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.
Frank Ricotti was born on January 31, 1949 in London, England and played in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra while a teenager, then attended Trinity College of Music from 1967 to 1970. From 1968 through 1974 hep performed with Neil Ardley, Dave Gelly, Graham Collier, Mike Gibbs, Stan Tracey, Harry Beckett, Norma Winstone and Gordon Beck.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ricotti led his own jazz quartet with a line-up of the band featuring the guitarist Chris Spedding, bassist Chris Laurence and drummer Bryan Spring. Together they recorded the album Our Point of View, and released it in 1969. By 1971, in partnership with bassist Mike de Albuquerque, he released the album First Wind. He recorded with Oliver Nelson on the album Oliver Edward Nelson in London with Oily Rags for the Flying Dutchman label in 1974.
The 1980s saw Frank playing with Chris Laurence and John Taylor in the group Paragonne, and then played with Beck again in 1984. After this he worked primarily as a studio musician recording with groups outside the jazz genre, such as, Status Quo, Freddie Mercury, Pet Shop Boys, Swing Out Sister, Belle and Sebastian, Clannad, Barclay James Harvest, Meat Loaf, Elkie Brooks, Rick Wakeman, Tina Turner, Aztec Camera, Thomas Anders, and Alphaville.
Between 1984 and 1987 Ricotti wrote the soundtrack music for Yorkshire Television’s The Beiderbecke Trilogy, in the style of Bix Beiderbecke. The music was performed by his band, the Frank Ricotti All Stars, and featured Kenny Baker on cornet. The band made a cameo appearance in the final series, playing in a jazz club and the soundtrack album was released in 1988.
In 2007 he played vibes on Mark Knopfler’s album Kill to Get Crimson and vibraphonist and percussionist Frank Ricotti continues to perform, record and compose.
Janine Santana was born January 28th in Brooklyn, New York of Puerto Rican and Finnish ancestry and spent her childhood in Brooklyn and youth in Trenton, New Jersey. She developed a love for Afro-Cuban/ Caribbean traditions and Jazz and began working and studying as a professional actor at a very young age, long before studying music at Aims Community College.
A 1994 move to Denver, Colorado focused her more on performance, music recording and broadcasting. She leads a 6-12 piece Latin Jazz Ensemble and her well received 2009 recording Soft as Granite had Janine working with alto saxophonist Richie Cole, trumpeters Greg Gisbert and Brad Goode, and arranger/percussionist José Madera.
Conguera, percussionist, leader, arranger, studio musician, broadcaster, artist, designer, writer and actor Janine Santana currently continues to perform, record and collaborating with generations of jazz and Latin jazz musicians on a brand new project with the likes of Luques Curtis, Bobby Porcelli, David Amram, Jose’ Madera on timbales and arrangements, Ricky Gonzalez as producer/pianist/arranger and Ray Vega on trumpets.
Charles “Don” Alias was born on December 25, 1939 in Harlem, New York City, the son of Caribbean immigrants. Absorbing the lessons of neighborhood Cuban and Puerto Rican hand drummers, while in high school he played conga with the Eartha Kitt Dance Foundation, and in 1957 accompanied the singer at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Mothballing his musical career to study biology at Erie, Pennsylvania’s Cannon College, he followed those studies with a stint at Boston’s Carnegie Institute for Biochemistry. While there Alias regularly moonlighted at local clubs in the company of students of the nearby Berklee School of Music, among them conguero Bill Fitch and bassist Gene Perla, and played bass in a short-lived trio featuring Chick Corea on guitar and Tony Williams on drums.
When Perla landed a gig with Nina Simone, he convinced the singer to hire Alias to assume drumming duties. By the end of his three-year residency he was serving as musical director, and eventually captured the attention of Miles Davis, with whom Simone regularly shared festival bills. He would go on to record four albums with Miles Davis including sitting in to play the drums on the recording of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down on the album Bitches Brew in 1969, when neither Lenny White nor Jack DeJohnette were able to play the marching band-inspired rhythm.
Settling back in New York City in the late Seventies he along with Gene Perla formed the Afro-Cuban fusion group Stone Alliance, which would be resurrected in 1980 with pianist Kenny Kirkland and tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Performing on hundreds of recording sessions, he can be heard playing with Carla Bley, Uri Caine, Jack DeJohnette, Roberta Flack, Joe Farrell, Dan Fogelberg, Bill Frisell, Hal Galper, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Joe Lovano, David Sanborn, Philip Bailey, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Lalo Schifrin, Nina Simone, Steve Swallow, the Brecker Brothers, James Taylor, Weather Report, Lou Reed, Blood Sweat & Tears, Pat Metheny, Don Grolnick Group and Jaco Pastorius, on the short list.
Percussionist Don Alias, best known for playing congas and other hand drums, but was also a capable drum kit performer, passed away suddenly in his Manhattan home on March 29, 2006 in New York City.
Sonny Greer was born on December 13, 1895 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He played with Elmer Snowden’s band and the Howard Theatre Orchestra in Washington, D.C. before joining Duke Ellington, whom he met in 1919. He was Ellington’s first drummer, playing with his quintet, the Washingtonians, before moving with Ellington into the Cotton Club.
As a result of his job as a designer with the Leedy Drum Company of Indiana, Greer was able to build up a huge drum kit worth over a considerable $3,000 at the time, including chimes, a gong, timpani, and vibes.
A heavy drinker and a pool-hall hustler, often needing to retrieve his drums from the pawnbroker, in 1950 Ellington responded to his drinking and occasional unreliability by taking a second drummer, Butch Ballard, with them on a tour of Scandinavia. Sonny became enraged and the subsequent argument led to their permanent estrangement.
Greer continued to play, mainly as a freelance drummer, working with musicians such as Johnny Hodges, Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Tyree Glenn, and Brooks Kerr. He appeared in films, briefly led his own band and never recorded as a leader. He was part of a tribute to Ellington in 1974, which achieved great success throughout the United States.
Drummer, percussionist and vocalist Sonny Greer passed away on March 23, in 1982.