Bassist Julian Euell was born on May 23, 1929 in New York City. He first began playing bass in 1944, served in the Army from 1945-47 and after his discharge began playing with Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Art Taylor that same year. He quit music in ’49 for steady work in the post office eventually studying under Charles Mingus in ’52 and attending Julliard fro 1953 to 1956. He also took classes at NYU, earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and subsequently taught there.
His musical associations during the fifties were with Elmo Hope, Benny Harris, Charlie Rouse, Joe Roland, Freddie Redd, Gigi Gryce and Phineas Newborn. Leaving music again late in the decade he found employment in New Jersey as a social worker. Though less active at this time he continued to perform with Mal Waldron, Randy Weston, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus and Kenny Dorham.
In the 1960s Euell worked in Harlem directing an arts program and then returned to school, receiving a Ph.D. from George Washington University in 1973. He was Assistant Secretary for Public Service at the Smithsonian from 1970-1982, and was partly responsible for the institution’s increasing interest in jazz history. From 1983 to 1988 he directed the Oakland Museum History-Arts-Science and from 1991-95 was director of the Louis Armstrong House. He returned to semi-regular performing in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Born May 19, 1935 in Tulsa, Oklahoma bassist Cecil McBee studied clarinet at school before switching to the bass at 17 and began playing in local clubs. After matriculating through Ohio Central State University with a degree in music, he spent two years in the army conducting the band at Fort Knox.
Cecil McBee was working with Dinah Washington by 1959, three years later moved to Detroit and worked with Paul Winters folk-rock band, then moved to New York in the mid-60s where his jazz career took an earnest turn. He began working with Miles Davis, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, Yusef Lateef, Keith Jarrett, Freddie Hubbard, Wood Shaw and Alice Coltrane all by the time 1972 arrived.
In 1975 he started his own group and made a number of recordings, became a member of the group Almanac but is best known for his as a sideman over the past several decades. One of the most influential bassist in jazz, Cecil McBee teaches at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts and remains one of post-bops versatile bassist who delivers a rich, full-bodied tone.
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Michael Formanek was born on May 7, 1958 in San Francisco, California. The bassist and composer has had a long association with the jazz scene in New York City.
By the 1980s, Formanek was working as a sideman with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch and Attila Zoller. His debut recording released as a leader at the onset of the nineties Wide Open Spaces, featured a few of the young lions at the time, saxophonist Greg Osby, violinist Mark Feldman, guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Jeff Hirshfield.
A series of albums followed through the decade as Formanek changed different configurations from trio to septet. Towards the end of the decade he was touring with Gerry Hemingway and recording duo and solo albums. He has worked with Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Kuumba Frank Lacy, Marvin Smith, Salvatore Bonafede, Peter Erskine, Jane Ira Bloom, Uri Caine, Lee Konitz, Kevin Mahogany and the Mingus Big Band, just to name a few.
Michael Formanek is currently the Director of the Peabody Jazz Orchestra and jazz bass instructor at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland.
Hayes Alvis was born on May 1, 1907 in Chicago, Illinois. He started his career playing drums but switched to tuba and bass after playing with Jelly Roll Morton in 1927-28. He played tuba and arranged for Earl Hines from 1928 to 1930.
Moving to New York City in 1931 Hayes played with Jimmie Noone in the Mills Blue Rhythm Band from 1931-34 and 1936. A very early double-bass solo can be heard on his 1932 recording “Rhythm Spasm”. He also occasionally played baritone saxophone in this ensemble as well, and was the group’s tour manager. From 1935 to 1938 Alvis played with Duke Ellington, working with fellow bassist/tubist Billy Taylor.
After his stint with Ellington, Alvis played with Benny Carter, Joe Sullivan and Louis Armstrong, replacing Pops Foster. From 1942 to 1945 he played in the Army band led by Sy Oliver. After the war, he played with Dave Martin until 1947, and then took a longstanding run as a house musician at the Cafe Society in New York City.
In the 1950s, he played in various swing and Dixieland revival groups, including Wilbur De Paris’s New Orleans Jazz. In the early seventies he played in a trio with Jay McShann and Tiny Grimes.
Never recording as a leader, bassist, tubist and sideman Alvis Hayes died in New York City on December 30, 1972 at the age of 65.
Percy Heath was born on April 30, 1923 in Wilmington, N.C. but was raised in Philadelphia. The second of four children, he was the brother of saxophonist Jimmy Heath and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. With music in the house, as a child Percy started playing violin at eight but it wasn’t until after serving as a Tuskegee Airman during WWII that he took up the bass. After a stint in music school he was playing in Philly clubs, ventured to Chicago in 1948 to record a Milt Jackson session with his brother. Moving to New York he worked with Joe Morris, Johnny Griffin and Dizzy Gillespie.
Working with Dizzy were pianist John Lewis, drummer Kenny Clarke, vibist Milt Jackson and bassist Ray Brown who would become the Modern Jazz Quartet. When Ray decided to leave to become a part of his wife Ella Fitzgerald’s band, Percy stepped into the position and the MJQ was officially launched in 1952, with Connie Kay replacing Clarke shortly after.
In 1975 along with brothers Jimmy and Albert and Stanley Cowell, he formed the Heath Brothers, sometimes playing cello when recording a series of albums. Over the course of his lifetime he played and recorded with such notables as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.
After a second bout with bone cancer Percy Heath passed away on April 2005 in Southampton, New York. His final recording A Love Song garnered critical acclaim and was a fitting tribute to his long and illustrious career.