James Andrew Rushing was born on August 26, 1901 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma into a family with musical talent and accomplishments. His father, Andrew, was a trumpeter and his mother, Cora and her brother were singers. He studied music theory with Zelia N. Breaux at Douglass High School, and was unusual among his musical contemporaries, having attended college at Wilberforce University.
Rushing was inspired to pursue music and eventually sing blues by his uncle Wesley Manning and George “Fathead” Thomas of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Touring the midWest and California as an itinerant blues singer in 1923 and 1924, he eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where he played piano and sang with Jelly Roll Morton. He also sang with Billy King before moving on to Page’s Blue Devils in 1927. He, along with other members of the Blue Devils, defected to the Bennie Moten band in 1929.
When Moten died in 1935 Jimmy joined Count Basie for what would be a 13-year tenure. Due to his tutelage under his mentor Moten, he was a proponent of the Kansas City jump blues tradition as heard in his versions of Sent For You Yesterday and Boogie Woogie for the Count Basie Orchestra. After leaving Basie,, as a solo artist and a singing with other bands.
When the Basie band broke up in 1950 he briefly retired, then formed his own group and his recording career soared. He also made a guest appearance with Duke Ellington for the 1959 album Jazz Party. In 1960, he recorded an album with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, known for their cerebral cool jazz sound. Rushing appeared in the 1957 television special Sound of Jazz, singing one of his signature songs I Left My Baby backed by many of his former Basie band compatriots. In 1958 he was among the musicians included in an Esquire magazine photo by Art Kane, later memorialized in the documentary film A Great Day in Harlem.
In 1958 Jimmy toured the UK with Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, appeared in the 1969 Gordon Parks film The Learning Tree, and by 1971 was diagnosed with leukemia, that sidelined his performing career. On June 8, 1972 vocalist Jimmy Rushing, who was known as a blues shouter, balladeer and swing jazz singer, passed away in New York City. He was one of eight jazz and blues legends honored in a set of United States Postal Service stamps issued in 1994. Among his best known recordings are “Going to Chicago” with Basie, and “Harvard Blues”, with a famous saxophone solo by Don Byas.
Carrie Louise Smith was born August 25, 1925 in Fort Gaines, Georgia. Her mother moved her to Newark, New Jersey to escape an abusive husband but left her to be raised by an older cousin when she joined Father Divine’s church.
Leaving school after the eighth grade, Carrie taught herself to play piano, began singing in church and worked a number of jobs including train announcer at Newark’s train station. She became a member of the Back Home Choir that performed at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. She first gained notice singing with Big Tiny Little in the early 1970s, but became internationally known by 1974 when she played Bessie Smith (no relation) in Dick Hyman’s Satchmo Remembered at Carnegie Hall.
This was when Smith launched a solo career, performing with the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra, with a sextet led by trombonist Tyree Glenn in 1973, Yank Lawson in 1987, and then with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band. In addition to recording numerous solo albums, she starred in the Broadway musical Black and Blue from 1989 to 1991.
Though not well known in the U. S. she had a cult following in Europe and recorded thirteen albums between 1976 and 2002 as a leader. She also recorded with Art Hodes, Buddy Tate, Doc Cheatham, Hank Jones, Winard Harper, Dick Hyman, Clark Terry, Bross Townsend, Bob Cunningham and Bernard Purdie among others over the course of her career.
Jazz and blues vocalist Carrie Smith, lauded by jazz critics Rex Reed, Leonard Feather, Richard Sudhalter and John S. Wilson, passed away of from complications due to cancer at the age of 86 in Englewood, New Jersey on May 20, 2012.
Anna Mae Winburn was born Anna Mae Darden on August 13, 1913 to a musical family in Port Royal, Tennessee and along with her three sisters migrated to Kokomo, Indiana, at a young age. Her first known publicized performance was singing with the studio band of Radio WOWO, Fort Wayne, Indiana. She worked at various clubs in Indiana, at times appearing under the pseudonym Anita Door.
From there she moved to North Omaha, Nebraska where she sang and played guitar for a variety of territory bands, or groups whose touring activities and popularity were geographically limited to several adjoining states, that were led by Red Perkins. During that time Winburn was a collaborator of Lloyd Hunter, frequently singing with Lloyd Hunter’s “Serenaders”. She also led the Cotton Club Boys out of Omaha, a group that at one point included the amazing guitarist Charlie Christian.
When many of the musicians were lost to the World War II draft she left for Oklahoma City and led bands for a short while. It was there that she led Eddie Durham’s “All-Girl Orchestra”, which eventually earned her an invite to join the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Durham had been the composer for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm for two years before leaving to join Count Basie’s band.] After being recommended by Jimmie Jewel, who owned North Omaha’s Dreamland Ballroom, Anna Mae became the leader of the band in 1941. She was reportedly hired for her attractive figure, with the intention of doing little actual composing or singing but was the leader of the band until it folded in late 1949.
Vocalist and bandleader Anna Mae Winburn, who flourished beginning in the mid-1930s and led the all-female big band International Sweethearts of Rhythm, that was perhaps one of the few and one of the most racially integrated dance-bands of the swing era, passed away in Hempstead, New York on September 30, 1999.
More Posts: vocal
Kat Gang was born on August 9, 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts. She developed a passion for jazz at Berklee School of Music in her hometown and while matriculating received the Berklee College of Music Judges’ Choice Award and the Outstanding Vocalist Award. Honing her skills further at New York University, she earned a Bachelor’s degree while majoring in drama and voice.
A singer/songwriter, Kat takes on the traditional standards but is no stranger to interpretations of Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Arctic Monkeys or Oasis as she works as a duo with jazz guitar or piano. She is also known to work with many of Europe’s leading musicians in big bands, nonets, or as part of an eight piece Ella Fitzgerald tribute.
Currently with her own trio and quartet, vocalist Kat Gang stays in constant demand to perform in theaters, clubs, restaurants and even bateaux on London’s River Thames.
More Posts: vocal
Helga Plankensteiner was born on August 1, 1968 and studied classical saxophone at the Conservatory in Innsbruck under Florian Brambock, then jazz at the Conservatory of Trento. She would go on to study in various jazz workshops with Dick Oatts, Steve Slagle, Bobby Watson, Bob Bonisolo, Heinrich von Kalnein and Sandro Gibellini.
Helga expanded her talents to include vocals in her theater experience of the Threepenny Opera in addition to performing as a saxophonist for several other plays. She has been chosen by Musica Jazz in 2009 as one of the top ten rising talents, won the AMJ Big Band competition, and performed with the Orchestra Laboratorio of Trento with Matthias Ruegg, Bruno Tommaso, Maria Schneider, John Surman and Carla Bley.
She plays with the all-female saxophone quintet Girltalk, the Helga Plankensteiner Walter Civettini Quintet and the Unit Eleven Jazz Orchestra and. She is a permanent member of the Carla Bley Big Band, The Torino Jazz Orchestra and solos with Tom Harrell, Dusko Goykovich, Valery Ponomarev, Francesco Cafiso, Uri Caine, the Dani Felber Big Band and the Italian Sax Ensemble.
In addition, she conducts the ensemble Sweet Alps featuring soloists Gianluigi Trovesi, Florian Brambock, Michel Godard, Gianluca Petrella and Matthias Schriefl. Alto saxophonist Helga Plankensteiner continues to compose, record and perform at festivals worldwide.
More Posts: saxophone