Ray Crawford was born on February 7, 1924 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the war years from 1941-1943 he played tenor saxophone and clarinet with Fletcher Henderson but tuberculosis forced him to give them up.
Switching to guitar he became an important part of Ahmad Jamal’s early groups from 1949 to 1955. Ray’s ability to make his guitar sound like bongos by hitting it was soon adopted by Herb Ellis. He went on to record with Gil Evans from 1959 to 1960, then played off and on with Jimmy Smith from 1958 into the Eighties.
In the Sixties he settled in Los Angeles, California. He led fairly obscure records for Candid in 1961 that were not released until the 1980s, and also recorded for Dobre and United National record labels in the Seventies. Guitarist Ray Crawford, who played mainly in the hard bop and soul jazz genres, passed away on December 30, 1997 in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
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Walter Booker was born December 17, 1933 in Prairie View, Texas and moved with his family to Washington, D.C. in the mid-1940s. He played clarinet and alto saxophone in college with a concert band. In 1959 he began on bass while in the US Army, serving side-by-side in the same unit with Elvis Presley. He worked with Andrew White in Washington after his discharge, playing in the JFK Quintet during the early 1960s.
Moving to New York City in 1964, Booker was hired by Donald Byrd. After his stint with Byrd, he recorded and toured with Ray Bryant, Betty Carter, Chick Corea, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Charles McPherson, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Milt Jackson, Harold Vick, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. All this was done before joining the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1969, starting an association which lasted until Adderley’s death in 1975. He would go on to record and perform with Joe Zawinul, Joe Williams, Gene Ammons, Joe Chambers, Roy Hargrove, Archie Shepp, Kenny Barron and numerous others.
Walter’s next gig was a tour the United States with the Shirley Horn Trio, along with Billy Hart on drums. During the same time, Booker designed, built, and ran the Boogie Woogie Studio in NYC, a mecca for musicians from all over the world. Through the Eighties he played and recorded with Nat Adderley, Nick Brignola, Arnett Cobb, Richie Cole, John Hicks, Billy Higgins, Clifford Jordan, Pharoah Sanders, Sarah Vaughan, Leroy Williams, Marcus Belgrave, Roni Ben-Hur, Larry Willis, John HIcks and Phil Woods.
Booker married pianist Bertha Hope with whom he played in a trio that included drummer Jimmy Cobb. In addition to his own quintet, he also formed Elmollenium, based on the same core group as the Quintet plus Bertha and dedicated to playing the music of Elmo Hope.
Bassist Walter Booker, a highly underrated stylist whose playing was marked by voice-like inflections, glissandos and tremolo techniques, passed away in his Manhattan home on November 24, 2006, at the age of 72.
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Grover Washington Jr. was born on December 12, 1943 in Buffalo, New York. His mother was a church chorister and his father was a saxophonist and collected old Jazz gramophone records, which put music everywhere in the home. Growing up he listened to Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others like them. At the age of eight his father gave him a saxophone and he practiced and would sneak into clubs to see famous Buffalo blues musicians.
Leaving Buffalo he played with a Midwest group called the Four Clefs and then the Mark III Trio from Mansfield, Ohio. Then drafted into the U.S. Army he met drummer Billy Cobham, who as a mainstay in New York City, he introduced Washington to musicians around the city. After leaving the Army, he freelanced around New York City, but eventually landed in Philadelphia in 1967. The first two years of the Seventies decade provided his first recording sessions on Leon Spencer’s debut and sophomore albums on Prestige Records, together with Idris Muhammad and Melvin Sparks.
His big break came when alto saxophonist Hank Crawford couldn’t make a recording date with Creed Taylor’s Kudu Records and Grover took his place. This led to his first solo album, Inner City Blues in which he displayed his talent on the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.
His rise to fame with his first three albums established him as a force in jazz and soul music, but it was his fourth album in 1974, Mister Magic, that became his major commercial success. The album crossed over all the charts and with guitarist Eric Gale in tow again for the 1975 follow-up album Feels So Good proved both could reach #10. A string of acclaimed records brought Washington through the 1970s, culminating in the signature piece Winelight in 1980, in which he collaborated on Just The Two Of Us with Bill Withers and dedicated Let It Flow to Dr. J of the Philadelphia 76ers. The album went platinum, won two Grammy awards for Just the Two Of Us and Winelight and was nominated for both Record and Song Of The Year.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Washington gave rise to Kenny G, Walter Beasley, Steve Cole, Pamela Williams, Najee, Boney James and George Howard. Over the course of his career he performed and recorded with Kathleen Battle, Kenny Burrell, Charles Earland, Dexter Gordon, Urbie Green, Eddie Henderson, Masaru Imada, Boogaloo Joe Jones, Gerry Mulligan, Don Sebesky, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Mal Waldron and Randy Weston.
On December 17, 1999 while waiting in the green room after performing four songs for The Saturday Early Show, at CBS Studios in New York City, saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. collapsed. He was pronounced dead at about 7:30 pm at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and his doctors determined he had suffered a massive heart attack. He was 56. In tribute, a large mural of him, part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, is just south of the intersection of Broad and Diamond streets.
Ron Blake was born on September 7, 1965 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was eight when he began studying the guitar, and at the age of ten, he started learning to play the saxophone after being exposed to the record collection of his father, who was seriously into hard bop, soul-jazz and organ combos.His first saxophone was an alto, but eventually, he learned the tenor, soprano, and baritone saxes, as well as the flute.
After leaving home for the Midwest, Ron graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan before moving to the Chicago area and attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Though studying classical saxophone with Dr. Frederick Hemke, jazz ultimately won out. By the late Eighties he was playing a lot of bop gigs in Chi-Town, crossing paths with tenor man Von Freeman and pianist Jodie Christian.
Blake moved to Florida in 1991 to accept a teaching position at the University of South Florida. Then it was off to New York City the following year where he spent five years in trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s quintet and seven years in flugelhornist Art Farmer’s group. By the early 2000s, he was leading his own quartet, which included pianist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Greg Hutchinson.
Releasing his first album as a leader, Up Front & Personal on the Tahmun label in 2000, was followed in 2003 with a Christian McBride-produced Lest We Forget on the Mack Avenue release that found Ron paying tribute to three soul-jazz greats who had died: saxophonists Grover Washington, Jr. and Stanley Turrentine, and organist Charles Earland.
He is a member of the Saturday Night Live Band, Dion Parson & 21st Century Band and the Grammy-winning Christian McBride Big Band. As an educator he holds a position as professor of Jazz studies at The Juilliard School. His discography has four albums as a leader/co-leader and has more than fifty credits as a sideman for Roy Hargrove, Art Farmer, Reuben Rogers, Joey DeFrancesco, Razor & Tie, Ropeadope, Gerald Wilson, Latin pop group, Yerba Buena, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Cain, Regina Carter, among others.
Saxophonist Ron Blake is also a band leader, composer and music educator who continues to compose, record, and perform.
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George Braith was born George Braithwaite on June 26, 1939 in New York City. Picking up the baritone saxophone in the seventh grade, by his teen years he had his union card. playing with the thirteen-piece Dickens LaRoca band. He would later become a leader in his own right, sharing the bill with musicians like Bud Powell, Roy Ayers and Freddie Hubbard.
His epiphany about the double-horn came in the early 1960s when one night in Harlem, while playing at the Purple Manor, Roland Kirk hit the stage blowing multiple instruments at once and blew George off the stage. They quickly became friends, though the relationship became a little more competitive when George was signed by Blue Note Records.
Known for playing multiple horns at once, a technique pioneered by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, in 1976 Braith invented the Braithophone, two different horns, straight alto and soprano mended together by extensions, valves and connections. He took his invention to Central Park and later to Broadway and 50th Street, where he perfected the sound and attracted crowds. It has become a mainstay for the soul-jazz saxophonist who continues to feature the instrument in performances at various jazz clubs in town, as well as on recordings he produces on his own label, Excellence Records.
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