Allan Ganley was born on March 11, 1931 in Tolworth, Surrey, England and was a self-taught drummer. In the early 1950s Ganley played in the dance band led by Bert Ambrose. In 1953 he came to prominence as a member of Johnny Dankworth’s band, then the most popular modern jazz group in the UK. Throughout the 1950s, he worked with pianist Derek Smith, Dizzy Reece, clarinettist Vic Ash, Ronnie Scott and with visiting American musicians. Towards the end of the decade he was co-leader with Ronnie Ross of a small group known as the Jazzmakers.
By the early 1960s, Ganley was often performing with Tubby Hayes, with his small groups or occasionally assembling a big band. He was the house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and played with numerous Americans including Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Jim Hall, Freddie Hubbard and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. By the early 1970s he took time out to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, then returned to the UK to form and lead a big band, which he maintained sporadically for ten years.
Throughout the Seventies and ’80s and Nineties, Allan appeared on many broadcasts and recording dates, playing jazz and effortlessly slipping from traditional to post-bop to big band to mainstream, all the while swinging with great subtlety. He accompanied pianists as different as Teddy Wilson and Al Haig and for singers from Carol Kidd to Blossom Dearie.
As an arranger, he provided charts for many leading British jazzmen and for the BBC Radio Big Band, thus enhancing the enormous yet understated contribution he made to the British jazz scene over the years. Drummer and arranger Allan Ganley passed away on March 29, 2008.
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Bix Beiderbecke was born Leon Bismark Beiderbecke on March 10, 1903 in Davenport, Iowa and began playing piano at age two standing on the floor and playing with his hands over his head. At seven he was lauded in the Davenport Daily Democrat tas being able to play any selection he hears. At age ten he slipping aboard one or another of the excursion boats to play the Calliope or at home trying to duplicate the silent matinee melodies.
His love of jazz came from listening to records by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band his brother brought him and from the excursion boats that stopped on the Mississippi. Bix taught himself to play cornet largely by ear listening to Nick LaRocca’s horn lines, leading him to adopt a non-standard fingering creating his original sound.
While attending Davenport High School from 1919 to 1921 he played professionally with various bands, including those of Wilbur Hatch, Floyd Bean and Carlisle Evans, and in 1920 Beiderbecke performed for the school’s Vaudeville Night, singing in a vocal quintet called the Black Jazz Babies and playing his horn. However, due to his inability to read music he never got his union card.
Enrolled at the exclusive Lake Forest Academy, north of Chicago, Bix would often jump a train into Chicago, Illinois to catch the hot jazz bands at clubs and speakeasies, sometimes sit in with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and go to the Southside to listen to Black musicians who he referred to as real jazz musicians. Soon after, Beiderbecke began pursuing a career in music, moved to Chicago, joined the Cascades Band and gigged around the city until the fall of 1923.
He first recorded with Midwestern jazz ensembles, The Wolverines and The Bucktown Five in 1924, after which he played briefly for the Detroit-based Jean Goldkette Orchestra before joining Frankie “Tram” Trumbauer for an extended gig at the Arcadia Ballroom in St. Louis. In 1926 Beiderbecke and Trumbauer joined Goldkette, touring widely and famously played a set opposite Fletcher Henderson at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. He made his greatest recordings Singin’ the Blues and I’m Coming, Virginia in 1927 and the following year the pair left Detroit for New York City and the best-known dance orchestra in the country: the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
During the Whiteman period Bix suffered a precipitous decline in his health, brought on by the demand of the bandleader’s relentless touring and recording schedule in combination with his persistent alcoholism. Support from family and Whiteman along with rehabilitation centers did not help to stem his drinking or decline.
Cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer Bix Beiderbecke, one of the most influential jazz soloists of the Twenties, along with Louis Armstrong and Muggsy Spanier, passed away of lobar pneumonia in his apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, New York on August 6, 1931 at the age of 28.
George “Little Mitch” Mitchell was born March 8, 1899 in Louisville, Kentucky and took up the cornet at the age of 12, joining a local brass band in Louisville. From 1921-3 he recorded with Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds and Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Band on the Columbia label.
In 1926 Little Mitch recorded with the New Orleans Wanderers and New Orleans Bootblacks, taking the place of the unavailable Louis Armstrong. Shortly afterwards he recorded with Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. He also went to record with Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds and The Earl Hines Orchestra.
Cornetist George Mitchell ended his active but short career on the 1920s jazz scene around 1931, never leading a recording session, opting to become a bank messenger. He passed away on May 22, 1972 in Chicago, Illinois.
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Leroy Jones was born on February 20, 1958 in New Orleans, Louisiana and began playing trumpet at the age of ten. By the time he was 12 he was leading the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, a group of young musicians organized by guitar and banjo player Danny Barker.
The musicians’ union forced Barker to disband the group in 1974, so Leroy became a union musician and took over the running of the group, renaming it the Hurricane Brass Band. By 1976 he had left the group, touring for a time with Eddie Vinson and Della Reese before forming his own group, the Leroy Jones Quintet.
In 1991 Jones joined the big band of Harry Connick, Jr., and that exposure with the band, including the opportunity for the Leroy Jones Quintet to open for Connick. This in turn led to him releasing his first album under his own name titled Mo’ Cream From The Crop on the Columbia Records in 1994. Trumpeter Leroy Jones, who has ten albums as a leader, has also appeared with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Dr. John and continues to tour and record with his quintet.
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Robert Coull Wellins was born January 24, 1936 in Glasgow, Scotland and studied alto saxophone and harmony with his father Max, and also played piano and clarinet when young. Joining the RAF as a musician playing tenor saxophone and after demobilization he played with a few Scottish bands before moving to London. England in the mid-1950s.
He was a member of the Buddy Featherstonhaugh quintet between 1956 and 1957 with Kenny Wheeler. Around that time Wellins also joined drummer Tony Crombie’s Jazz Inc., where he first met pianist Stan Tracey, and then joined Tracey’s quartet in the early 1960s.
In the mid-1970s he led his own quartet with pianist Pete Jacobsen, bassist Adrian Kendon and drummer Spike Wells. Ken Baldock, and then Andy Cleyndert in the 1980s would replace Kendon. He also worked with Lionel Grigson in 1976 and by the end of the 1970s he was a member of the Jim Richardson Quartet.
The 1980s had him forming a quintet with fellow saxophonist Don Weller and Errol Clarke on piano, Cleyndert and Wells, while the latter featured guitarist Jim Mullen and Pete Jacobsen on piano. Following this group, Wellins led various quartets that included pianist Liam Noble, bassist Simon Thorpe and Dave Wickens on drums. He renewed his association with Spike Wells and put together a quartet with pianist Mark Edwards and bassist Andrew Cleyndert.
In 2012, Wellins was the subject of a documentary film, Dreams are Free, directed by Brighton-based director Gary Barber, tracing the rise, fall and redemption of Wellins. It covered his addiction and depression, how he overcame it and rediscovered the desire to play after ten years away from jazz.
Tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, best known for his 1965 collaboration with Stan Tracey on jazz suite inspired by Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, passed away on October 27, 2016 after being ill for some years.
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