Ralph Pena was born February 24, 1927 in Jarbidge, Nevada and started out playing baritone saxophone and tuba before switching to the bass. At age 15 he began playing professionally with Jerry Austin from 1942 to 1944. He went to college in San Francisco and became a fixture in the West Coast jazz scene.
Among his many associations were Nick Esposito, Art Pepper, Vido Musso, Cal Tjader, Billy May, Barney Kessel, Stan Getz, Charlie Barnet, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Buddy DeFranco, Bob Brookmeyer. In the 1960s, Pena worked with Ben Webster, George Shearing, Frank Sinatra, Joe Pass, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day and many others. He recorded and released a couple of albums with Pete Jolly between 1958 and 1962.
Bassist Ralph Pena, who lead one record session, he did lead his own groups on an occasional basis before his early death at age 42 on May 20, 1969 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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Benny Barth was born February 16, 1929 in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a child he was steeped in high school concerts, marching bands and orchestras and along with his Uncle Ben would go to the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom to hear jazz and big band as well as witnessing battles between the large ensembles of Tommy Dorsey and Buddy Rich.
He attended the Shortridge High School in his hometown and was a member of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene. After his graduation from Butler University , he moved to the West Coast where he worked with Conte Candoli and Lennie Niehaus.
He also worked as a session musician on numerous jazz albums and film scores. From 1957 to 1961 he was a member of The Mastersounds and recorded 12 albums playing with vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery, his brother bassist Monk Montgomery and Richie Crabtree on piano. He later became the house drummer for three years in San Francisco’s Club Hungi I. Barth would be a contributor to the album Drums on Fire, created together with Art Blakey and Chico Hamilton. He recorded with Wes Montgomery, Joe Venuti, Ben Webster, Jimmy Witherspoon, Pearl Bailey, Joe Williams, George Barnes and Mel Tormé.
In 1976, he accompanied Helen Hume on her album Deed I Do and appeared on some of the Vince Guaraldi recordings of the music for the television series Peanuts. Now at 87, drummer Benny Barth continued to play into the new millennium while mentoring young students.
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Joseph George Dodge was born on February 9, 1922 in Monroe, Wisconsin and was raised and grew up in San Francisco, California. He initially studied to be a symphonic percussionist, and like many young drummers of his generation, he was primarily influenced by Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Jimmy Crawford and Shelly Manne, gathering different sources of inspiration that helped him to create his own creative style.
During World War II, Dodge fulfilled his military duties from 1942 until 1945 playing drums in the Coast Artillery band, where he met tenor saxophonist Dave van Kriedt, who introduced him to Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. After his discharge in 1946 he worked in several dixieland groups and dance bands around the Bay area.
In 1950, becoming tired of road touring and economic instability took a job working in a bank but still kept in touch with Desmond, who arranged for him to play a Brubeck engagement as a temporary replacement for drummer Cal Tjader. The Brubeck octet was steady playing at the San Francisco Opera House, and opened for Nat King Cole and Woody Herman.
A few years later, Desmond again recommended Joe to Brubeck and he joined the quartet as Brubeck’s regular drummer. During his tenure he helped to record five successful albums between 1953 and 1956. During the same period, he was featured in two albums with different formats directed by Desmond.
By late 1956, Dodge was worn down again by the travel and intense schedule with the quartet and wanted to spend more time with his family. He then told Brubeck it was time to look for another drummer and took a day job in San Francisco. In 1957 he was offered a transitory position with Stan Kenton but again declined and from 1958 until he retired in 1981, he would combine working in the liquor business with evening musical engagements. Never losing touch with Desmond or Brubeck, he would play at the latter’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1992. Drummer Joe Dodge passed away on August 18, 2004 in Lake Elsinore, California at the age of 82.
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Joe Mondragon was born on February 2, 1920 in Antonito, Colorado. An autodidact on bass, he began working professionally in Los Angeles, California before serving in the Army during World War II. After his discharge he joined Woody Herman’s First Herd in 1946.
Over the next two decades, Mondragon became one of the more popular studio bassists for jazz recording on the West Coast, appearing on albums by June Christy, Buddy Rich, Buddy DeFranco, Marty Paich, Claude Williamson, Bob Cooper, Harry Sweets Edison, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, and recording the Duke Ellington Songbook with Ella Fitzgerald in 1956. He also played on soundtracks for films such as The Wild One and Pete Kelly’s Blues.
Though Joe never recorded as a leader, he did however, record 45 albums as a sideman with Georgie Auld, Chet Baker, Louis Bellson, Buddy Bregman, Hoagy Carmichael, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Giuffre, Woody Herman, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Henry Mancini, Shelly Manne, Carmen McRae, Jack Montrose, Gerry Mulligan, Oliver Nelson, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Pete Rugolo, Lalo Schifrin, Bud Shank and others.
Bassist Joe Mondragon passed away in July 1987 in Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico.
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Bob Whitlock was born Von Varlynn Whitlock on January 21,1931 in Roosevelt, Utah. As a young musician in 1947 he accompanied Lena Horne and in 1949 was with Steve White. By the early 1950s he was in Charlie Barnet’s band then went on to join Gerry Mulligan. He introduced Mulligan to his friend Chet Baker and with Chico Hamilton made up the quartet.
In 1952 Bob worked in the bands of Art Pepper and Russ Freeman and that same year he played in the session at The Tradewinds Club with Harry Babasin, Dave Pell, Sonny Criss, Wardell Gray, Lawrence Marable and Chet Baker. The mid-1950s saw him working on the Stan Getz album, Getz and the Cool Sounds. In 1957 he played in a trio with Joe Albany and Warne Marsh on the album The Right Combination.
Whitlock led a quartet and taught music theory at the University of California. In 1961 he performed in Paris, he played and toured with George Shearing from1965 to 1956, then in 1966 he played with Joe Pass on the Simplicity sessions. After this recording session there are no further known recordings.
Bassist Bob Whitlock, who was a part of the West Coast jazz scene, passed away from a stroke at age 84 on June 30, 2015 in Long Beach, California.
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