George V. Johnson Jr. was born on December 20, 1950 in Washington, D.C. Self taught, he was first exposed to music by singing and participating regular with church and school choirs while listening and emulating records played by his parents. He attended Prince George’s Community College then went on to matriculate through Howard University School of Fine Arts.
A composer, George writes lyrics about complex things: personal experiences, love, history, family, home, heaven and jazz. Phrases turn, emotions connect and melodies soar with his natural gift of writing lyrics and poetry. Meeting pianist John Malachi was fortuitous as he helped shape and guide Johnson’s career over the next 15 years.
He met a major influence, Eddie Jefferson, and performed or recorded with Lou Donaldson and James Moody, has performed at numerous jazz festivals and tributes, played various nightclubs and toured Europe. He has penned lyrics to more than 40 Hank Mobley compositions as part of the Second Floor Music project that has single handedly kept vocalese alive.
Over a 35 year career, vocalist, lyricist, actor, playwright, producer, promoter, composer George Johnson has played with legendary jazz musicians and vocalists such as Lou Donaldson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Shirley Horn, Dizzy Gillespie, John Hicks, Billy Higgins, Rufus Reid, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, Kurt Lightsey and the list continues. He continues to perform, and record.
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Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was born on December 18, 1917 in Houston, Texas and took up the alto saxophone in his youth. By the late 30s he joined Milton Larkin’s Orchestra and at various times sat next to Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Cedric Haywood and Wild Bill Davis.
Exiting Larkin’s employment in 1941, Vinson picked up a few vocal tricks while touring with bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, moved to New York City joining and recording with Cootie Williams, and then struck out on his own in 1945, Eddie formed his own large band that performed, recorded and toured over the next ten years.
He signed with Mercury Records, and enjoying a double-sided hit in 1947 with his R&B chart-topper “Old Maid Boogie”, and the song that would prove to be his signature number, “Kidney Stew Blues”.
Vinson leaned towards jazz during the early 50s when his band included John Coltrane. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles working with Johnny Otis and by the late 60s he was touring in a strict jazz capacity with Jay McShann and his career took an upswing. A 1970 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Otis spurred a bit of a comeback for Vinson and throughout the decade worked high-profile blues and jazz sessions for Count Basie, Johnny Otis, Roomful of Blues, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate.
During this period he also composed steadily, including “Tune Up” and “Four”, both of which have been incorrectly attributed to Miles Davis. Vinson recorded extensively during his fifty-odd year career and performed regularly in Europe and the United States.
Jump blues, R&B, jazz and bebop alto saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, whose nickname came from a hair straightening incident in which the lye destroyed his hair, passed away on July 2, 1988 from a heart attack whilst undergoing chemotherapy in Los Angles, California.
Cleo Brown was born in Meridian, Mississippi on December 8, 1905. As a child she sang in church until 1919 when her family moved to Chicago and she began studying piano. In the 1920s she began taking gigs in clubs and broadcasting on radio.
From the 1930s to the 1950s she toured the United States regularly, recording for Decca Records among other labels and recorded many humorous, ironic titles such as “Breakin’ in a Pair of Shoes”, “Mama Don’t Want No Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil” and “The Stuff Is Here and It’s Mellow”.
Cleo’s stride piano playing was often compared to Fats Waller. In the 1940s she started moving away from singing bawdy jazz and blues songs because of her deepening religious beliefs, and in 1953 she retired and became a nurse.
Rediscovered in the 1980s after being tracked down by Marian McPartland, she returned to record again and performed on National Public Radio.
Cleo Brown, jazz and blues vocalist and pianist died on April 15, 1995 in Denver, Colorado at age 85.
Papa’s Delicate Condition is a 1963 comedy that gave us ”Call Me Irresponsible” which became another jazz classic. Jimmy van Heusen composed the music and Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics and the tune received an Oscar for Best Song.
The film starred Jackie Gleason and Glynis Johns and was adapted from the Corinne Griffith memoir of the same name. It recounted her father and growing up in Texarkana, Texas.
The Story: If Jack Griffith’s wife doesn’t like the color of a neighbor’s house, he’ll arrange for it to be a house of a different color. If the owner of the ice cream parlor doesn’t believe in selling triple banana splits for a penny, Jack will buy the establishment. And if Jack’s little girl wants the pony in the circus parade, why ot buy the entire circus! This last prank sends Amberlyn Griffith back to turn of the century Texarkana, c. 1900, where her father is running for his third term a mayor. Jack follows, bringing the entire circus.
Kay Davis was born Katherine McDonald on December 5, 1920 in Evanston, Illinois. She studied voice and piano at Northwestern University, earning bachelor and master’s degrees.
In 1944 Kay joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra, singing alongside Joya Sherrill and Al Hibbler. She is best known for her wordless vocals in pieces such as “Transblucency” and “On a Turquoise Cloud” but also sang many lyrical compositions and is the only person Ellington ever allowed to reprise Adelaide Hall’s famous wordless vocal on “Creole Love Call”.
Although she never recorded as a solo artist, Davis’ tenure with Ellington’s band coincided with their increasing exposure on film, especially for Universal Pictures. She performed with Billy Strayhorn on the very first performance of his composition “Lush Life” at Carnegie Hall in 1948, though he wrote the song in the Thirties.
Kay toured England with Ellington alongside Ray Nance in 1948 and two years later with the full orchestra throughout Europe. In 1950 vocalist Kay Davis left the Ellington organization, got married and retired to Florida. After a long and full life, the vocalist passed away on January 27, 2012 in Apopka, Florida.
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