute was that he often broke out into yodeling in the middle of a vocal, developed after he fell and broke his teeth before a show. This style influenced singers James Moody and Tim Buckley.
Thomas toured and recorded as a member of the band Santana in 1973 but was largely forgotten until a resurgence of interest in soul jazz and several of his tracks have been sampled in hip-hop and down-tempo records. Leon Thomas, jazz singer, often in the avant-garde genre, died of heart failure on May 8, 1999.
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Donny Edward Hathaway was born on October 1, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois and was raised by his grandmother in the projects of St. Louis, Missouri. He began singing at age three in a church choir with his grandmother, a professional gospel singer. Graduating from high school he studied music at Howard University. Forming a jazz trio to work around D.C. but left Howard in 1967 without a degree, after receiving job offers in the music business.
Hathaway worked as songwriter, session musician and producer in Chicago at Twinight Records, arranged for The Unifics, worked with the Staple Singers, Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin, The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield. He became house producer for Curtom Records, recorded as a member of the Mayfield Singers and dropped his first single “The Ghetto” in 1970. He recorded several albums following this debut.
Donny went on to contribute to soundtracks, recorded the theme to the TV series Maude, composed and conducted the soundtrack for the 1972 film Come Back Charleston Blue and wrote several hits such as his collaboration with Roberta Flack – Where Is The Love – that garnered them both a Grammy and This Christmas that has become a seminal holiday song.
However, genius has its detractors and during the best part of his career he began to suffer from severe bouts of depression and was found suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. On January 13, 1979 the body of Donny Hathaway was discovered on the sidewalk outside the luxury Central Park South hotel Essex House in New York City. His death was ruled a suicide.
Wayne Henderson was born on September 24, 1939 in Houston, Texas. While studying piano at Texas Southern University the trombonist met Joe Sample and along with several became a part of the Swingsters that became the Modern Jazz Sextet and then the Jazz Crusaders in emulation of one of the leading progressive jazz bands of the day, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
The soul-jazz and hard bop trombonist and record producer is a very fluent technician who exhibits the influence of lesser apt, yet significant trombonists such as Kid Ory and Jack Teagarden. One can hear his Texas roots in his performances.
He left The Crusaders in 1975 to pursue a career in producing, but revived The Jazz Crusaders in 1995, however, some of his best work is on the mid-1970s Crusaders double album Southern Comfort. Since 2007, he has held a position with the California College of Music in Pasadena, California. Trombonist Wayne Henderson passed away from heart failure on April 5, 2014 at the age of 74 in Culver City, California.
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Les McCann was born on September 23, 1935 in Lexington, Kentucky. He first gained notoriety in the early Sixties with his trio while recording for Pacific Jazz Records and working with Ben Webster, Richard “Groove Holmes, Blue Mitchell, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Pass, the Jazz Crusaders, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.
In 1969, Atlantic Records released Swiss Movement recorded with saxophonist Eddie Harris at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The album featured trumpeter Benny Bailey and contained the tune “Compared To What” which took the album and the single to the top of the Billboard charts, bringing worldwide recognition to the musician even though it contained political criticism of the Vietnam War.
After the success of Swiss Movement the pianist began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more becoming an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms; much of his early 1970s music prefigures the great Stevie Wonder albums of the decade. He was among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music.
Les discovered Roberta Flack, obtained an audition that resulted in a recording contract with Atlantic Records and the 1969 release of her album First Take. In 1971, he and Harris were part of a group of soul, R&B, and rock performers that included Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers, Santana and Ike & Tina Turner who flew to Accra, Ghana for a historic 14-hour concert before more than 100,000 Ghanaians.
He continued a long and moderately successful career for the next two decades until a stroke in the mid 1990s sidelined McCann for a while but in 2002 he released a new album Pump it Up. Les McCann, soul jazz piano player and vocalist found success both in the jazz arena and as a crossover artist into R&B and soul.