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.
T. S. Monk was born Thelonious Sphere Monk, III on December 27, 1949 in New York City. He began his music career as a child when Max Roach gave him his first drum set before he turned 10. After graduating from school he joined his father’s trio touring with him until 1975. Leaving jazz for R&B, he toured with Natural Essence and then formed his own band with his sister.
By the 80s he was recording his debut album House of Music that charted several hits on Billboard, followed by the release of two more albums during the decade.
Shortly after his father died in 1982, in honor his father’s legacy and support the efforts of education, T. S. turned his attention toward forming the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. As chairman, Monk has been at the forefront of helping to create a number of programs that range from sponsoring music education for students in the form of full scholarships to funding and supporting after-school athletic programs across the nation.
In the 1990s, Monk began his solo career taking a jazz-oriented direction and presented “A Celebration Of America’s Music” on ABC TV in 1996 and 1998 hosted by Bill Cosby and bringing together such artists as Natalie Cole, Jon Secada, Tony Bennett, k. d. lang, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Nnenna Freelon
T. S. has received the New York Jazz Awards First Annual “Recording of the Year” award and ‘Downbeat’s’ prestigious 63rd annual Album of the year Reader’s Choice Award for “Monk On Monk”. He continues in the tradition of creating great music as he performs, records and tours.
Jackie Davis was born on December 13, 1920 in Jacksonville, Florida. He first learned to play by spending hours poking at his grandmother’s piano. By the age of eight, he was playing with a local dance band. By the age of eleven, he’d earned enough from playing to buy his own piano, and music enabled him to pay his way through Florida A&M College, graduating in 1943.
After serving time in the Army, he worked as a pianist, usually as an accompanist for singers such as Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Daniels. Although he was attracted to the organ, he was intimidated at the prospect of playing jazz on it, particularly when his idol at the time was the lightning-fast Art Tatum. However, the Hammond Organ Company began selling electric organs in the late 40s, and in 1951 he bought his first organ. He appeared at Club Harlem in Philadelphia, and a two-week gig turned into nearly five months. Jackie became the first musician to popularize jazz on the Hammond organ, years before Jimmy Smith’s name became synonymous with organ jazz.
Davis signed with RCA to record a couple of 45s but no album so he went to Trend Records in Los Angeles and released a 10” album. He joined Louis Jordan’s outfit and learned stage presentation and in 1956 signed with Capitol Records, became their leading performer on the organ at a time when relatively few mainstream labels were willing to put a black musician on the cover of an album and released a total of nine albums. He went on to sign with Warner but that proved to be the end of his recording career.
Over the next thirty years of his career he performed in clubs from Vegas to Atlantic City, jazz festivals and restaurants, produced Ella Fitzgerald records, and was hired by Norman Granz for her Lady Time session, and was a regular fixture at a Hilton Head, South Carolina club. He worked with the likes of Paul Quinichette, Junior Mance, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Clark Terry, Ray Brown, Keter Betts, Max Roach and many others.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew wiped out his home in Florida causing a financial and physical strain on his health and he suffered a series of strokes. He attempted to perform but his health didn’t hold up and on November 15, 1999 pianist and organist Jackie Davis passed away in his hometown of Jacksonville.
Pucho was born Henry Lee Brown on November 1, 1938 in New York City. Living in Harlem he cultivated a love for jazz, rhythm and blues, and mambo and largely self-taught imitating his favorite musician, Tito Puente. He started playing timbales professionally in New York City at the age of sixteen in bands led by Joe Panama in Harlem and the Bronx.
He formed his own band, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers in 1959 as a Latin jazz, soul jazz and R&B group and appeared at Count Basie’s club and a Carnegie Hall festival. Over the course of the group’s tenure of thirteen years, of the many musicians that worked in his group, Chick Corea is listed among them.
From 1966 until ’74 he recorded a series of albums for Prestige Records, and due to their musical range recorded with George Benson, Lonnie Smith and Gene Ammons. Disbanding the group in the mid Seventies he concentrated on more traditional Latin music. During the late ‘70s and ‘80s he worked the Catskill Mountain resorts with a small trio until a resurgence of interest through the acid-jazz movement in the Nineties gave way for him to re-form the group and tour Britain and Japan.
Pucho, the timbales player who just may have been to eclectic for a wider jazz audience acceptance, has since released new material, had his early material reissued and continues to perform.
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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.