Charlie Lee Byrd was born on September 16, 1925 in Suffolk, Virginia but grew up in Chuckatuck, Virginia and his father taught him to play the acoustic steel guitar at age 10. He went on to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, served in the Army and played in the Special Services band in Paris. Returning to New York he studied composition at Hamett National Music School, taking up classical guitar.
Charlie moved to Washington, D.C. in 1950 and studied classical guitar with Sophocles Papas, then with Andre Segovia. By 1957 he teamed up with bassist Keter Betts and started gigging around D.C. for two years, joined Woody Herman for a State Department goodwill tour.
Byrd was first introduced to Brazilian music by his friend radio host Felix Grant who was well known in Brazil in 1960. A subsequent tour of Brazil and he returned home with recordings from Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. He met with Stan Getz who convinced Creed Taylor, then at Verve Records to produce the album, recording “Jazz Samba” in 1962 in a building adjacent to All Souls Unitarian Church because of the excellent acoustics found there. And his love affair with Brazilian music began.
Over the course of his career he has toured the world, performed at numerous festivals, played with such jazz legends as Les McCann, Zoot Sims, Vince Guaraldi, his brother bassist Joe Byrd, Chuck Redd, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and the list goes on.
Charlie Byrd died of lung cancer on December 2, 1999 at his home in Annapolis, Maryland. He was deemed a Maryland Art Treasure in 1997 and knighted by the government of Brazil as the Knight of the Rio Branco.
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Chu Berry was born Leon Brown Berry on September 13, 1908 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Following in his piano playing stepsister’s footprints, Chu became interested in music at an early age, playing alto saxophone at first with local bands. It wasn’t until he heard Coleman Hawkins was he inspired to take up the tenor.
Most of Berry’s abbreviated career was spent in the sax sections of major swing bands of Sammy Stewart, Benny Carter, Teddy Hill, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway. He recorded with Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey, The Chocolate Dandies, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton among others.
Although Berry based his style on Hawkins’ playing, the older man regarded Berry as his equal, saying, “‘Chu’ was about the best.” His mastery of advanced harmony and his smoothly-flowing solos on up-tempo tunes influenced such young innovators as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Chu was one of the jazz musicians who took part in the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York that led to the development of bebop.
Collaborating with lyricist Andy Razaf, he composed “Christopher Columbus”, a tune that was the last important hit recording of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra. From 1937 to 1941 he would be associated with Cab Calloway until his death from complications stemming from a car accident. On October 30, 1941, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry passed away. He was just 33 years old. Author Jack Kerouac immortalized him in the beginning of his novella “The Subterraneans”.
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Joseph Dwight Newman was born on September 7, 1922 in New Orleans, Louisiana. A child of a pianist father, he had his first music lessons from David Jones. He continued his study of trumpet at Alabama State College where he also played, led and toured the school band, the Bama State Collegians.
By 1941 Joe joined Lionel Hampton for two years, before signing with Count Basie, a relationship that lasted for a total of thirteen years resulting in a number of small group recordings as leader, spent time with Illinois Jacquet, and then with J.C. Heard. He also played on Benny Goodman’s 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.
Leaving the Basie band in 1961, Newman helped found Jazz Interactions, of which he became president in 1967. Jazz Interactions was a charitable organization which provided an information service, brought jazz master classes into schools and colleges, and later maintained its own Jazz Interaction Orchestra, for whom Newman wrote.
In the 1970s and 1980s Newman toured internationally, recorded for various major record labels. He suffered a stroke in 1991, however, which seriously disabled him. Joe Newman, trumpeter, composer and educator best known for his years with Count Basie passed away on July 4, 1992.
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Meade Lux Lewis was born Meade Anderson Lewis on September 4, 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, he was greatly influenced by pianist Jimmy Yancey.
His 1927 rendition of “Honky Tonk Train Blues” for Paramount Records marked his recording debut and his best-known work. His early recordings included Adrian Rollini, Frankie Trumbauer, classical harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe, theater organist George Wright and drummer Cozy Cole. His performance at John Hammond’s historic “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 brought Lewis to public attention.
He went on to perform with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, played an extended engagement at Café Society, toured as a trio, and inspired the formation of Blue Note Records in 1939. Their success led to a decade long boogie-woogie craze with big band swing treatments by Tommy Dorsey, Will Bradley and others.
He became the first jazz pianist to double on celeste, recorded with Edmond Hall and Charlie Christian, also, then continued to Chicago and California. Lewis appeared in the movies “New Orleans”, “Nightmare” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” playing piano in the scene where George Bailey gets thrown out of Nick’s Bar.
Pianist and composer Meade Lux Lewis, who played the swing, blues and boogie-woogie styles, died in a car accident in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 7, 1964.
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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.