William “Sonny” Criss was born on October 23, 1927 in Memphis, Tennessee and at the age of 15 moved to Los Angeles. Developing a concise, bluesy tone he easily fit into the bands he drifted between such as Howard McGhee’s playing alongside Charlie Parker, Johnny Otis and Billy Eckstine.
As his ability continued to increase his first major break came in 1947 with Norman Granz, playing on a number of jam sessions. In 1956 he was signed to Imperial Records, recorded a number of underground classics like “Jazz U.S.A.”, “Go Man” and “Sonny Criss Play Cole Porter” that featured Sonny Clark on piano.
He would go on to record for Muse, Impulse and Prestige record labels, worked with Wynton Kelly, rooted himself in the hard bop tradition recording charts by Horace Tapscott and also several well-acclaimed albums like Sonny’s Dream.
Alto saxophonist Sonny Criss settled in Los Angeles and continued to perform and record but by 1977 had contracted stomach caner. Unable to bear the pain, he committed suicide by gunshot on November 19, 1977. after contracting stomach cancer earlier that year and unable to bear the painful condition he was experiencing.
Ray Anderson was born on October 16, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois. An independent jazz trombonist and trumpeter he began training with the Chicago Symphony trombonists then spent time studying in California. By 1973 he was in New York freelancing and four years later joined Anthony Braxton’s group, then with Barry Altschul.
By the late ‘70s his influence was growing, he was leading his own groups, working with George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band and over the next twenty years began taking an occasional good-humored vocal singing two notes at the same time.
Anderson also plays the sousaphone, is a master at multiphonics and a supportive sideman has recorded and performed with David Murray, Charlie Haden, Dr. John, Bennie Wallace, Henry Threadgill, John Scofield and Sam Rivers among others. He also received a grant from the National Endowment For The Arts for a series of solo trombone concerts.
While pushing his sound into the future, Anderson has frequently returned to his early love of New Orleans music for inspiration as he continues to perform, record and tour. Since 2003 he has taught and conducted at Stony Brook University.
Garrison Fewell was born on October 14, 1953 in Charlottesville, Virginia but was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He started playing the stride guitar when he was 11 years old and becoming interested in acoustic blues, he turned to the music of Reverend Gary Davis, Fred McDowell, and Mississippi John Hurt. During the early ’70s, Fewell embarked on a tour that took him to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Three years later he returned to the States, became a jazz student of Pat Martino and Lenny Breau, earned a degree from Berklee College of Music and by 1977 was teaching at his alma mater.
As part of a new exchange program set up between Berklee and Holland’s Rotterdam Conservatory in 1988, Garrison also taught in Rotterdam, worked with Dutch musicians and performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival. The guitarist settled in Paris the following year, playing jazz and teaching at the American School of Modern Music and played the Umbria Jazz Festival. For the next several years he taught and performed around Europe gaining more and more popularity.
In 1993 his relative obscurity at home changed with the recording of his album A Blue Deeper Than the Blue, bringing him to the attention of jazz lovers. It also bestowed upon him a number of honors with inclusion into the Coda Magazine and United Press International lists of the year’s ten best and the Boston Music Awards named the debut Best Jazz Album of the Year. Guitarist Garrison Fewell continues to perform, record, teach and tour.
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Melvin Rhyne was born on October 12, 1936 in Indianapolis, Indiana and started playing the piano shortly thereafter. By the time he turned 19 he was playing piano with then-unknown tenor saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk but quickly switched to the Hammond B3 organ. His skills as a pianist fluidly translated to the organ fluently and he soon became a sideman for B.B. King and T-Bone Walker.
Melvin’s big break came in 1959 when he joined fellow Indianapolis jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery’s newly formed trio. Playing with Montgomery for five years, he recorded four sessions with the trio: Guitar on the Go, Round Midnight, Boss Guitar, and Portrait of Wes.
After the Montgomery years, Rhyne moved to Wisconsin and largely kept to himself for the next two decades. However, in 1991 Rhyne returned to the jazz scene in full force, playing on Herb Ellis’ album Roll Call, with Brian Lynch on At the Main Event, and his own comeback The Legend. Rhyne continued to be prolific in the years to come, releasing eight more solo albums for the Criss Cross jazz label.
In 2008 Rhyne teamed up with Rob Dixon forming the Dixon-Rhyne Project, a boundary-pushing jazz quartet and released Reinvention for Owl Studios in 2008. Melvin continues to perform live and record with his trio consisting of drummer Kenny Washington and guitarist Peter Bernstein. On March 5, 2013 hard bop organist, bandleader and composer Melvin Rhyne passed away in his hometown of Indianapolis at age 76.
Lester Bowie was born on October 11, 1941 in the historic village of Bartonsville in Frederick, Maryland however he grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of five he started studying the trumpet with his father, a professional musician and grew up playing with Little Milton, Albert King, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex and Rufus Thomas. In 1965, he became Fontella Bass’s musical director and husband and co-founded the Black Artists Group (BAG) in St Louis.
In 1966, Bowie moved to Chicago, worked as a studio musician, meeting Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell became a member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). In 1968, he founded the Art Ensemble of Chicago and was a member of Jack DeJohnette’s New Directions Quartet. Lester lived and worked in Jamaica and Africa, recording with Fela Kuti.
In 1984, he formed Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, a nonet demonstrating jazz’s links to other forms of popular music, covering songs by Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson Marilyn Manson and the Spice Girls along with more serious material. His New York Organ Ensemble featured James Carter and Amina Claudia Myers.
Although seen as part of the avant-garde, Bowie embraced techniques from the whole history of jazz trumpet, filling his music with humorous smears, blats, growls, half-valve effects, and so on. He had an affinity for reggae and ska, appeared on the Stolen Moments: Red, Hot + Cool compilation in support of the Aids epidemic in the African American community that Time Magazine named Album of the Year.
Throughout his career trumpeter Lester Bowie took an adventurous and humorous approach to music. He passed away of liver cancer on November 8, 1999 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Hall Of Fame in 2000. The following year the Art Ensemble of Chicago recorded Tribute To Lester.
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