Sterling Bruce Conaway was born on October 26, 1900 in Washington, D.C. and learned to play the banjo and mandolin. His early career was spent playing with fellow Washingtonian Duke Ellington in their hometown. Relocated to Chicago, Illinois he joined the band of Carroll Dickerson.
He played in Cyril Fullerton’s band in 1924 and recorded with Helen Gross on ukulele. By the late 1920s he moved to Europe where he worked with Eddie South, Noble Sissle, Freddy Johnson, Freddy Taylor, and Leon Abbey. During this period in his career Sterling led several groups as well.
1936 saw him in Bombay, India playing with Crickett Smith, however, three years later returned to the United States. Banjoist and mandolinist Sterling Conaway continued to perform in big bands and leading his own groups until his passing away in November 1973.
Johnny St. Cyr was born on April 17, 1890 in New Orleans, Louisiana. St. He led several bands in the Crescent City beginning around 1905 and performed on the riverboats with Fate Marable. He played for several leading New Orleans bands including A.J. Piron, the Superior, Olympia and Tuxedo bands before moving to Chicago, Illinois in 1923 with King Oliver.
He is most commonly remembered as a member of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands. He also played and recorded with Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. St. Cyr also performed with Don Cook’s Dreamland Orchestra. He composed the popular standard Oriental Strut, noted for its adventurous chord sequence.
In 1930 Johnny returned to New Orleans to make a living as a plasterer while still playing with local bands led by Paul Barbarin or Alphonse Picou. In 1955 he moved to Los Angeles, California and returned to music full time. From 1961 until his death in 1966, he was the bandleader of the Young Men from New Orleans that featured Barney Bigard, performers at Disneyland.
Banjoist and guitarist Johnny St. Cyr passed away on June 17, 1966 in Los Angeles, California.
Marshall Brown was born on December 21, 1920 in Framingham, Massachusetts. Little recorded, he devoted most of his career to education, earning a music degree from New York University, as a member of the Zeta Psi Fraternity.
He was also a high school band director leading the Farmingdale New York Daler Band from the early 1950s through 1957. Brown was the first high school band director to initiate a jazz education program, which he did in his tenure at Farmingdale High. By 1956 his stage band, the Daler Dance Band, a jazz big band with an average age of 14 years old, was so formidable and impressive, boasted future jazz stars pianist Michael Abene, saxophonist Andrew Marsala, and whiz drummer Larry Ramsden. One night at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, Count Basie, who was late for his appearance as he entered the festival grounds heard the Daler Band performing their set and exclaimed, “Damn, they started already”, mistaking the Dalers for his band.
Marshall received some attention for performing and recording in a quartet with Pee Wee Russell in the early 1960s. While Russell was most often associated with Dixieland or swing, their quartet performed more adventurous, free jazz-oriented pieces, including pieces by Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.
During the Sixties he was the resident trombonist at Jimmy Ryan’s, a noted dixieland venue. He also club dated with Luke O’Malley’s Irish band during this time. Brown also performed or recorded at one time or another with Ruby Braff, Beaver Harris, Lee Konitz, George Wein and Basie.
Conductor, arranger and educator Marshall Brown, who also played the valve trombone, trumpet, euphonium, electric bass and the banjo, passed away on December 13, 1983 in New York City.
Carmen Mastren was born Carmine Mastrandrea on October 6, 1913 in Cohoes, New York. By 1934 he was playing professionally as a musician when he joined the Wingy Manone and Joe Marsala band. Mastren worked with a variety of musicians during his career, including Raymond Scott, Ray McKinley and Mel Powell.
In the 1940s Mastren recorded with the Sidney Bechet and the Muggsy Spanier “Big Four”. During World War II he played with the Glenn Miller Air Force Band. It was during this period that he worked as musical director and conductor for Morton Downey, and from 1954–1970 he played for The Today Show, The Tonight Show and Say When!! on the NBC television network.
Recording as a sideman, Carmen worked with Dick Hyman And His Orchestra, Bobby Hackett, Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Bud Freeman and the Wolverine Orchestra on such labels as Mercury, Decca, Atlantic, Epic, Universal/MCA, Victor, RCA, Allegro Elite and Gennett.
Guitarist, banjoist and violinist Carmen Mastren passed away at age 68 from a heart attack on March 31, 1981 at his home in Valley Stream on Long Island, New York. He is best remembered for his work from 1936–1941 with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra as a guitarist.
Ikey Robinson also known as Banjo Ikey was born Isaac L. Robinson on July 28, 1904 in Dublin, Virginia. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1926, playing and recording with Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and Jabbo Smith during 1928-1929.
He went on to put together groups that included Ikey Robinson and his Band with Jabbo Smith, The Hokum Trio, The Pods of Pepper, Windy City Five, and Sloke & Ike.
His jazz style influenced many subsequent players, and his 1929 recording Rock Me Mama is often cited as an early use of the term “rock” as it evolved from black gospel into rock and roll.
Robinson reunited in the 1970s with Jabbo Smith for a global tour and appeared in the 1985 film Louie Bluie, a documentary about fellow musician Howard Armstrong. Having never previously met Armstrong he was initially hesitant to meet him because of their differing musical styles. However, the two got on well and perform together in the documentary. Banjoist and vocalist Ikey Robinson passed away on October 25, 1990.