Ernie Fields was born Ernest Lawrence Fields on August 28, 1904 in Nacogdoches, Texas, though raised in Taft, Oklahoma. He attended Tuskegee Institute before moving to Tulsa. From the late 1920s, he led the Royal Entertainers, and eventually began touring more widely from Kansas City, Kansas to Dallas, Texas, and recording. Fields’ band became the first African-American band to play at Tulsa’s landmark Cain’s Ballroom.
A 1939 invite to New York by John Hammond to record for Vocalion. He began touring nationally, never became a star but continued to work steadily, recording for smaller labels, and gradually transforming his sound through a smaller band and a repertoire shift from big band and swing to R&B. During WWII he entertained troops both at home and abroad.
Continuing to straddle these styles into the 1950s, Ernie played swing standards such as “Tuxedo Junction” and “Begin The Beguine” in a rocking R&B style. In the late 1950s he moved to Los Angeles, California and joined the Rendezvous Records and ran the house band In 1959 this band had an international hit with an R&B version of Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” that reached #4 on the Billboard chart, selling over a million copies. He would go on to record instrumentals under a variety of names including B. Bumble and the Stingers, The Marketts and The Routers.
After Rendezvous Records folded in late 1963, trombonist, pianist, arranger and bandleader Ernie Fields retired and returned to Tulsa. He died on May 11, 1997, at the age of 92.
Frank Rosolino was born on August 20, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan. He studied the guitar with his father from the age of 9 and took up the trombone at age 14 while he was enrolled at Miller High School where he played with Milt Jackson in the school’s stage band and small group. Having never graduated, he joined the 86th Division Army Band during World War II.
Perhaps most influential of all was the street education Frank received after returning to Detroit following his period in the Army during which he sat in at the Mirror Ballroom or the Bluebird where other to-be-renowned musicians also congregated, the Jones brothers – Hank, Thad and Elvin, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Paul Chambers and later at the 3 Deuces on 52nd Street in New York City with Charlie Parker.
During this period Rosolino was also performing with the big bands of Bob Chester, Glen Gray, Tony Pastor, Herbie Fields, Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton. Leaving the Kenton outfit he settled in Los Angeles where he performed with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars from 1954–1960 in Hermosa Beach.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, between nightclub engagements, Rosolino was active in many Los Angeles recording studios where he performed with such notables as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Michel Legrand and Quincy Jones among others.
He can also be seen performing in “Sweet Smell of Success” in 1957 with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, and in 1958 with Shelly Manne’s group in the film “I Want To Live!” starring Susan Heyward and also. He was also a regular on The Steve Allen Show, The Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show. A talented vocalist, renowned for his wild form of scat-singing, Frank recorded one vocal album, “Turn Me Loose!” featuring both his singing and trombone playing. He can also be seen performing in the half hour syndicated program Jazz Scene USA, hosted by Oscar Brown, Jr.
It was during the 1970s that he performed and toured with Quincy Jones and the Grammy Award winning group Suoersax. He recorded some two-dozen sessions as a sideman and a dozen as a leader. Trombonist and vocalist Frank Rosolino committed suicide on November 26, 1978 after shooting his two sons.
Harold “Doc” West was born on August 12, 1915 in Wolford, North Dakota. He learned to play piano and cello as a child before switching to drums. By the 1930s he was playing in Chicago with Tiny Parham, Erskine Tate and Roy Eldridge. Towards the end of the decade he filled in for Chick Webb when he was unable to lead his own orchestra.
The early 1940s Doc played with Hot Lips Page and on the emerging bebop scene at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Tiny Grimes and Don Byas. He played with Oscar Pettiford in 1944 and stood in for Jo Jones occasionally in Count Basie’s orchestra.
He appears on recordings led by Slam Stewart, Leo Watson, Wardell Gray, Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann and Erroll Garner, leaving a small but impressive catalogue as a sideman. Drummer Doc West passed away on May 4, 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio while on tour with Roy Eldridge.
Lucky Millinder was born Lucius Venable Millinder on August 8, 1910 in Anniston, Alabama but was raised in Chicago, Illinois. While a teenager in the 1920s he worked in clubs, ballrooms, and theatres in Chicago as a master of ceremonies and dancer. He first fronted a band in 1931 for an RKO theater tour, and in 1932 took over leadership of Doc Crawford’s orchestra in Harlem, New York City, as well as freelancing elsewhere.
The Thirties saw Lucky touring Europe with his own orchestra and playing residencies in Monte Carlo and Paris, returning to New York to lead the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, discovering Rosetta Tharpe, teaming with Bill Doggett’s group, established a residency at the Savoy Ballroom and signed a contract with Decca Records, in which Dizzy Gillespie sat in the trumpet seat.
Millinder would record “Trouble In Mind” in 1941 with Rosetta Tharpe, as well as his #1 hit “When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)” followed by “Apollo Jump” and “Sweet Slumber”. But by the mid-1940s the band was drifting towards what would be known as rhythm and blues and was comprised of saxophonist Bull “Moose” Jackson, Tab Smith, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and pianist Sir Charles Thompson and singer Wynonie Harris. Their recording of “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well” became the group’s biggest hit in 1945, staying at #1 on the charts for 8 weeks. Vocalist Ruth Brown replaced Wynonie for a short period until her solo career took flight.
Throughout the decade the band continued to remain popular and toured all the large R&B auditoriums, changed labels a few times until their last big hit was “I’m Waiting Just for You” with Annisteen Allen in 1951. A year later Lucky was working as a radio deejay, continued to tour and took over the leadership of the Apollo Theater band for a while. Retiring from performing he recorded his final sessions in 1960 and became active in music publishing, and in public relations for a whiskey distillery.
Swing and rhythm and blues bandleader Lucky Millinder, never learned to read or write music, nor play an instrument and rarely sang, it is said it was his showmanship and musical taste made his bands successful. He passed away from a liver ailment in New York City on September 28, 1966. Twenty years later he would posthumously be inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
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Bill Coleman was born William Johnson Coleman on August 4, 1904 in Paris, Kentucky. In 1909 his family moved from Kentucky to Cincinnati and his first musical explorations were on clarinet and C melody saxophone, but he eventually settled on trumpet. He studied with Cincinnati trumpeter Theodore Carpenter and played in an amateur band led by trombonist J.C. Higginbotham. He began professional work in Cincinnati with bands led by Clarence Paige, Wesley Helvey and then Lloyd and Cecil Scott.
In 1927 he traveled to New York City and played with the Scott brothers to New York City, and continued to work with them until 1929, when he joined the orchestra of pianist Luis Russell. His first recording session was with Russell and he soloed on the tune “Feelin’ the Spirit”. Over the next couple of years he floated between Russell and Scott participating in recording sessions with each of them. By 1933 Bill was on his first European tour with Lucky Millinder, then in October returned to New York, worked with the bands of Benny Carter and Teddy Hill and sat in on a recording session with Fats Waller and laying down a number of memorable sides.
Coleman returned to Europe, played a residency in Paris with entertainer and vocalist Freddy Taylor, recorded with guitarist Django Reinhardt and made several freelance sessions under his own name. In late 1936 he traveled to Bombay, India playing with Leon Abbey’s Orchestra, then back to Paris to join saxophonist William T. Lewis. Returning to the States found him playing with Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Andy Kirk, Ellis Larkins, Mary Lou Williams, Sy Oliver, John Kirby, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins.
Due to racial segregation Bill Coleman returned to France in 1948 and lived out his days there touring and performing in clubs and concert halls all over Europe. In 1974 he received the Ordre National du Merite and in 1978, he performed at the first Jazz in Marciac festival (along with tenor saxophonist Guy Lafitte, later becoming an honorary president of the festival organization.
Jazz trumpeter Bill Coleman passed away in Toulouse, France on August 24, 1981. His sound and phrasing were immediately recognizable with a style of the swing era musicians.
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