John Malachi was born on September 6, 1919 in Red Springs, North Carolina and grew up in Durham, North Carolina. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Washington, D.C., and was a self-taught musician.
Malachi was a member of the Billy Eckstine Bebop Orchestra in 1944 for a year and then again in 1947. He worked with Illinois Jacquet in 1948, Louis Jordan in 1951, and a series of singers including Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Al Hibbler, and Joe Williams.
Opting out of the traveling life of the touring jazz musician in the 1960s, he lived approximately the last decade and a half of his life in Washington, D.C. freelancing, playing with touring bands and artists when they stopped in the city, and leading music workshops at clubs like Jimmy MacPhail’s Gold Room and Bill Harris’s Pig’s Foot. Malachi’s generosity towards younger musicians was legendary. His workshops with young musicians was referred to as The University of John Malachi.
He is credited with creating the nickname “Sassy” for Sarah Vaughan, with whom he worked with the Eckstine Orchestra and later directly with her. Pianist John Malachi, who was fond of categorizing jazz pianists into acrobats and poets, and considered himself among the latter, passed away on February 11, 1987 at the age of 67 in Washington, DC.
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