Al Porcino was born on May 14, 1925 in New York City. He began playing trumpet professionally in 1943 in many of the big bands over the next two decades including those of George Auld, Louis Prima, Jerry Wald, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and Chubby Jackson.
Porcino played with Woody Herman in 1946, 1949-1950, and again in 1954. He also did two stints with Stan Kenton in 1947-48 and 1954-55. By the 1950s, he was playing with Pete Rugolo, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Elliot Lawrence and Charlie Barnet.
In 1957 he moved to Los Angeles and started working in the studios. Al played in the Terry Gibbs Dream Band for three years starting in 1959. Throughout the Sixties he often played in orchestras backing vocalists, performed on two soundtracks The Cincinnati Kid and Music from Mission Impossible with Lalo Schifrin, played with Buddy Rich, Gil Fuller, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and again with Woody Herman in 1972.
Al formed his own big band and recorded behind Mel Torme in addition to their own work. During the Seventies he moved to Germany playing on Al Cohn’s final recordings in 1987 and led big bands there until his death in Munich on December 31, 2013.
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Red Nichols was born Ernest Loring Nichols on May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah. A child prodigy, he learned to play the cornet and by the age of twelve he was playing difficult set pieces for his father’s brass band. Hearing the early recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and later those of Bix Beiderbecke, they had a strong influence and his style became polished, clean and incisive.
In the early 1920s, Nichols moved to the Midwest and joined a band called The Syncopating Seven, then joined the Johnny Johnson Orchestra and went with it to New York City in 1923. In New York he met and teamed up with trombonist Miff Mole and the two of them were inseparable for the next decade.
Nichols had good technique, could read music, and easily got session and studio work. In 1926 he and Miff Mole began a prodigious stint of recording over 100 sides for the Brunswick label, with a variety of bands, most of them known as “Red Nichols and His Five Pennies”. Very few of these groups were actually quintets; the name was simply a pun on “Nickel”, since there were “five pennies” in a nickel
He also recorded under a number of other names, employing Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Gene Krupa among others. He would go on to record for Edison, Victor, Bluebird, Variety and Okeh record labels.
By the time the Swing Era arrived his recording career stalled even though he formed his own band. The transition from Dixieland to swing was not easy for him and the critics who once lauded him now trashed his output. During the Depression he played in show bands and pit orchestras, moved out to California and led Bob Hopes orchestra and during WWII gave up music for an Army commission. After the war he returned to music playing small clubs, hosting jam sessions and getting better engagements at the top clubs in the city – Zebra room, Tudor room in San Francisco’s palace Hotel and Pasadena’s Sheraton.
He toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department, performed in Mickey Rooney film Quicksand, and was the subject of This Is Your Life. By 1965 he was in Las Vegas with his band playing the Mint Hotel. Only a few days into the date, he was sleeping in his suite and was awakened by paralyzing chest pains. He managed to call the front desk and an ambulance was summoned, but it arrived too late.
On June 28, 1965, cornetist, composer, and bandleader Red Nichols, rumored to have appeared on over 4000 recordings during the 1920s alone, passed away. That night the band went on as scheduled, but at the center of the band a spotlight pointed down at an empty chair in Nichols’ customary spot. He has been the subject of a film biography portrayed by Danny Kaye, had a cameo in the biopic the Gene Krupa Story and in 1986 was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
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Victor Stanley Feldman was born on April 7, 1934 in Edgware, London, England and caused a sensation as a musical prodigy when he was discovered at aged seven. His family members were all musical and his father founded the Feldman Swing Club in 1942 to showcase his talented sons. His first professional appearance was playing drums at No. 1 Rhythm Club as a member of the Feldman Trio with brothers Robert on clarinet and Monty on piano accordion.
At eight years old the drummer was featured in the films King Arthur Was A Gentleman and Theatre Royal, in 1944 he was featured as “Kid Krupa” at a Glenn Miller AAAF band concert when he was 10, and went on to play vibraphone for Ralph Sharon Sextet and the Roy Fox band. Victor eventually made piano his instrument of choice and became best known.
Feldman recorded with Ronnie Scott’s orchestra and quintet from 1954 to 1955, and then in 1955 came to the U.S. He first worked with Woody Herman, then with Buddy Defranco. He recorded some thirty albums as a leader and recorded with Benny Goodman, George Shearing, Milt Jackson, Blue Mitchell, Lalo Schifrin, John Klemmer Sam Jones, Cannonball Adderley and others, as well as, Miles Davis on Seven Steps To Heaven, having composed the title track. He was a part of the 5-LP recording of Shelly Manne Black Hawk sessions in 1959.
Feldman settled in Los Angeles permanently and specialized in the lucrative session work for the film and recording industry. He also branched out to work with a variety of musicians outside of jazz, working with artists such as Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits and Joe Walsh through the Seventies and Eighties.
Vibraphonist, drummer, percussionist, pianist and composer Victor Feldman died on May 12, 1987 at his home in Woodland Hills, California at age 53, following a heart attack. In 2009, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
Flip Phillips was born Joseph Edward Filipelli on March 26, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York. In the mid-1940s, he was one of the anchors of the Woody Herman band, and also played with the Woodchoppers, a small spin-off group that Herman led. After this period he went out on his own and joined Jazz at the Philharmonic. His deep, strong and articulate playing with a very full sound contrasted him to his successors such as Stan Getz in the subsequent Herman bands.
Phillips recorded extensively for Clef Records, now Verve, in the 1940s and 1950s, including a 1949 album of small-group tracks under his leadership, with Buddy Morrow, Tommy Turk, Kai Winding, Sonny Criss, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. He accompanied Billie Holiday on her 1952 Billie Holiday Sings album. He became a frequent player at the Odessa Jazz Party in Odessa, Texas from 1971 to 1991.
Tenor saxophonist and clarinet player Flip Phillips, best known for his work with Jazz At The Philharmonic from 1946 to 1957, passed away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 17, 2001 at the age of 86.
Harold Ashby was born on March 21, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri. He began playing alto and clarinet as a teenager but gave up music while he was in the US Navy from 1943 to 1945. On return to his native Kansas City in 1946, he was soon playing again and backed the singer Walter Brown, making his first recording with Brown in 1949. He spent most of the Fifties in Chicago playing in blues bands before moving to New York in 1957 to work in the bands of Milt Larkin and Mercer Ellington.
He then found the fringes of Duke Ellington’s band and accepted as a friend and colleague by Ellington’s sidemen, he recorded with Webster (1958), Hodges (1960), Gonsalves (1961) and Lawrence Brown in 1965. Once he joined the band permanently he became a regular in all the small groups that came from the band to record. He was given more prominent roles as the band played across Europe and the Far East and won many fans across the world.
After Ellington’s death, Ashby worked with Sy Oliver in 1976 and made brief tours with Benny Goodman in 1977 and 1982. He toured there with the Ellington Alumni in 1978 and returned the following year with the Kansas City pianist Jay McShann Making another European tour paired him with the pianist Junior Mance, and he was also one of the stars of the 1985 Nice Festival.
He recorded often under his own name in the late Eighties and early Nineties, but illness curtailed his activities and he confined his work to the New York area. Ashby made an exception for one of his last appearances at the 2001 Duke Ellington Conference in Ottawa when Ashby played one of Ellington’s compositions written to feature him, “Chinoiserie”. Happily he was able to regain his top form, but it was his final appearance before an audience of any size. Tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby passed away in New York City on June 13, 2003.
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