Curtis Peagler was born September 17, 1929 in Cincinnati, Ohio and in his childhood his playing on the alto saxophone was influenced by Charlie Parker, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson and Louis Jordan . At the age of 13 he started playing the C-Melody-Saxophone and played alto with the Sons of Rhythm as well as with Territory Bands.
Prior to being drafted into the Army in 1953 Curtis was a member of the backing band of the singer Big Maybelle. After his release from the army in 1955 he studied for two years at the Cincinnati Conservatory and played there with local bands.
In 1959/60 he recorded with Eddie Lockjaw Davis on his first recording for Prestige titled Disciples Blues. Peagler then recorded with Lem Winchester and performed and recorded with his band Modern Jazz Disciples, on the Columbia label. In 1962 he moved to Los Angeles, California where he worked as a freelance musician, and then played in 1966-1967. By 1969 he was accompanying Ray Charles and Big Black.
Between 1971 and 1978 he went on tour with the Count Basie Band and accompanied Ella Fitzgerald . Curtis then settled in Los Angeles and founded the label Sea Pea Records, recording with his own groups and playing on albums for Pablo Records with Harry Sweets Edison and Big Joe Turner. He played with Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham’s Sweet Baby Blues Band in the mid-1980s, playing the Concord label’s swing band on several albums. In 1989, he worked with Jimmy Smith, in 1990 with Freddie Redd, and he recorded in 1999 on Frank Wess ‘s Concord album Entre Nous. Alto and tenor saxophonist Curtis Peagler passed away of heart trouble on December 19, 1992 in Los Angeles, California.
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Ram Ramirez was born Roger J. Ramirez on September 15, 1913 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and grew up in New York City. He started learning piano when he was eight and was a professional five years later. In the early Thirties he worked with the Louisiana Stompers, Monette Moore , Rex Stewart, the Spirits of Rhythm and Willie Bryant.
Traveling to Europe with Bobby Martin’s group from 1937 to 1939, when Ramirez returned to New York City and had his own band before working with Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Newton and Charlie Barnet in the Forties. After a second stint with Newton, he played with the John Kirby Sextet in 1944.
Ram mostly led his own trio from the mid-1940’s on and began doubling on organ in 1953. Active into the 1970’s. playing with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band at the end of the decade. He became semi-active in the 1980’s and never gaining much fame except among knowledgeable musicians in the swing, bop and trad settings.
Through the years he led sessions for Gotham, Super Disc, Black & Blue, RCA and Master Jazz. He also played with Helen Humes, Putney Dandridge, John Kirby, Ike Quebec, Rex Stewart, Annie Ross, King Pleasure and Duke Ellington’s Small groups. Pianist and composer Ram Ramirez, best known as a co-writer of the classic song Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?, passed away on January 11, 1994 in Queens, New York.
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Gracie Cole was born Grace Elizabeth Agnes Annie Cole on September 8, 1924 in Rowlands Gill, County Durham, England. Her father Albert moved to Yorkshire in search of work as a miner when she was two years old. He played cornet in colliery bands, and taught her to play the cornet at the age of 12. She went on to play with local brass bands in her teens, including the Firbeck Colliery Band alongside her father. In 1939 at 15, she made her first broadcast on the BBC Radio for Children’s Hour.
From 1940, Cole appeared as a guest soloist in two concerts with the Besses o’ th’ Barn brass band, and played with various other bands including the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. In 1942 she became the first woman to compete for the Alexander Owen memorial scholarship and won by an unprecedented 21-point margin. That same year Cole switched to being a dance band trumpeter, initially joining Gloria Gaye’s All Girls Band, who toured playing theatres and forces entertainment shows organised by the Entertainments National Service Association.
Following WWII playing with Rudy Starlita’s All-American Band entertaining American G.I.s, she joined Ivy Benson’s band as lead trumpet and soloist, and toured Britain, Europe and the Middle East with them for the next five years. The Fifties saw her joining the George Evans Band, then joined the Squadronaires, but finding male prejudice uncomfortable, Gracie left to form her own all-female band in 1952 for the next four years. She would work with singers like Carol Carr and Cleo Laine and front an all-male band at Mecca Ballrooms.
From the 1960s she concentrated on bringing up her two daughters and played on a freelance basis. She was active in encouraging local brass bands, and was made a freeman of the City of London in 1990 Toward the end of the decade cornetist, trumpeter and bandleader Gracie Cole developed Alzheimer’s disease and passed away on December 28, 2006 in Westcott, Surrey, United Kingdom at the age of 82.
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John Malachi was born on September 6, 1919 in Red Springs, North Carolina and grew up in Durham, North Carolina. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Washington, D.C., and was a self-taught musician.
Malachi was a member of the Billy Eckstine Bebop Orchestra in 1944 for a year and then again in 1947. He worked with Illinois Jacquet in 1948, Louis Jordan in 1951, and a series of singers including Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Al Hibbler, and Joe Williams.
Opting out of the traveling life of the touring jazz musician in the 1960s, he lived approximately the last decade and a half of his life in Washington, D.C. freelancing, playing with touring bands and artists when they stopped in the city, and leading music workshops at clubs like Jimmy MacPhail’s Gold Room and Bill Harris’s Pig’s Foot. Malachi’s generosity towards younger musicians was legendary. His workshops with young musicians was referred to as The University of John Malachi.
He is credited with creating the nickname “Sassy” for Sarah Vaughan, with whom he worked with the Eckstine Orchestra and later directly with her. Pianist John Malachi, who was fond of categorizing jazz pianists into acrobats and poets, and considered himself among the latter, passed away on February 11, 1987 at the age of 67 in Washington, DC.
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Herb Ellis was born Mitchell Herbert Ellis in Farmersville, Texas on August 4, 1921 and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He first heard the electric guitar performed by George Barnes on a radio program which inspired him to take up the guitar. He became proficient on the instrument by the time he entered North Texas State University, majored in music, but with no guitar program he studied string bass. With a lack of funds he dropped out in 1941 and toured for six months with a band from the University of Kansas.
In 1943, he joined Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra and it was here that he got his first recognition in the jazz magazines. Leaving Gray for the Jimmy Dorsey band, he got his initial opportunities to recorded solos. Ellis remained with Dorsey through 1947, traveling and recording extensively, but with a six-week hole in the schedule, he John Frigo and Lou Carter took a gig in Buffalo that lasted six months and where the group Soft Winds was born he wrote the classic jazz standard Detour Ahead.
The group fashioned themselves after the Nat King Cole Trio. and stayed together until 1952. Herb then replaced Barney Kessel in the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1953. His prominence not only with his performing with the trio alongside Ray Brown until 1958 but also because he was the only white person in the group in a time when racism was still very much widespread.
With the addition of a drummer, the Oscar Peterson Trio, served as the house rhythm section for Norman Granz’s Verve Records. They supported the likes of Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Buddy Rich, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Victor Feldman, Mel Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong among numerous others.
The trio were a mainstay of Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts as they swept the jazz world, from 957 to 1960 Ellis toured with Ella Fitzgerald, and along with fellow jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and Tal Farlow, he created another ensemble, the Great Guitars.
In 1994 he was inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Texas College of Music. Guitarist Herb Ellis, released twenty-two albums as a leader before passing away from Alzheimer’s disease at his Los Angeles home on the morning of March 28, 2010, at the age of 88.
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