Coleman Randolph Hawkins was born on November 21, 1904 in St. Joseph, Missouri and named after his mother’s maiden name. He started out playing piano and cello prior to playing saxophone at age nine. By the time he turned 14, he was playing around eastern Kansas while attending Topeka High School and simultaneously studying harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College.
In 1921 Hawkins joined Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, toured through 1923 and settled in New York City. Hawkins joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra doubling on clarinet and bass saxophone and becoming a star soloist. He recorded with band mates Louis Armstrong and Henry “Red” Allen, a number of solo recordings with either piano or a pick-up band of Henderson musicians. In late 1934, he played with Jack Hylton’s band in London, toured Europe as a soloist until 1939 and worked with Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter in 1937 Paris.
Returning to the States he worked Kelly’s Stables, recorded two choruses of Body and Soul, his landmark recording of the Swing Era. Recorded as an afterthought at the session, it is notable in that Coleman ignores almost all of the melody, only the first four bars are stated in a recognizable fashion. In its exploration of harmonic structure it is considered by many to be the next evolutionary step in jazz recording from where Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” in 1928 left off.
Over the course of his long and prolific career Hawkins had an unsuccessful attempt at a big band, led a combo at Kelly’s Stables, played with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Ben Webster, Max Roach, Howard McGhee, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Roy Eldridge, J.J. Johnson, Fats Navarro and Duke Ellington among others, recorded a session with Dizzy Gillespie that is considered the first bebop recording and toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic. After 1948 Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings. In the 1960s, he appeared regularly at the Village Vanguard.
Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins directly influenced many future bebop musicians such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. In his later years he stopped recording, began drinking heavily and died of pneumonia on May 19, 1969 in New York.
Milton Mesirow, better known as Mezz Mezzrow was born November 9, 1899 in Chicago, Illinois. The clarinetist and saxophonist has never been ranked as one of the best jazz musicians, organizing and taking part in some magnificent recording sessions involving the best black musicians of the 1930s/40s, including Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Frankie Newton, Tommy Ladnier and most importantly Sidney Bechet. His 1938 sessions for the French jazz critic Hugues Panassie, which he is well-known for organizing and financing, involved Bechet and Ladnier and helped spark the “New Orleans revival”.
Mezzrow became better known for his drug-dealing of marijuana than his music. His nicknames “Mezz” and “Muggles” that became slang for marijuana were used in song, the former in the Stuff Smith tune “If You’re A Viper” and the later was the title of a 1928 Louis Armstrong recording and for a brief time was his manager.
In the mid-1940s Mezzrow started his own record label, King Jazz Records, featuring himself in groups that usually included Sidney Bechet and, often, trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page. Mezzrow also can be found and heard playing on six recordings by Fats Waller and his appearance at the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival was a surprise hit.
Following that appearance he made his home in Paris, France and organized many bands that included French musicians like Claude Luter, as well as visiting American artists like Peanuts Holland, Jimmy Archey, Kansas Fields, Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton, with whom in 1953 he made what is probably his best ever recording: a version of the Louis Armstrong classic “West End Blues”.
Mezz Mezzrow, clarinetist, saxophonist, author and colorful character died on August 5, 1972 in Paris, France.
Eddie Daniels was born on October 19, 1941 in New York City and grew up in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn. He became interested in jazz as a teenager when impressed by listening to the recordings of the musicians accompanying singers, such as Frank Sinatra. Eddie’s first instrument was the alto saxophone, started on clarinet at 13 and later received his Masters in Clarinet from Julliard. By 15 he would add the Newport Jazz Festival Youth Competition to what would become a long list of credits. By the time he entered college, he was playing alto, clarinet and adding tenor saxophone to his arsenal.
Daniels has led a variety of bands from small combos to orchestras and has toured worldwide, recorded and appeared on television. Since the 1980s he has focused mainly on the clarinet and in 1989 he won one of many Grammy awards for playing on the Roger Kellaway arrangement of “Memos From Paradise”.
Over the course of his career he has captured Down Beat Magazine’s International Critics New Star on Clarinet Award, played and recorded with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard, George Benson, Joe Farrell, Johnny Hammond, Richard Davis, Yusef Lateef, Airto Moreira and Don Patterson Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Clarinetist Eddie Daniels, who also plays saxophone, flute and piccolo, performs commissioned classical compositions, has revolutionized the blend of classical and jazz and continues to tour and record.
Curtis Amy was born on October 11, 1929 in Houston, Texas and learned how to play clarinet before joining the Army. During his time in service he picked up the tenor saxophone and after his discharge he enrolled and graduated from Kentucky State College.
Working as an educator in Tennessee while playing in mid-western jazz clubs for a time and in the mid-1950s, Amy relocated to Los Angeles and signed with Pacific Jazz Records. By the mid-60s he spent three years as musical director for Ray Charles’ orchestra, together with his wife and singer Merry Clayton, and Steve Huffsteter.
Curtis lead his own bands and recording albums under his own name, Amy also did session work and played the solos on several recordings, including The Doors song “Touch Me”, Carole King’s “Tapestry”, and Lou Rawls’ first albums, “Black and Blue and Tobacco Road”; with Dexter Gordon in the Onzy Matthews’ big band as well as working with Marvin Gaye, Tammy Terrell and Smoky Robinson.
Soul jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist Curtis Amy, a part of the West coast jazz scene who explored other musical mediums, passed away on June 5, 2002.
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Muhal Richard Abrams was born on September 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. He didn’t start his musical training until his enrollment in Roosevelt University but not hearing what he heard in the streets caused him to study piano on his own. His natural ability to study and analyze things allowed him to read, identify the key the music was in, then the notes and how to play the piano. Listening to Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and many others, he concentrated on the composition of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson pieces. Although it took a lot of time and sweat, he was soon playing on the scene.
Abrams’ first gigs were playing the blues, R&B, and hard bop circuit in Chicago and working as a sideman with everyone from Dexter Gordon and Max Roach to Ruth Brown and Woody Shaw. In 1950 he began writing arrangements for the King Fletcher Band, and in 1955 played in the hard-bop band Modern Jazz Two + Three, with tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris.
After this group folded he kept a low profile until he organized the Experimental Band in 1962, a contrast to his earlier hard bop venture in its use of free jazz concepts. This band, with its fluctuating lineup, evolved into the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), emerging in May 1965 with Abrams as its president. Opting not to play in smoky nightclubs they often rented out theatres and lofts where they could perform for attentive and open-minded audiences.
His landmark album “Levels and Degrees of Light” in 1967 saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Maurice McIntyre, vibraphonist Gordon Emmanuel, violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Leonard Jones and vocalist Penelope Taylor. However, he never strayed too far from hard bop during this period playing with Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon and other hard boppers.
Moving to New York in 1975, Abrams became a part of the local Loft Jazz scene and in 1983 he established the New York chapter of the AACM. Over the course of his career he composed for symphony orchestras, classical works, string quartets, solo piano, voice, and big bands in addition to making a series of larger ensemble recordings that include harp and accordion. He has recorded extensively under his own name frequently on the Black Saint label and as a sideman on others’ records, working with the likes of Marion Brown, Chico Freeman, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Art Farmer, Sonny Stitt, Art Ensemble of Chicago, and numerous others.
Muhal Richard Abrams, educator, administrator, composer, arranger, cellist, clarinetist and pianist was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Vision Festival, New York City’s premier jazz festival and in 2010 was honored as a NEA Jazz Master. He continues to perform and record.