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 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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Jimmy Smith was born James Oscar Smith on December 8, 1925 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He began as a pianist but switched to organ after hearing Wild Bill Davis, purchasing his first Hammond, renting a warehouse and emerging a year later with a fresh new sound. He was instrumental in revolutionizing the playing of the instrument. It only took one time for Alfred Lion to hear him play before signing him to Blue Note in 1956. It was the second album, “The Champ” that established him as a new star on the jazz scene, followed by “The Sermon”, “Home Cookin’” “Midnight Special” and “Back at the Chicken Shack”.
Forty sessions later Jimmy left Blue Note for Verve Records dropping his first album Bashin’ with a big band led by Oliver Nelson. With this album selling well he went on to collaborate over the next decade with Lalo Schifrin, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, Stanley Turrentine, Grady Tate, Jackie McLean, George Benson and many other jazz greats of the day.
In the 1970s, Smith opened a supper club in Los Angeles where he played regularly; his career resurged in the 80s recording for Blue Note, Verve, Milestone and Elektra with Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, B.B. King, Etta James and Joey DeFrancesco.
Smith’s virtuoso improvisation technique popularized the Hammond B3 and his style on fast tempo pieces combined bluesy “licks” with bebop-based single note runs, ballads had walking bass lines and up-tempo tunes he played the bass line on the lower manual with use of the pedals for emphasis of a string bass. He influenced the likes of Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Larry Goldings and Joey DeFrancesco as well as many rock keyboardists like Brian Auger or more recently The Beastie Boys.
Jimmy Smith, Hammond B3 pioneer in the hard bop, mainstream, funk and fusion jazz genres, was honored as an NEA Jazz Master shortly before his death on February 8, 2005 in Scottsdale Arizona.
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Barbara Dennerlein was born on September 25, 1964 in Munich, Germany. The hard bop/post bop Hammond B3 organist began playing electric organ at age 11. After starting organ lessons, she learned to play the two-manual organ with a bass pedal board. After one and a half years of lessons she continued to study without formal instruction and by 15, she playing in a jazz club for the first time. When leading her own bands, she was often the youngest musician in the group, learning to cooperate with more experienced musicians. Her local reputation as the “Organ Tornado from Munich” spread after her first television appearance in 1982.
With her career jumpstarted Barbara recorded her first two albums and by her third “Bebab”, she started her own record label, receiving the German Jazz Critics Award. She signed with Enja Records for three recordings, moved to Verve’s international label for three more sessions working with Ray Anderson, Randy Brecker, Dennis Chambers, Roy Hargrove, Mitch Watkins, and Jeff “Tain” Watts.
Her performances include solo performances as well as quintets and she has worked on a variety of projects with the pipe organ, church organ and symphonic orchestras. She has recorded twenty-three albums to date and her compositions range from traditional blues, romantic melancholic ballads and up-tempo drives with elements of swing, bebop, funk and Latin rhythms. Barbara Dennerlein continues to compose, record, perform and tour.
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“Brother” Jack McDuff was born Eugene McDuffy on September 17, 1926 in Champaign, Illinois. He began his musical career playing bass first with Joe Farrell followed by Willis Jackson who encouraged him to take up the organ. In the late 50’s he moved to his new instrument and began attracting the attention of Prestige Records. He soon became a bandleader, leading groups that featured then, young guitarist George Benson, saxophonist Red Holloway and drummer Joe Dukes.
McDuff’s debut recording “Brother Jack” for Prestige was followed by his sophomore project, The Honeydripper, featuring Jimmy Forrest and Grant Green. After his Prestige tenure he joined the Atlantic Records family for a brief period and then by the 70s was recording for Blue Note.
The decreasing interest in jazz and blues during the late 70s and 1980s meant that many jazz musicians went through a lean time and it wasn’t until the late 1980s, with The Re-Entry, recorded for the Muse label in 1988, and once again began a successful period of recordings, initially for Muse, then on the Concord Jazz label from 1991. George Benson appeared on his mentor’s 1992 Colour Me Blue album.
Despite health problems, Brother Jack continued working and recording throughout the 1980s and 1990s, touring Japan with Atsuko Hashimoto in 2000. “Captain” Jack McDuff, as he later became known, was one of the most prominent jazz organist and organ trio bandleader during the hard bop and soul jazz era of the Sixties. He passed away of heart failure on January 23, 2001 at the age of 74 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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