Nathaniel Charles Gonella was born March 7, 1908 in East London, England and took up cornet as a child while at St. Mary’s Guardian School, an institution for underprivileged children. His first professional job interrupted his stint as a furrier’s apprentice when he joined Archie Pitt’s Busby Boy’s Band in 1924. He remained with the band until 1928, and it was during this period that he became acquainted with the early recordings of Louis Armstrong and the New Orleans jazz style.
Nat played and recorded with many prominent jazz musicians, including Billy Cotton, Archie Alexander, Digby Fairweather, Lew Stone, Bob Bryden and Roy Fox. His distinctive vocal style was reminiscent of his idol, Louis Armstrong, though his voice was often eclipsed by his achievements as a bandleader and trumpeter.
Gonella’s standing grew even more quickly after the formation of his own band, “The Georgians”, in 1935, taking the name from his highly popular recording of “Georgia On My Mind” in 1932. He later formed a big band and quickly became a headliner on the variety circuit.
Nat flirted briefly with bebop but returned to the variety stage until a revival of tradition jazz came in the late Fifties. His performing and recording success lasted until the advent of The Beatles in the Sixties, however he toured the northern club circuit and over the next thirty years he continued to sing occasionally with various bands until his death in Gosport on August 6, 1998 at age 90.
Big Bill Bissonnette was born February 5, 1937 in Bridgeport, Connecticut who became a jazz trombonist and producer. A strong advocate of New Orleans jazz played by Black musicians in the Sixties he led his group The Easy Riders Jazz Band.
During that period Bill also established his own Jazz Crusade label and organized northern tours for such veterans as Kid Thomas Valentine, George Lewis and Jim Robinson. After a period off the jazz scene, Bill successfully published of his 1992 memoirs, “The Jazz Crusade” that told many stories about New Orleans’ musicians.
Bissonnette reactivated his label and began to play trombone again. He has produced and recorded over 100 jazz sessions for his Jazz Crusade label, appearing as trombonist or drummer on over 50 recording sessions of New Orleans jazz.
He has spent much of the 1990s documenting the British jazz scene with his “Best of the Brits” CD series. He published a newsletter several times a year. Trombonist, drummer, producer, bandleader and writer retired from music and now resides in Concord, North Carolina in 2006.
Bobby Hackett was born January 31, 1915 and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. At an early age he played the ukulele and by the time he was twelve, he was playing guitar, violin and had bought his first cornet. Leaving high school after his freshman year he took a steady job with a band that performed seven days a week at the Port Arthur and playing guitar regularly at the Rhodes and Arcadia ballrooms that often broadcasted on Providence radio and when Cab Calloway arrived short-handed and invited him to fill in.
In the fall of 1932 Bobby was recruited by The Herbie Marsh Orchestra, spent the summer of 1933 playing with Payson Re’s band, met Pee Wee Russell, by 1934, and playing college gigs with his band The Harvard Gold Coast Orchestra on weekends between Providence and Boston throughout 1935 and 36.
He worked with a new band at Nick’s in Greenwich Village, with Benny Goodman, Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden and Teddy Wilson, played the new York World’s Fair in 1939, did the club circuit in New York, toured, recorded with his own band on MCA, took a seat with the Horace Heidt Musical Knights and recorded on the soundtrack of Fred Astaire vehicle “Second Chorus”.
After a dental surgery Bobby’s lip was in bad shape making it difficult for him to play, however, Glenn Miller offered him a job as a guitarist with the Miller Band and playing short trumpet solos. During the 1950s, he made a series of albums of ballads with a full string orchestra, produced by Jackie Gleason, in the Sixties toured with singer Tony Bennett, and by the early 1970s, Hackett performed separately with Dizzy Gillespie and Teresa Brewer. In his later years, he continued to perform in a Dixieland style even as trends in jazz changed.
Trumpeter Bobby Hackett passed away on June 7, 1976 from a heart attack. In 2012, he was selected to be inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
Marilyn Mazur was born on January 18, 1955 of Polish and African American descent in New York but grew up on Denmark from the age of six. Primarily a self-taught percussionist and drummer, she got a degree in percussion at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
From 1975, Mazur has worked as a percussionist with various groups, among others, the group Six Winds with Alex Riel. She has performed with such notables as Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, Jan Garbarek, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter Jeanne Lee and Palle Mikkelborg to mention a few.
By 1989, Marilyn founded her band Future Song, a sextet with her husband Klavs Hovman. A second project, Percussion Paradise, brought together percussionists Benita Haastrup, Lisbeth Diers and Birgit Løkke.
Marilyn Mazur is also a composer, pianist, dancer and bandleader and has been selected by Down Beat in 1989, 1990 and 1995 as a “percussion talent deserving wider recognition”. In 2001, she was awarded the Jazzpar Prize, the world’s largest international jazz prize. She continues to record, perform and tour.
Cyrus Chestnut was born January 17, 1963 in Baltimore, Maryland. He started his musical career at the age of six, playing piano at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. By age nine, he was studying classical music at Peabody Institute and in 1985 earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging from Berklee College of Music where he was awarded the Eubie Blake Fellowship, the Quincy Jones Scholarship and the Oscar Peterson Scholarship.
A year after graduating his prolific career began with a tour with Jon Hendricks, followed by two-year stints with Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Wynton Marsalis and Betty Carter. Under Betty’s tutelage, Cyrus was advised to take chances and play things she had never heard.
Signing with Atlantic Records in 1993 he released the critically acclaimed Revelation followed by The Dark Before The Dawn the next year, debuting at #6 on the Billboard charts. He has performed and/or recorded with Freddy Cole, Bette Midler, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Scott, Chick Corea, Isaac Hayes, Kevin Mahogany, Dizzy Gillespie, Manhattan Transfer, Vanessa L. Williams, Brian McKnight, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, James Carter, Wycliffe Gordon and the list continues.
Never straying far from his church roots he collaborated and toured with soprano opera diva Kathleen Battle, recording the notable “So Many Stars” in 1996. Later that same year came Blessed Quietness: A Collection of Hymns, Spirituals and Carols.
Chestnut’s leadership and prowess as a soloist has also led him to be a first call for the piano chair in many big bands including the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and the Carnegie Jazz Orchestra. He has amassed a further string of critically acclaimed albums while continually touring with his trio, playing jazz festivals around the world as well as clubs and concert halls.