William Overton Smith was born on September 22, 1926 in Sacramento, California and grew up in Oakland, California, where he began playing clarinet at the age of ten. He put together a jazz group to play for dances at 13, and at the age of 15 he joined the Oakland Symphony. Idolizing Benny Goodman, after high school he completed a brief cross-country tour with a dance band that ended his romance for the life of a traveling jazz musician. He gave two weeks’ notice when the band reached Washington, D.C. and encouraged by an older band member to get the best education he could, he headed to New York.
Beginning his formal music studies at the Juilliard School of Music, he played New York jazz clubs like Kelly’s Stables at night. However, uninspired by the Juilliard faculty, he returned to California and at Mills College he met pianist Dave Brubeck, and became a member of the Dave Brubeck Octet, and later occasionally subbed for saxophonist Paul Desmond in the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Winning the Prix de Paris presented Smith the opportunity for two years of study at the Paris Conservatory, and in 1957, he was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome and spent six years in that city. He has since received numerous other awards, including two Guggenheim grants.
As an educator at the University of Southern California, he began a thirty-year career at the University of Washington School of Music in Seattle, where he taught music composition and performance. He co-led the forward-thinking Contemporary Group, first with Robert Suderburg and then with trombonist Stuart Dempster, from 1966 to 1997 and at 91 clarinetist Bill Smith is currently professor emeritus.
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Born Keith Moore Mitchell, Red Mitchell came into this world on September 20, 1927 in New York City and was raised in New Jersey. His father loved music, his mother poetry and his first instruments were piano, alto saxophone, and clarinet. Receiving an engineering scholarship from Cornell University by 1947 he was in the Army playing bass. The next year he was in a jazz trio in New York City.
Red became known as for performing and recording with Mundell Lowe, Chubby Jackson, Charlie Ventura, Woody Herman, Red Norvo and Gerry Mulligan. After joining the West Coast jazz scene in the early 1950s in Los Angeles, California, he played with André Previn, Shelly Manne, Hampton Hawes, Billie Holiday, Stan Seltzer, Ornette Coleman, and others. He also recorded with Gene Ammons, Chet Baker, Louis Bellson, Paul Bley, Bob Brookmeyer, Buddy Collette, Maynard Ferguson, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Giuffre, Herbie Harper, Paul Horn, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Karin Krog, Johnny Mandel, Jack Montrose, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Perkins, Richie Kamuca, Shorty Rogers, Dick Rosmini, Pete Rugolo, George Russell, Bud Shank, Clark Terry, Magni Wentzel and Pierre Strom.
He also worked as a bassist in the TV and film studios, occasionally appearing on screen and in the documentaries about Tal Farlow and Zoot Sims. Saxophonist Harold Land and Mitchell founded and co-led a quintet in the early 1960s. In 1966, Red began tuning his bass in fifths like the violin and his tuning method opened up many possibilities for bassists. Moving to Stockholm, Sweden in 1968, He won a Swedish Grammy Award in 1986 and again in 1991 for his recorded performances as a pianist, bassist, and vocalist, and for his compositions and poetic song lyrics.
During this period, Red performed and/or recorded with Clark Terry, Lee Konitz, Herb Ellis, Jim Hall, Joe Pass, Kenny Barron, Hank Jones, Ben Webster, Bill Mays, Warne Marsh, Jimmy Rowles, Phil Woods, Putte Wickman and collaborated in duos, most notably with pianist Roger Kellaway after the mid-1980s among others.
Returning to the United States and settling in Salem, Oregon, double bassist, pianist, composer, lyricist and poet Red Mitchell left three dozen albums as a leader and another sixty-six before passing away at age 65 on November 8, 1992.
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Herb Ellis was born Mitchell Herbert Ellis in Farmersville, Texas on August 4, 1921 and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He first heard the electric guitar performed by George Barnes on a radio program which inspired him to take up the guitar. He became proficient on the instrument by the time he entered North Texas State University, majored in music, but with no guitar program he studied string bass. With a lack of funds he dropped out in 1941 and toured for six months with a band from the University of Kansas.
In 1943, he joined Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra and it was here that he got his first recognition in the jazz magazines. Leaving Gray for the Jimmy Dorsey band, he got his initial opportunities to recorded solos. Ellis remained with Dorsey through 1947, traveling and recording extensively, but with a six-week hole in the schedule, he John Frigo and Lou Carter took a gig in Buffalo that lasted six months and where the group Soft Winds was born he wrote the classic jazz standard Detour Ahead.
The group fashioned themselves after the Nat King Cole Trio. and stayed together until 1952. Herb then replaced Barney Kessel in the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1953. His prominence not only with his performing with the trio alongside Ray Brown until 1958 but also because he was the only white person in the group in a time when racism was still very much widespread.
With the addition of a drummer, the Oscar Peterson Trio, served as the house rhythm section for Norman Granz’s Verve Records. They supported the likes of Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Buddy Rich, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Victor Feldman, Mel Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong among numerous others.
The trio were a mainstay of Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts as they swept the jazz world, from 957 to 1960 Ellis toured with Ella Fitzgerald, and along with fellow jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and Tal Farlow, he created another ensemble, the Great Guitars.
In 1994 he was inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Texas College of Music. Guitarist Herb Ellis, released twenty-two albums as a leader before passing away from Alzheimer’s disease at his Los Angeles home on the morning of March 28, 2010, at the age of 88.
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Karel Krautgartner was born on July 20, 1922 in Mikulov, Moravia and began to play piano at the age of eight. In 1935, after moving to Brno, he found interest mainly in the radio broadcasting and especially in jazz. He began to study clarinet privately with Stanislav Krtička, acquiring necessary skills and inherited a fanatic passion for clarinet construction and its components.
In 1936 Krautgartner founded the student orchestra Quick Band and six years later signed his first professional contract as a saxophonist in the Gustav Brom Orchestra in the hotel Passage in Brno. In 1943 he gradually created Dixie Club and started to arrange in the Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller styles. During 1945 – 1955, the core of the Dixie Club moved gradually to Prague and became a part of Karel Vlach orchestra. Karel became leader of the saxophone section and started to contributing his own compositions.
1956 saw him founding the Karel Krautgartner Quintet along with Karel Velebný. The group played in various line-ups modern jazz, swing, dixieland and accompanied popular singers. From 1958 to 1960 he performed with the All star band, an orchestra playing in west-coast style, and dixieland with Studio 5. Between 1960 and 1968 he became the head of the Taneční Orchestr Československého Rozhlasu (Dance Orchestra of Czechoslovakia Radio), renamed to Karel Krautgartner Orchestra in 1967.
Following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he emigrated to Vienna, Austria in 1968 and became the chief conductor of the 0RF Bigband. Later he moved to Cologne, Germany. Clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger, composer, conductor and teacher Karel Krautgartner passed away on September 20, 1982 in Germany.
Herbert Harper was born July 2, 1920 in Salina, Kansas and studied trombone in his youth. He first started playing swing music with Benny Goodman and Charlie Spivak in the 1940s and 1950s. A move to Los Angeles, California saw him working on the West Coast jazz scene and performing with the likes of Stan Kenton, Bill Perkins and Maynard Ferguson, among others.
In 1949, he became a member of the band backing Billie Holiday on her famous Just Jazz radio broadcast for AFRS in Los Angeles. During this period he performed alongside band members trumpeter Neal Hefti, clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Herbie Steward pianist Jimmy Rowles bassist Robert “Iggy” Shevak and drummer Roy “Blinky” Garner.
In 1954, he recorded several sessions as a member of Steve White’s Hollywood-based quartet. As a leader he released his inaugural self titled recording in 1954 and followed up with another trio of albums that same year. With two more during the same decade, Herbie would record again as a leader until the Eighties. He would however record profusely as a sideman with Pete Rugolo and Ferguson.
Trombonist Herbie Harper, who concentrated his playing in the West Coast jazz school, passed away on January 21, 2012.
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