Plas John Johnson Jr. was born on July 21, 1931 in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Along with his pianist brother Ray, he first recorded as the Johnson Brothers in New Orleans in the late 1940s. He then toured with R&B singer Charles Brown and after military service moved to Los Angeles and began session recordings as a full-time musician. There he backed artists such as B. B. King and Johnny Otis as well as scores of other R&B performers.
An early supporter was Maxwell Davis, who hired him to take over his own parts so that he could concentrate on producing sessions for the Modern record label. Recruited by Capitol Records in the mid-1950s, Johnson also played on innumerable records by Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and others.
For the next twenty years Plas remained a leading session player averaging two sessions a day and playing everything from movie soundtracks to rock and roll singles, by such artists as Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee, the Beach Boys and a number of instrumental groups.
By 1963, Johnson soloed for the television series The Odd Couple’s theme, recorded Ella Fitzgerald’s Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer Songbooks; and worked with Motown playing with the likes of Marvin Gaye and The Supremes.
In 1970, Johnson joined the studio band of the Merv Griffin Show while playing with a number of jazz and swing bands of the period. The soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist is probably most widely known for his solo on Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme”. He continues to record and perform, particularly at jazz festivals.
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Henry (Hank) Mobley was born on July 7, 1930 in Eastman, Georgia but was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Early in his career, he worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, and then took part in one of the landmark hard bop sessions, alongside Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins and Kenny Dorham, resulting in the release of Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers and the Jazz Messengers. When they split in ’56, Hank and Silver continued their collaboration in the 50s.
During the 1960s, he worked chiefly as a leader, recording over 20 albums for Blue Note Records between 1955 and 1970 and playing many of the most important hard bop players such as Grant Green, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Clark, Wynton Kelly and Philly Joe Jones, along with a particularly productive partnership with Lee Morgan. He spent a brief time with Miles Davis in 1961 replacing John Coltrane.
Hank was a major voice on tenor saxophone, known for his melodic playing, is widely recognized as one of the great composers of originals in the hard-bop era, with interesting chord changes and room for soloists to stretch out.
He was forced to retire in the mid-1970s due to lung problems and although he worked two engagements at the Angry Squire in New York City in ‘85 and ‘86 in a quartet with Duke Jordan. He recorded as a leader for Blue Note, Prestige and Savoy record labels leaving history thirty-two albums and another fifty-six sitting in the sideman seat.
A few months later tenor saxophonist and composer Hank Mobley, who soared in the hard bop and soul jazz genres with his laid-back, subtle and melodic delivery, passed away from pneumonia on May 30, 1986.
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Joey DeFrancesco was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania on April 10, 1971 into a family of musicians – a multi-instrumentalist grandfather and Hammond B3 player father. Joey DeFrancesco started playing the piano at the age of four, switching to the B3 shortly after. By age six, he was sitting in on his father’s gigs; by ten playing out on his own and sitting in with organ legends like Jack McDuff and Richard “Groove” Holmes. He went to high school with bassist Christian McBride, where the two were often scolded for altering their big band charts.
At seventeen years old Miles Davis asked Joey to join his band, touring Europe and recording Amandla with Davis. He became well known in the 1990s, however, through his work with John McLaughlin’s trio Free Spirits. He has also played with jazz guitarists Pat Martino, Paul Bollenback, Jimmy Bruno, Dave Stryker, Danny Gatton as well as trumpet player Big Jim Henry and many others.
DeFrancesco’s career as a leader began with his first recordings on Columbia, and later with Muse, Big Mo, and HighNote. He listened to and learned from Jimmy Smith, ultimately paying homage with his 1999 release “The Champ”. In 2000 he recorded the album “Incredible!” with Jimmy and finished “Legacy” shortly before Smith’s passing in 2005. He has also paid tribute to Don Patterson with “Tribute to Don Patterson: The Philadelphia Connection” released in 2004.
Jazz organist, trumpeter and vocalist Joey DeFrancesco has been selected by the Down Beat Critics and Readers Poll as the top jazz organist every year since 2003. He currently plays an average of 200 nights a year on the road with various musicians.
Stanley William Turrentine was born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1934 into a musical family. His father, Thomas Turrentine, Sr., was a saxophonist with Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans, his mother played stride piano, and his older brother Tommy Turrentine became a professional trumpet player.
Turrentine began his prolific career with blues and rhythm and blues bands, and was at first greatly influenced by Illinois Jacquet. In the 1950s, he went on to play with the groups of Lowell Fulson, Earl Bostic and at the turn of the decade with Max Roach.
1960 saw Stanley marrying organist Shirley Scott and the two frequently played and recorded together. During this decade he also started working with organist Jimmy Smith, making several soul jazz recordings both with Smith and as a leader.
By the 1970s, after his professional and personal divorce from Scott, Turrentine left hard bop and soul jazz for jazz-fusion. He signed with Creed Taylor’s CTI label and released his debut album “Sugar” that became one of his biggest successes and a seminal recording for the label. He worked with Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Bob James, Richard Tee, Idris Muhammad, Ron Carter and Eric Gale, to name a few.
In the 80s and 90s Stanley returned to soul jazz though throughout his career along with his CTI releases, he recorded for Blue Note, Fantasy, Prestige, and Impulse record labels. Tenor saxophonist, bandleader and composer Stanley Turrentine passed away from a stroke in New York City on September 12, 2000.
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Harold Vick was born on April 3, 1936 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. His uncle, reed player Prince Robinson gave him a clarinet when he was thirteen and two years later he switched to the tenor saxophone. He rose to prominence playing with organ combos in the mid-60s performing and recording with Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Big John Patton among others.
During this period in his career Harold also performed and recorded as a leader releasing eight albums between 1963 and 1977. He would work with the likes of Blue Mitchell, Ben Dixon, John Patton, Bobby Hutcherson, Walter Bishop Jr., Grady Tate and Teddy Charles, just to name a few. Also working as a sideman he performed and recorded with Grant Green, Shirley Scott, Nat Adderley, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Mercer Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Taylor, Donald Byrd, Horace Silver, Ray Charles and Gene Ammons.
He played in films such as “Stardust Memories” and “Cotton Club”, in which he played a musician. He also was in the Spike Lee film “School Days” and was featured on the soundtrack for “She’s Gotta Have It”.
Harold Vick, tenor saxophonist and flautist in the hard bop and soul jazz genres passed away on November 13, 1987.