James Andrew Rushing was born on August 26, 1901 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma into a family with musical talent and accomplishments. His father, Andrew, was a trumpeter and his mother, Cora and her brother were singers. He studied music theory with Zelia N. Breaux at Douglass High School, and was unusual among his musical contemporaries, having attended college at Wilberforce University.
Rushing was inspired to pursue music and eventually sing blues by his uncle Wesley Manning and George “Fathead” Thomas of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Touring the midWest and California as an itinerant blues singer in 1923 and 1924, he eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where he played piano and sang with Jelly Roll Morton. He also sang with Billy King before moving on to Page’s Blue Devils in 1927. He, along with other members of the Blue Devils, defected to the Bennie Moten band in 1929.
When Moten died in 1935 Jimmy joined Count Basie for what would be a 13-year tenure. Due to his tutelage under his mentor Moten, he was a proponent of the Kansas City jump blues tradition as heard in his versions of Sent For You Yesterday and Boogie Woogie for the Count Basie Orchestra. After leaving Basie,, as a solo artist and a singing with other bands.
When the Basie band broke up in 1950 he briefly retired, then formed his own group and his recording career soared. He also made a guest appearance with Duke Ellington for the 1959 album Jazz Party. In 1960, he recorded an album with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, known for their cerebral cool jazz sound. Rushing appeared in the 1957 television special Sound of Jazz, singing one of his signature songs I Left My Baby backed by many of his former Basie band compatriots. In 1958 he was among the musicians included in an Esquire magazine photo by Art Kane, later memorialized in the documentary film A Great Day in Harlem.
In 1958 Jimmy toured the UK with Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, appeared in the 1969 Gordon Parks film The Learning Tree, and by 1971 was diagnosed with leukemia, that sidelined his performing career. On June 8, 1972 vocalist Jimmy Rushing, who was known as a blues shouter, balladeer and swing jazz singer, passed away in New York City. He was one of eight jazz and blues legends honored in a set of United States Postal Service stamps issued in 1994. Among his best known recordings are “Going to Chicago” with Basie, and “Harvard Blues”, with a famous saxophone solo by Don Byas.
Buster Smith was born Henry Smith on August 24, 1904 Alsdorf, Texas, the third boy of five and earned the name “Buster” from his parents as he was an overweight baby when his mother gave birth. His early musical influences were his mother, and his father, who played guitar. At the age of four years, Buster and his brother Boston, a pianist, were playing organ, he played the keys and his brother stepped on the pedals. Soon thereafter, believing it would lead to a life of sin, his grandfather gave away the organ.
In 1919, Smith picked cotton for a week to earn himself the money to buy a $3.50 clarinet. He went on to learn to play several instruments by the time he was eighteen years old. Moving to Dallas in 1922, he joined the Voodie White Trio, playing alto saxophone and clarinet. The following year he began his professional career as an alto saxophonist with the medicine shows, though he had to play very loudly to draw in more customers. This experience defined his musical style, becoming known for being loud.
This period led to Oran “Hot Lips” Page inviting Smith to join his group, the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, in 1925. Over the next few years Buster wrote much of the group’s music, learning from banjo player Johnny Clark, writing lyrics with co-workers from the bank that he worked in.
As a Blue Devils he worked alongside Walter Page, Oran Page, Lester Young, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, and Emir “Bucket” Coleman. They toured the Kansas City area and the Midwest, playing jazz for a year, bringing all of its members into prominence. Basie and Page both left the group; and shortly afterwards so did Smith. He and Basie formed the Buster Smith-Count Basie Band of Rhythm, where the two innovated a louder style of jazz. Buster’s contribution to the unique sound was by using a tenor saxophone reed in his alto saxophone to achieve a louder, “fatter” sound. Young opted for a heavier reed, using a baritone saxophone reed on his tenor saxophone. This sound was later labelled the Texas Sax Sound.
Smith gained influence in the Texan music community and industry. He mentored saxophonist Charlie Parker during the 1930s, developing a father-son relationship. He played with a host of musicians including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Earl Hines but in 1941 he returned to Dallas and ceased touring but remained active in the local music scene. In the years that followed he wrote for jazz and blues bands, played often, and known as Professor Smith, taught many young Texan musicians, including Aaron “T-Bone” Walker and Red Garland among others. He also performed session work with Pete Johnson’s Boogie-Woogie Boys, Eddie Durham, Leo “Snub” Mosley, Bon and His Buddies, and the Don Redman Orchestra.
In the 1960s, Smith was involved in auto accident, his injuries causing him to give up the saxophone. Not to be dissuaded from performing he took up the bass guitar, led a dance band and played into the mid-Eighties with the Legendary Revelations. Alto saxophonist Buster Smith, who recorded only one album as a leader in 1959, passed away on August 10, 1991 of a heart attack in Dallas, Texas.
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Bumps Myers was born Hubert Maxwell Myers on August 22, 1912 in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Influenced by Coleman Hawkins he played the tenor saxophone but also the alto and baritone. Growing up in California he began his musical career at the age of 17 in the Los Angeles area, playing with Curtis Mosby and His Dixieland Blue Blowers,
By 1927 he had recorded for the first time and two years later was playing in Seattle, Washington with Earl Whaley. The mid-1930s saw him with Buck Clayton and Teddy Weatherford, with whom he went on tour. From 1934 to 1936 he lived in Shanghai, China where he worked in Canidrome with Weatherford’s band and Buck Clayton. After returning to the United States in 1937 he played with Lionel Hampton and Les Hite .
The early Forties had Bumps working with the short-lived band of Lee and Lester Young. In 1942 and again in 1945 he worked at Jimmie Lunceford and 1943-48 in Benny Carter’s big band. Mid-1940s he performed several times with Jazz at the Philharmonic and in 1945 he played with Sid Catlett on.
1947 saw him playing with Benny Goodman and recording the hit Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad). Under his own name he released Bumps Myers & His Frantic Five in 1949 on the Blu, Selective and RPM labels.
In the 1950s, Myers worked as a studio musician, played with Red Callender, and Harry Belafonte in 1958 . After touring with Horace Henderson from 1961-62, Myers retired from music because of issues with his health.
In the field of swing and jazz, he was involved from 1927 to 1960 on some 90 recording sessions with Irving Ashby, Kay Starr, Lee Richardson, Ernestine Anderson, Freddie Slack, Mel Powell, Dan Grissom, Fletcher Henderson, Russell Jacquet, Louis Bellson and Maxwell Davis, Not limiting himself to jazz he also played on a number of rhythm and blues recordings by T-Bone Walker, George Vann, Amos Milburn, Jimmy Witherspoon, Helen Humes, Percy Mayfield, Tony Allen and B. B. King.
Swing saxophonist Bumps Myers, who never gained the notoriety or popularity of his contemporaries, due possibly to working mainly in the Los Angeles music scene, passed away on April 9, 1968 in Los Angeles, California.
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Count Basie was born William James Basie on August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey. His father played mellophone, his mother piano and it was she who taught him to play the piano. She paid 25 cents for each piano lesson for him. Not much of a student in school, he finished junior high school before dropping out and spending much of his time at the Palace Theater learning to operate lights for vaudeville and to improvise accompaniment for acts and silent films at the hometown Palace Theater. Though a natural at the piano, he preferred drums but discouraged by the obvious talents of drummer Sonny Greer, who also lived in Red Bank, at age fifteen he switched to piano exclusively. By 16 years old, he increasingly played jazz piano at parties, resorts and other venues.
In 1924, Count went to Harlem, New York City where he met most of the major players including Willie “The Lion” Smith and James P. Johnson. His performing career expanded as he began touring with groups to the major jazz cities of Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City on the Keith and TOBA vaudeville circuits. He met Fats Waller at Leroy’s cutting contest in Harlem who would teach him to play the organ and Smith gave him tips on piano technique and helped him book rent parties when times were lean. In 1929 he joined Bennie Moten’s band in Kansas City, and played with them until Moten’s death in 1935. Their tune The Moten Swing was an invaluable contribution to the development of swing.
At this point in his career he formed the Count Basie Orchestra and in 1936 they were in Chicago, Illinois for a long engagement and their first recording. Late one night they were improvising and came up with their signature tune One O’Clock Jump that stood for many years until their version of April In Paris.
He would go on to record for producer John Hammond on the Vocalion label with presiding members of the band being Ben Webster, Lester Young and Herschel Evans , Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page, Earle Warren, Buck Clayton and Harry Edison, Benny Morton and Dickie Wells.
He led the group for nearly 50 years, creating innovations like the use of two “split” tenor saxophones, emphasizing the rhythm section, riffing with a big band, using arrangers to broaden their sound, and others. Many musicians came to prominence under his direction, including Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Buck Clayton, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Paul Campbell, Tommy Turrentine, Johnny Letman, Idrees Sulieman, Joe Newman, Jimmy Wilkins, Benny Powell, Paul Quinichette and Floyd “Candy” Johnson, Marshal Royal, Ernie Wilkins and Charlie Fowlkes, as well as singers Jimmy Rushing, Joe Williams as well as recording with Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, and Sarah Vaughan.
He has won eight Grammy awards, had four recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, and has been inducted into the Long Island Hall of Fame, the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame, Down BEat Jazz Hall Of Fame, has been awarded NEA Jazz Master and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, among other awards. Pianist, organist, bandleader and composer Count Basie passed away pancreatic cancer in Hollywood, Florida on April 26, 1984.
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Nat Towles was born on August 10, 1905 in New Orleans, Louisiana the son of string bassist Phil “Charlie” Towles. Starting his musical career as a guitarist and violinist at the age of 11, he switched to the bass at the age of 13. Performing in New Orleans through his teenage years with Gus Metcalf’s Melody Jazz Band, he eventually played with a number of bands, including those of Buddie Petit, Henry “Red” Allen, Jack Carey, and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra.
In 1923 he formed The Nat Towles’ Creole Harmony Kings and this jazz band became one of the prominent territory bands in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. By 1925 he was playing bass for Fate Marable, and the following year reformed his own band. 1934 saw him organizing a band of young musicians studying music at Wiley College in Austin, Texas.
Nat worked a club circuit in Dallas during this period, reportedly for a gangster who owned 26 nightclubs throughout the city. During this period T-Bone Walker and Buddy Tate worked for him. During the 1930s he transformed his band into The Nat Towles Dance Orchestra, signed with the National Orchestra Service, and focused on swing music through the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1934 Towles took up residence in North Omaha, Nebraska, where his band was stationed for the next 25 years. With this outfit he dueled with Lloyd Hunter for dominance over the much-contested Near North Side in North Omaha, where he was held over at the Dreamland Ballroom for several weeks. In 1936 and 1937 his band held residence at Omaha’s Krug Park.
In 1943 he also held a three-month stint at the Rhumboogie Club in Chicago, and later that year took up residency again with Billy Mitchell in tow in Omaha’s Dreamland Ballroom. He went on to play extensively throughout New York City, playing with trombonist Buster Cooper, saxophonists Red Holloway, Buster Bennett and Preston Love.
As their bandleader, Towles is credited with influencing a variety of musicians including Sir Charles Thompson and Neal Hefti, as well as superior saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Oliver Nelson and Paul Quinichette. As an educator he influenced many younger musicians such as pianist Duke Groner and trombonist Buddy McLewis, aka Joe McLewis.
Continuing to lead bands throughout the 1950s, in 1959 he retired to California and opened a bar. Bassist, guitarist and violinist Nat Towles, who feared the limelight would steal away his best players thus never sought national recognition and leaving no known recordings, passed away in January of 1963 in Berkeley, California of a heart attack.
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