Jack Wilson was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 3, 1936 but grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana from the age of seven. From 1949-54, he studied piano with Carl Atkinson at the Fort Wayne College of Music where he was introduced to the music of George Shearing.
Wilson later picked up the tenor saxophone and played in the Central High School band. He began performing locally leading small combos. By his fifteenth birthday, he had become the youngest member ever to join the Fort Wayne Musicians Union, Local 58. At 17, James Moody hired him to play a two-week stint as a substitute pianist.
After graduating from Central High, Jack spent a year-and-a-half at Indiana University, where he met Freddie Hubbard and Slide Hampton. Then touring with a rock ‘n roll band, he wound up in Columbus, Ohio and connecting with then unknown Nancy Wilson and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
After a year in Columbus, he moved to Atlantic City and led the house band at the Cotton Club, adding organ to his musical arsenal. At the Club he met Dinah Washington and worked with her from 1957-58.
A return to Chicago, Wilson was playing with Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Eddie Harris and Al Hibbler and holding down the gig at the Persian Lounge. Drafted into the Army, he went to Fort Stewart, GA. and became the first Black music director for the Third Army Area, playing tenor saxophone in the army band.
In 1961, jack received an honorable medical discharge due to diabetes, returned to Dinah Washington’s band for a year and encouraged by Buddy Collette moved to Los Angeles, California. It was here he worked with Gerald Wilson, Lou Donaldson, Herbie Mann, Johnny Griffin, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, Lou Rawls, Eartha Kitt, Julie London, as well as Sonny & Cher. He composed and recorded the title track for Earl Anderza’s debut album Outa Sight!
Wilson recorded his debut as a leader for Atlantic Records with The Jack Wilson Quartet featuring Roy Ayers followed by a sophomore project, then three for the label’s subsidiary Vault Records and three albums for Blue Note including the classic Easterly Winds in 1967. From there he focused on work with vocalist Esther Phillips, went back to the studio for Discovery Records, and returned to be a sideman with Lorez Alexandria, Tutti Camarata and Eddie Harris.
His final recording session simply titled In New York, took place on June 4, 1993 and featured legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. Composer and pianist Jack Wilson died on October 5, 2007 due to complications from his life with diabetes.
George Gruntz was born in Basel, Switzerland on June 24, 1932. The young pianist won prizes at Zurich Jazz Festivals and in 1958 was pianist with the International Youth Band at the Newport Jazz Festival. While there he accompanied, among others Louis Armstrong and in an instant became famous.
George went on to work with jazz musicians Phil Woods, Roland Kirk, Don Cherry, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin and Mel Lewis to name a few. From 1972 to 1994 he served as artistic director for the JazzFest Berlin, composed his first opera, founded the Piano Conclave and the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band and moderated the TV music series “All You Need Is Love”.
An accomplished arranger and composer, having been commissioned by many orchestra and symphonies, he is also an organist, harpsichordist and keyboardist with more that three dozen albums to his credit. He continued to compose, arrange, record and perform until his death on January 10, 2013.
Keith Jarrett was born on May 8, 1945, in Allentown, Pennsylvania and had significant early exposure to music. He possessed absolute pitch and displayed prodigious musical talents as a young child. He began piano lessons just before his third birthday, and at age five he appeared on a TV talent program and by seven had given his first classical piano recital. During his teens he began leaning towards jazz, turned down classical training in Paris and attended Berklee College of Music
He started his career with Art Blakey and after his tenure as a Jazz Messenger moving on to play with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Since the early 70s he has enjoyed a great deal of success in jazz, jazz-fusion, and classical music; as a group leader and a solo performer. His improvisations draw not only from the traditions of jazz but from other genres as well, especially Western classical music, gospel, blues, blues and ethnic folk music.
Jarrett has received the Polar Music Prize, the Leonie Sonning Music Prize, was inducted into the Down Beat Down Beat Hall of Fame, played with Jack DeJohnette, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Dewey Redman, Airto Moreira, Palle Danielson and Jan Garbarek among others.
Jarrett’s compositions and the strong musical identities of the group members gave this ensemble a very distinctive sound. The quartet’s music is an amalgam of free jazz, straight-ahead post-bop, gospel music, and exotic, Middle-Eastern-sounding improvisations. He has played as a soloist, trio, returned also to classical music, incorporates vocalizations of grunts, squeals and tuneless singing. He continues to compose, record, perform and tour.
In 2003, Jarrett received the Polar Music Prize, the first (and to this day only) recipient not to share the prize with a co-recipient, and in 2004 he received the Leonie Sonning Music Prize. In 2008, he was inducted into the Down Beat hall of Fame in the magazine’s 73rd Annual Readers’ Poll. He continues to tour and record.
Don Walbridge Shirley was born January 29, 1927 in Kingston, Jamaica and under the tutelage of his mother began playing piano at 2½ and made his first public performance at the age of 3. By nine he was invited to study theory with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music, later studying with organist Conrad Bernier, followed by study of advanced composition with both Bernier and Dr. Thaddeus Jones at Catholic University in Washington D. C.
Don’s music is hard to categorize treating every arrangement as a new composition, playing standards in a non-standard way, and playing everything from show tunes, to ballads, to his personal arrangements of Negro spirituals, to jazz, and always with the overtone of a classically-trained musician who has utmost respect for the music.
He has performed at the Exposition International du Bi-Centenaire De Port-au-Prince, with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, with the Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and National Symphony Orchestras, in concert with his own trio for about 95 dates annually. During the 1950s and 60s he cut some 16 albums for Cadence Records, played around New York City, performed at Basin Street East, appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show and his career was launch nationwide.
As an educator, Don holds a Doctorate of Music, Doctorate of Psychology (and Doctorate in Liturgical Arts, speaks eight languages fluently, and is considered an expert painter as well. The jazz pianist and composer continued to perform and record until his death of heart disease on April 6, 2013 in Manhattan, New York at the age of 86.
Johnny “Hammond” Smith was born John Robert Smith on December 16, 1933 in Louisville, Kentucky and earned the nickname “Hammond” for his renowned playing on the B3. In the early years of his career he played with Paul Williams and Chris Columbo before forming his own group. His bands featured singers Etta Jones, Byrdie Green, saxophonists Houston Person, Earl Edwards, guitarists Eddie McFadden, Floyd Smith, James Clark and vibist Freddie McCoy. However, his career took off as he was serving as accompanist to singer Nancy Wilson.
After a string of albums over a 10-year period at Prestige Records during the 60s, Johnny signed with CTI’s Kudu label, launching it with his soul/R&B project “Break Out” that featured Grover Washington Jr. as a sideman prior to the launch of his career as a solo recording artist. Three further albums followed and he became “Johnny Hammond”, dropping “Smith” from his name.
Adapting to the changing sound of the music Johnny’s style had become increasingly funky. This culminated in two popular albums with the Mizell Brothers, “Gambler’s Life” (1974) for the CTI offshoot, Salvation and then in 1975, “Gears” after switching to another jazz label, Milestone Records, incorporating electric and acoustic pianos as well.
As an educator he taught at Cal Poly Pomona music department for several years, penned “Quiet Fire” for Nancy Wilson’s 1989 “Nancy Now” album and remained a hard bop and soul jazz organist until his passing on June 10, 2004.
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