Eli Robinson was born on June 23, 1911 in Greenville, Georgia. After working in Cincinnati in bands led by Speed Webb and Zack White, he worked as well with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.
Robinson made his first recordings in 1935 with Blanche Calloway. In 1936 he moved to New York City where he played with Teddy Hill, and Willie Bryant. After working briefly with Roy Eldridge in Chicago in 1939, he joined Count Basie from 1941 to 1947.
During the 1950s and 60s, he worked with Lucky Millinder and Buddy Tate. Trombonist and arranger Eli Robinson passed away on December 24, 1972.
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Horace Heidt was on May 21, 1901 in Alameda, California, He went on to attend the University of California Berkeley as a guard on the football team. But a broken back dashed those dreams and he turned his attention to music, forming The Californians with some classmates.
From 1932 to 1953, he became one of the more popular radio bandleaders beginning on NBC’s Blue Network with Shell Oil’s Ship of Joy and Answers by the Dancers and Horace Heidt’s Alemite Brigadiers. He broadcasted from CBS from 1937-1939.
Horace would employ singer Matt Dennis and singing comedian Art Carney. His recordings were highly successful with Gone With The Wind and Ti-Pi-Tin going to No. 1 and The Man With The Mandolin hitting No. 2 on the charts. His 1941 song, The Hut-Sut Song is heard in the movie A Christmas Story.
He returned to NBC to perform on Pot o’ Gold radio show from 1939-194, portraying himself in the film of the same name starring James Stewart and Paulette Goddard. From 1940 to 1944 he did Tums Treasure Chest, followed by 1943–45 shows on the Blue Network. Lucky Strike sponsored The American Way on CBS in 1953.
On December 7, 1947, NBC launched The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program and accordionist Dick Cortino the first winner of the $5,000 prize, soon had his own show. Heidt’s talent search catapulted such performers as Carney, Frankie Carle, the King Sisters, Alvino Rey, Gordon McRae, Frank DeVol, Johnny Standley and Al Hirt. When the program expanded from radio to television in 1950, it was one of the first talent shows.
Horace Heidt passed away on December 1, 1986 in Los Angeles, California. For his contribution to radio and television he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.
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Woody Herman was born Woodrow Charles Thomas Herman on May 16, 1913 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father had a deep love for show business and this influenced him at an early age. As a child he worked as a Vaudeville singer and tap-dancer, then started to play the clarinet and saxophone by age 12.
1936 saw him joining the Tom Gerun band and his first recorded vocals were Lonesome Me and My Heart’s at Ease. He also performed with the Harry Sosnick Orchestra, Gus Arnheim and Isham Jones, the latter writing numerous popular songes including It Had To Be You. When Jones retired Woody acquired the orchestra, which became known for its orchestrations of the blues. They first recorded for the Decca label as a cover band, eventually getting their first hit with Woodchopper’s Ball in 1939.He went on to have hits with The Golden Wedding and Blue Prelude.
As bebop was gradually replacing swing Herman commissioned Dizzy Gillespie as an arranger and he provided him three arrangements of Woody‘n You, Swing Shift and Down Under in 1942, heralding a change in the music. By 1945 Herman was with Columbia Records, recording the First Herd, the very successful Laura, the theme song to the 1944 movie of the same name. That group became famous for its progressive jazz that was heavily influenced by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. By the end of 1946 the big band era was over and he disbanded his only financially profitable group.
In 1947, Herman organized the Second Herd that remained together until 1987. This band was also known as The Four Brothers Band derived from the song and featured three tenor and one baritone saxophone of Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward and Stan Getz. In the band was also Al Cohn, Gene Ammons, Lou Levy, Oscar Pettiford, Terry Gibbs and Shelly Manne and they had hits with Early Autumn and The Goof and I.
Herman would go on to perform in movies with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, record for RCA, Capitol, MGM and Verve record labels, put together his Third Herd and variations of the New Thundering Herd and by the Seventies was touring and working more in jazz education by offering workshops and taking on younger sidemen.
The 1980s saw Herman’s return to straight-ahead jazz, dropping some of the newer rock and fusion approaches he had used the previous decade. He continued to perform with his health in decline, chiefly to pay back taxes that were owed because of his business manager’s bookkeeping in the 1960s. Herman owed the IRS millions of dollars and was in danger of eviction from his home. He eventually passed leadership duties to reed section leader Frank Tiberi.
Clarinetist, alto and soprano saxophonist, singer and big band leader Woody Herman was awarded two Grammys for Best Big Band Jazz Album for Encore and Giant Steps, The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, had won Down Beat, Esquire and Metronome polls. He was the feature of a documentary film titled Woody Herman: Blue Flame- Portrait of a Jazz Legend, and was a featured half-time performer at Super Bowl VII. He passed away on October 29, 1987.
Bonnie Wetzel was born Bonnie Jean Addleman on May 15, 1926 in Vancouver, Washington. She learned violin as a child and was an autodidact on bass.
She played with Ada Leonard in an all-female ensemble and soon after worked in a trio with Marian Grange. Bonnie married trumpeter Ray Wetzel in 1949 and the pair worked in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1951.
Wetzel played in the Beryl Booker Trio with Elaine Leighton in 1953. They toured Europe in 1953-54 and recorded for Discovery Records. She also played with Herb Ellis, Charlie Shavers, Roy Eldridge and Don Byas. During the 1950s she freelanced in New York City. Double-bassist Bonnie Wetzel, who never led a recording session in her short career, passed away on February 12, 1965, at the age of 38.
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Herbie Steward was born Herbert Bickford Steward on May 7, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. He was widely known for being one of the tenor saxophones in the Four Brothers, alongside Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff in Woody Herman’s Second Herd.
Having a nice tone, Steward interacted well and was an above-average soloist. He also played alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and clarinet and was active from the 1940s to the Sixties and played in the swing and big band jazz genres. During his active years he recorded or performed with Earle Spencer, Smith Dobson, Tecumseh “Tee” Carson, Eddie Duran, John Mosher, Eddie Moore, Gene DiNovi, Sir Charles Thompson, David Young, Yukio Kimura, Kohnosuke Saijoh, Al Cohn, Stan Kenton, Chaloff and Sims.
Tenor saxophonist Herbie Steward, who has only a few albums as a leader in print at present, passed away on August 9, 2003 in Clearlake, California.
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