Blaise Siwula was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 19, 1950 and grew up in a working/middle-class Black neighborhood. His next-door neighbor practiced saxophone in the afternoon and occasionally allowed him inside to watch him play. He began studying the alto saxophone at the age of 14, playing in the middle-school concert band. But, upon hearing John Coltrane’s Om in 1969, he was compelled to take the tenor saxophone and make it his voice.
He attended college on and off for an extended period from 1968-1980, studying theory and composition at Wayne State University and earning his B.F.A. degree. Siwula’s first personal encounters with jazz musicians came around 1971 with drummer Doc Watson, while both were living in a hotel near the downtown campus of Wayne State. Then the saxophonist got married, moved to San Francisco, California and started playing free improvised music in coffee houses and writing poetry.
Influenced by hearing Art Pepper in San Francisco, as well as Ornette Coleman, Sonny Stitt, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Blue Mitchell, Elvin Jones, and Miles Davis in memorable live performances around the Detroit area in the early ‘1970s. After spending four years in Northern California, Blaise moved back to Detroit, then headed for Europe in 1989, working and traveling as a street musician for three months, then returning to the States and settling in New York City.
Active on the metro New York improvisation scene, he worked with Amica Bunker, the Improvisers Collective, and the Citizens Ontological Music Agenda (COMA) series. During the decade of the 2000s, he concentrated his efforts as a spontaneous composer incorporating traditional musical scoring techniques with visual/graphic and performance-oriented presentations.
Over the course of his career he has played or collaborated with Doug Walker’s Alien Planetscapes, Cecil Taylor’s Ptonagas, William Hooker’s ensembles, Judy Dunaway’s Balloon Trio, Dialing Privileges with Dom Minasi and John Bollinger, Karen Borca, William Parker, Jeff Platz, Adam Lane, Wilber Morris, Vincent Chancey, Theo Jörgensmann, Rashid Bakr, Tatsuya Nakatani,, Jay Rosen, Sarah Weaver, Fala Mariam, Ernesto Rodrigues, Hilliard Greene, Joe McPhee, Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Maria De Alvear, Vattel Cherry, and Jeff Arnal, among others.
Avant-garde alto saxophonist Blaise Siwula also plays the clarinets, flutes, percussion and string instruments and continues to perform and record free jazz and curate.
John Richard Handy III was born on February 3, 1933 in Dallas, Texas and first came to prominence while working with Charles Mingus in the 1950s. By the 1960s, he was leading several groups, among them a quintet with violinist Michael White, Jerry Hahn on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, and drummer Terry Clarke. This group’s performance at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival was recorded and released as an album and he received Grammy nominations for jazz performance of Spanish Lady and jazz composition for If Only We Knew.
As an educator Handy has taught music history and performance at San Francisco State University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and other schools.
The 1980s saw John working on the Mel Martin project Bebop & Beyond, recording tribute albums to Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He has recorded some eighteen albums as a leader for Roulette, Columbia, Impulse!, Warner, MPS, Milestone, Koch Int’l and Boulevard record labels. He has had one compilation released of selections from In The Vernacular and No Coast Jazz, and and has recorded two albums with Brass Fever, as well as, five albums during his time with Mingus.
Alto saxophonist John Handy, who also plays tenor and baritone saxophone, saxello, clarinet, oboe and sings, continues to perform and record.
Kenny Davern was born John Kenneth Davern on January 7, 1935 in Huntington, Long Island, New York of Austrian-Irish ancestry. After hearing Pee Wee Russell the first time, he was convinced that he wanted to be a jazz musician and at the age of 16 he joined the musician’s union, first as a baritone saxophone player. In 1954 he joined Jack Teagarden’s band, and after only a few days with the band he made his first jazz recordings.
He would later work with bands led by Phil Napoleon and Pee Wee Erwin before joining the Dukes of Dixieland in 1962. The late 1960s found him free-lancing with, among others, Red Allen, Ralph Sutton, Yank Lawson and his lifelong friend Dick Wellstood.
Davern had taken up the soprano saxophone, and when a spontaneous coupling with fellow reedman Bob Wilber at Dick Gibson’s Colorado Jazz Party turned out be a huge success, one of the most important jazz groups of the 1970s, Soprano Summit, was born. The two co-led the group switching between the clarinet and various saxophones, and over the next five years Soprano Summit enjoyed a very successful string of record dates and concerts. When the group disbanded in 1979, he devoted himself to solely playing clarinet, preferring trio formats with piano and drums.
He revived his collaboration with Bob Wilber in 1991 and the new group was called Summit Reunion. Leading quartets since the 1990s, Kenny preferred the guitar to the piano in his rhythm section, employing guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden and James Chirillo. He appeared numerous times at the Colorado Springs Invitational Jazz Party; in 1997 he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame at Rutgers University, and in 2001 he received an honorary doctorate of music at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York.
Mainly playing in traditional jazz and swing settings, he ventured into the free-jazz genre collaborating in 1978 with avant-garde players Steve Lacy, Steve Swallow and Paul Motian that produced the album titled Unexpected. He also held an ardour and knowledge of classical music. Clarinetist Kenny Davern passed away of a heart attack at his Sandia Park, New Mexico home on December 12, 2006.
Jerry Coker was born on November 28, 1932 in South Bend, Indiana and picked up the clarinet and tenor saxophone long before going to study at Indiana University.
At the beginning of the 1950s he played tenor saxophone in the Fred Dale Big Band, but in 1953 he interrupted his studies to become a member of the Woody Herman Orchestra. During this time he also played in the Nat Pierce / Dick Collins Nonet and was a part of the formation of The Herdsman with Cy Touff and Ralph Burns in 1954. Jerry followed this musical relationship with joining the septet of Mel Lewis two years later and then with other musicians in the West Coast Jazz movement.
Coker also worked as a freelance musician and led his own bands in the second half of the 1950s. His first recordings made under his own name were recorded in Bloomington, Indiana, San Francisco, California and Paris, France.
The early 1960s saw his return to his studies and by the middle of the decade a return to Indiana University as a lecturer and active in the jazz field. With his educator hat on he headed the Duke Jazz Ensemble at Duke University from 1976 – 77 and later taught at the University of Miami, North Texas State University and the University of Tennessee .
He has written several books on improvisation, jazz keyboard and jazz history. Clarinetist, saxophonist, lecturer and author Jerry Coker continues to perform, record, tour and educate.
Donald Byron was born November 8, 1958 in The Bronx in New York City. His mother was a pianist and his father played bass in calypso bands. As well as listening to jazz recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and others, he was exposed to other styles through trips to the ballet and symphony concerts.
He studied clarinet with Joe Allard and studied music at the New England Conservatory in Boston with George Russell. While in Boston, Byron performed and recorded with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, founded by NEC faculty member Hankus Netsky.
A gifted performer on clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone, but on many of his albums he subordinates his own playing to the exploration of a particular style. Don is representative of a new generation of conservatory-trained jazz musicians who explore and record in a rich array of styles. His debut album in 1992, Tuskegee Experiments, bring classical avant garde and jazz improvisation together, while his albums like Ivey Divey are a more straight-ahead exploration of the traditional jazz, for which he has been nominated for a Grammy Award for his bass clarinet solo on I Want To Be Happy.
A practicing jazz historian and educator Byron recreates in spirit forgotten moments in the history of popular music with albums like Plays the Music of Mickey Katz and Bug Music. He has held professorships at Metropolitan State University of Denver, The University at Albany and MIT teaching composition, improvisation, music history, clarinet, and saxophone.
In 2001, Byron performed for the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album Red Hot + Indigo tribute to Duke Ellington, was named a 2007 USA Prudential Fellow and won a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has won the Rome Prize Fellowship and his Seven Etudes for solo piano made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Musical Composition.
Byron is a member of the Black Rock Coalition, has recorded with Allen Toussaint, Marc Ribot, Vernon Reid, Bill Frisell, Joe Henry, Hamiet Bluiett, Craig Harris, Mandy Patinkin, Ralph Peterson, Reggie Workman, David Murray, Steve Coleman, Bobby Previs, Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Cassandra Wilson, Uri Caine and many others.
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Don Byron, who play primarily clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophones, continues to perform, tour, record and educate, while venturing outside his jazz roots and into klezmer music, German lieder, cartoon jazz, hard rock/metal and rap.