Alex Hill was born on April 19, 1906 in Little Rock, Arkansas to a minister father and pianist mother who taught her child prodigy to play. Defying his father’s wishes the young pianist delved into secular music and while studying at Shorter College met Alphonse Trent and began arranging for him. After graduating in 1922 he worked with several territory bands including Fats Waller and Terence Holder.
From 1924 to 1926 Alex led his own ensemble, then played with Speed Webb, and in 1927 he spent time with Mutt Carey’s Jeffersonians and Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders. Later that same year Hill relocated to Chicago and held a job as an arranger for the Melrose Music Publishing Company, while simultaneously arranging for the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra. He began recording as a leader and a sideman in 1928 and continued through 1934.
By 1930, prior to a move to New York City, Alex had played with Jimmy Wade, Jimmie Noone and Sammy Stewart. During his time in New York he arranged for Paul Whiteman, Benny Carter, Claude Hopkins, Andy Kirk, Eddie Condon and Duke Ellington among others. Additionally, he became staff arranger for the Mills Music Company. Reuniting with Fats Waller the two did a show together in New York called “Hello 1931”, and accompanied Adelaide Hall.
Hill again put together his own group in 1935, but after playing the Savoy Ballroom he disbanded the ensemble due to his battle with tuberculosis. Moving back to Little Rock, pianist and arranger Alex Hill passed away in February 1937 at the age of 30.
Bobby Tucker was born Robert Nathaniel Tucker on January 8, 1923 in Morristown, New Jersey. His rise to recognition came On November 12, 1946 when during Billie Holiday’s stay at the Down Beat Club he was drafted to accompany Holiday because Eddie Heywood refused his opportunity. Billie’s stay at the Down Beat was so successful due to Tucker’s playing that she decided to keep him as her accompanist. The partnership lasted until 1949, where Tucker quit due to Holiday’s abusive lover, John Levy (not the bassist) threatening him.
After leaving Holiday, Tucker began playing with Billy Eckstine, a partnership and friendship that last more than forty years. He recorded on multiple sessions with Billy but was featured on the 1960 album “No Cover, No Minimum”, in which he arranged and conducted the orchestra behind Eckstine. That same year Tucker also released his only known album under his own name “Too Tough”.
Bobby was especially sought out as an accompanist for singers among them Johnny Hartman, Lena Horne and Antonio Carlos Jobim. He was a musician’s musician whose quiet yet prolific career renders little biographical information, yet spanned the jazz age from the 40s to the 60s and beyond with his friend Billy Eckstine.
Pianist, arranger and conductor Bobby Tucker passed away of a heart attack on April 12, 2007 in his hometown of Morristown, New Jersey at the age of 85.
Raymond Stanley Noble was born on December 17, 1903 in Brighton, England and studied music at the Royal Academy. He became the leader of the HMV Records studio band, known as the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra that featured popular vocalist Al Bowlly and many musicians of the top hotel bands.
The Bowlly/Noble recordings achieved popularity in the United States, however, union bans prevented Noble from bringing British musicians to America so he arranged for Glenn Miller to recruit American musicians. Bowlly returned to England but Noble continued to lead bands in America, moving into an acting career portraying a stereotypical upper-class English idiot in films like Top Hat and Slumming On Park Avenue. He also played the “dense” character in love with Gracie Allen, or with his orchestra in an Edgar Bergen vehicle. Noble also provided music for many radio shows of the times like The Charlie McCarthy Show. His last major success as a bandleader came with Buddy Clark in the late 1940s.
Ray Noble arranged hits in the 1930s such as “Easy to Love”, “Mad About the Boy”, “Paris in the Spring”, wrote both lyrics and music for now jazz standards “Love Is The Sweetest Thing”, “Cherokee”, “The Touch of Your Lips”, “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” and “The Very Thought Of You” and co-wrote “Goodnight, Sweetheart” and “You’re So Desirable”, recorded by Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson and in 1990 by Robert Palmer.
Ray Noble, bandleader, composer, arranger, pianist, singer and actor passed away on April 3, 1978 at the age of 74.
Bob Cooper was born on December 6, 1925 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began to study the clarinet in high school and the following year he began working on the tenor saxophone. By 1945 he was joining Stan Kenton’s outfit when he was just 20, and as the new tenor saxophone player played alongside vocalist June Christy on “Tampico” that was to be a Kenton million-selling record. He would marry Christy two years later in Washington, DC.
Coop, as he was affectionately known, stayed with Kenton until he broke up the band in 1951. A naturally swinging jazz musician, Cooper and some other ex- Kenton men were hired to play at the Lighthouse Cafe in Los Angeles by the bassist Howard Rumsey. The Lighthouse became one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world, and the band, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars made history.
With a steady job he could work from home and he expanded his study of the oboe and English horn. While at the Lighthouse he made many momentous recordings, unique amongst them oboe and flute with Bud Shank, and composing a 12-tone octet for woodwind. Bob would go on to lead record sessions as part of a series of long-playing albums under “Kenton Presents” for Capitol Records.
His writing and playing on the album and its successor, “Shifting Winds” in 1955, were seminal in the creation of what was to become known as West Coast jazz. Imaginative writing and a well lubricated polish characterized the session and Cooper’s singing and stomping tenor style on his arrangement of “Strike Up The Band” boosted the record sales considerably.
Cooper would go on to tour Europe, South Africa and Japan with Christy, work as a studio musician in Hollywood, further develop his writing and compose film scores, join Kenton’s huge Neophonic Orchestra and have his composition ‘Solo For Orchestra’ premiered at one of its concerts. Much in demand for his beloved big-band work, he played regularly in other Los Angeles orchestras led by Shorty Rogers, Terry Gibbs, Bill Holman, Bill Berry, Bob Florence and Frankie Capp / Nat Pierce.
Bob Cooper, the West Coast jazz musician known primarily for playing tenor saxophone was also one of the first to play solos on oboe, passed away on August 5, 1993 in Los Angeles, California. Though maturing into one of the finest but least praised tenor saxophonists, he easily ranked with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn in his talents. His last studio recording, released the year of his death, was on Karrin Allyson’s album Sweet Home Cookin on which he played tenor saxophone.
Gigi Gryce was born George General Grice, Jr. on November 28, 1925 in Pensacola, Florida but grew up in Hartford Connecticut. He studied classical composition at the Boston Conservatory, studied with private teachers, then won a Fulbright scholarship and continued his studies in Paris.
His performing career was relatively short in comparison to other musicians of his generation, his work little known, however, several of his compositions have been covered extensively – “Minority,” “Social Call,” and “Nica’s Tempo” are frequently heard in mainstream jazz venues. Gigi’s compositional bent includes harmonic choices similar to those of Benny Golson, Tadd Dameron and Horace Silver in the contemporaneous period. Gryce’s playing, arranging, composing is consonant with the hard bop classic period was generally considered to be 1953-1965.
During the 1950s he achieved some renown for his innovative bebop playing, his primary instrument being the alto saxophone. Among the musicians with whom Gryce performed were Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Lionel Hampton, D, Howard McGhee, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Lee Morgan, Max Roach, Oscar Pettiford, Teddy Charles and Benny Golson. In 1955, Gryce formed the Jazz Lab Quintet, which included trumpeter Donald Byrd.
In the mid-1950s he converted to Islam and adopted the name Basheer Qusim. By the 60s he stopped using the name Gigi Gryce partly due to personal problems that took their toll on his financial and emotional state, withdrawing from performing. During this last period of his life he taught at a series of public schools in Long Island and New York City and the Community Elementary School 53 on 168th Street in the Bronx, the last school renamed the Basheer Qusim School in his honor.
Gigi Gryce, saxophonist, flautist, clarinetist, composer, arranger, educator, and big band leader died of an apparent epileptic seizure on March 14, 1983 in Pensacola, Florida.