Teddy Wilson was born Theodore Shaw Wilson in Austin, Texas on November 24, 1912. By his teenage years he was enamored with the music of Bix Beiderbecke and King Oliver and decided to make a living playing jazz. He studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute where his father was head of the English Department and his mother was chief librarian. A year later he joined Speed Webb’s band as one of seven arrangers, re-orchestrating in close harmony the songs of Beiderbecke and Hodges. He went on to join Louis Armstrong, understudying Earl Hines in his Grand Terrace Café Orchestra, and Benny Carter’s Chocolate Dandies.
By 1935 Teddy joined Benny Goodman trio with Gene Krupa becoming the first black musician to perform in public with a previously all-white jazz group. With the help of jazz producer John Hammond, Wilson got a contract with Brunswick Records in 1935 and started recording hot swing arrangements of popular songs of the day with the growing jukebox trade in mind. He recorded fifty hit records with various singers including Lena Horne, Helen Ward and Ella Fitzgerald while also participating in sessions with Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Red Norvo, Buck Clayton and Ben Webster.
Wilson formed his own short-lived big band in 1939 and then led a sextet at Café Society from 1940 to 1944. In the 1950s he taught at the Julliard School, appeared as himself in the motion picture The Benny Goodman Story, and during the next two decades lived quietly in suburban New Jersey. Pianist and arranger Teddy Wilson passed away on July 31, 1986 in New Britain, Connecticut at age 73.
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Coleman Randolph Hawkins was born on November 21, 1904 in St. Joseph, Missouri and named after his mother’s maiden name. He started out playing piano and cello prior to playing saxophone at age nine. By the time he turned 14, he was playing around eastern Kansas while attending Topeka High School and simultaneously studying harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College.
In 1921 Hawkins joined Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, toured through 1923 and settled in New York City. Hawkins joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra doubling on clarinet and bass saxophone and becoming a star soloist. He recorded with band mates Louis Armstrong and Henry “Red” Allen, a number of solo recordings with either piano or a pick-up band of Henderson musicians. In late 1934, he played with Jack Hylton’s band in London, toured Europe as a soloist until 1939 and worked with Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter in 1937 Paris.
Returning to the States he worked Kelly’s Stables, recorded two choruses of Body and Soul, his landmark recording of the Swing Era. Recorded as an afterthought at the session, it is notable in that Coleman ignores almost all of the melody, only the first four bars are stated in a recognizable fashion. In its exploration of harmonic structure it is considered by many to be the next evolutionary step in jazz recording from where Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” in 1928 left off.
Over the course of his long and prolific career Hawkins had an unsuccessful attempt at a big band, led a combo at Kelly’s Stables, played with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Ben Webster, Max Roach, Howard McGhee, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Roy Eldridge, J.J. Johnson, Fats Navarro and Duke Ellington among others, recorded a session with Dizzy Gillespie that is considered the first bebop recording and toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic. After 1948 Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings. In the 1960s, he appeared regularly at the Village Vanguard.
Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins directly influenced many future bebop musicians such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. In his later years he stopped recording, began drinking heavily and died of pneumonia on May 19, 1969 in New York.
Houston Person, born November 10, 1934, grew up in Florence, South Carolina, first playing the piano before switching to tenor sax. He studied at South Carolina State College, went on to join the Air Force, became a member of a service band stationed in West Germany and played with Don Ellis, Eddie Harris, Cedar Walton and Leo Wright.
After his discharge he continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. He first became known for a series of albums for Prestige Records in the 1960s, met Etta Jones while both were with Johnny Hammond’s band and spent many years as her musical partner, recording, performing and touring, and for much of his career this association was what he was best known for. Contrary to popular belief, they were never married.
Houston has performed in the hard bop and swing genres but is best known for his soul jazz work. He has recorded more than seventy-five albums as a leader for Prestige, Westbound, Mercury, Savoy, and Muse Records. He is currently in residence as a leader and record producer at HighNote and has recorded with Charles Brown, Bill Charlap, Charles Earland, Lena Horne, Etta Jones, Lou Rawls, Horace Silver, Dakota Staton, Billy Butler and Richard “Groove” Holmes among others.
He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982 and was inducted into the South Carolina State College Hall of Fame in 1999. He continues to produce, record, perform and tour.
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Russell Malone was born November 8, 1963 in Albany, Georgia. He began playing at the age of four with a toy guitar his mother had bought him, influenced by musicians such as B. B. King and The Dixie Hummingbirds. However, his most influential musical experience was seeing George Benson perform on television with Benny Goodman. He learned technique from listening to recordings of Benson, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian among others.
Malone played with jazz organist Jimmy Smith, followed by a residency with the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band and in 1995, Malone became part of the Diana Krall Trio, that had three albums nominated for a Grammy. Following his tenure with Krall, he went on to tour regularly leading his own quartet, has played with Dianne Reeves, Romero Lubambo, Ron Carter, Bobby Hutcherson, the late Mulgrew Miller, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Hank Jones, Benny Green, Bill Frisell and Sonny Rollins.
The essentially self-taught swing and bebop jazz guitarist has recorded several sessions for Columbia, Impulse, Venus, Verve and Telarc record labels and since 2004 has recorded on the MaxJazz label with his latest 2010 session being “Triple Play”. Russell Malone has amassed to date 18 albums in his catalogue and continues to perform, record and tour.
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Jan Garber was born Jacob Charles Garber on November 5, 1894 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He had his own band by the time he was 21. He became known as “The Idol of the Airwaves” in his heyday of the 1920s and 1930s, playing jazz in the vein of contemporaries such as Paul Whiteman and Guy Lombardo.
It was during World War II that Garber began playing swing jazz with arranger Gray Rains and vocalist Liz Tilton. However, the recording restrictions in America during the war eventually made his ensemble unfeasible, and he returned to “sweet” music after the war, playing violin with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
Jan formed the Garber-Davis Orchestra with pianist Milton Davis from 1921–1924. After parting with Davis, he formed his own orchestra, playing both “sweet” and “hot” 1920s dance music. He was hit hard by the Great depression and in the thirties he refashioned his ensemble into a big band and recorded a string of successful records for Victor.
Violinist and bandleader Jan Garber continued to lead ensembles nearly up until the time of his death on October 5, 1977 in Shreveport, Louisiana.