James Williams was born on March 8, 1951 in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up listening to the sounds of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and King Curtis. He started playing piano at age 13 and hometown hero Phineas Newborn was his primary influences of jazz piano. He served as organist at the Eastern Star Baptist Church for six years early in his career. He went on to matriculate through Memphis State University with fellow piano students Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown. It was here that he began playing jazz.
After graduating he immersed himself in the city’s jazz community, performing with Frank Strozier, Jamil Nasser, George Coleman, Harold Mabern, Jr., and other local greats. In 1973 he became a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music, played with Alan Dawson’s group alongside visiting musicians such as Milt Jackson, Art Farmer and Sonny Stitt. His first album as a leader came in 1977 and the next year he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, remaining there for four years.
In the early 1980s in Boston he played with Thad Jones, Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Chet Baker and Benny Carter but by 1984 James was in New York City gigging with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and Kenny Burrell, Ray Brown, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Farmer, to name a few.
He would form his own group, the “Intensive Care Unit”, with Christian McBride, Billy Pierce and Tony Reedus. It was during this period in 1984 that he penned and recorded one of his most famous jazz compositions on the Sunnyside label is “Alter Ego”.
By 1999 he was Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University, where he remained until his death of liver cancer on July 20, 2004, age 53.
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Gene Rodgers was born on March 5, 1910 in New York City. He worked professionally as a pianist from the mid-1920s and over the next few years made recordings with Clarence Williams and King Oliver while also playing with Chick Webb and Teddy Hill.
Rodgers started his own variety show in the 1930s, doing tours of Australia and England recording with Benny Carter in 1936 while in the latter. Upon his return to the States in ‘39 he played with Coleman Hawkins, Zutty Singleton and Erskine Hawkins into the early 40s. During the Forties he worked in Hollywood appearing in the film Sensations of 1945 with Cab Calloway and Dorothy Donegan. After this he worked mainly in New York, leading a trio for many years.
Rodgers appears, with opening title credits, in the 1947 film “Shoot To Kill”, and appearing in the film are two of his compositions “Ballad of the Bayou” and later is “Rajah’s Blues”.
Rodgers recorded sparingly as a leader; he did two sides for Vocalion in 1936, four in a session for Joe Davis in 1945, and albums as a trio leader for EmArcy, Black & Blue Records and 88 Up Right. He played with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band in 1981-82.
Gene Rodgers, pianist and arranger, best known for his contributions on Coleman Hawkins’ 1939 recording of “Body and Soul”, passed away on October 23, 1987 in New York City.
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Yōsuke Yamashita was born February 26, 1942 in Tokyo, Japan. He first began to play piano professionally at the age of 17 in 1959 and attended the Kunitachi College of Music from 1962 to 1967. It was during his college matriculation that he released his first recording in 1963, becoming a pioneer of avant-garde and free jazz.
In 1969, Yosuke formed the Yosuke Yamashita Trio, which has been through various incarnations, each introducing and highlighting the skill of the new member. In the 1980s, Yosuke formed the “New York Trio” with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Pheeroan akLaff.
In 1994 he was invited to perform at the 50th anniversary concert of the Verve jazz label at Carnegie Hall. Yamashita then moved into film scoring in 1998, scoring “The Girl Of The Silence”, Dr. Akagi”, “Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands” and the Shohei Imamura film “Kanzo Sensei”, earning him the “Minister of Education Award,” amongst others.
As an educator he has been a visiting professor of music at Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, Nagoya University of Arts and the Kunitachi College of Music in addition to published work on improvisation and music. He has been nominated for the Japanese Academy Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
Yōsuke Yamashita, jazz pianist, composer, essayist and writer has been praised by critics for his unique piano style and in 2003 he was conferred the Imperial Medal of Honor by the Japanese government for his contributions to the arts and academia. He continues to perform and record.
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Michel Jean Legrand was born February 24, 1932, in Bécon-les-Bruyères outside Paris, France into a musical family. His father Raymond, a conductor and composer best known for the film score “Irma La Douce”. A virtuoso jazz and classical pianist, Michel studied at the Paris Conservatory for nine years from age 11, graduating with top honors as both composer and pianist.
In the early 1950s, Legrand was one of the first Europeans to work with jazz innovators such as Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz. While visiting the U.S. in 1958, Legrand collaborated with among others Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, Ben Webster, Hank Jones and Art Farmer in an album of inventive orchestrations of jazz standards titled “Legrand Jazz”.
The following year he recorded an album of Paris-themed songs arranged for jazz piano trio, titled Paris Jazz Piano and nearly a decade later in 1968, he recorded At Shelly’s Manne-Hole a live trio session with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, in which four of the compositions were improvised on the spot.
His piano style is reminiscent of Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans from whom he has drawn influence. Throughout a prolific career Legrand has mixed jazz recordings with varied orchestral projects and film and television scores that number well above two hundred.
A number of his songs, including “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life”, “Watch What Happens”, “The Summer Knows”, “The Windmills Of Your Mind” and “You Must Believe In Spring” have become jazz standards covered frequently by other artists.
The composer, arranger, conductor, and pianist has won three Oscars out of 13 nominations, five Grammys and has been nominated for an Emmy. His first album “I Love Paris” at age 21 has become one of the best-selling instrumental albums ever released.
Always creative he has conducted orchestras in St. Petersburg, Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta and Denver; has recorded over 100 albums collaborating with Phil Woods, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Lena Horne, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey and the list grows as he continues to divide his time between America and France.
Keith Nichols was born on February 13, 1945 in Ilford, Essex, UK and took his first music lessons at age five on piano and accordion. As a youth he was a child actor and an award-winning accordionist, Great Britain Junior Champion in 1960.
He turned professional after graduating from Gulldhall School of Music, touring with the Levity Lancers for seven years playing trombone, piano and tuba. From the early 70s he has performed in concert ragtime at London’s South Bank, came to the U.S. in 1976 with Richard Sudhalter’s New Paul Whiteman Orchestra, recorded three solo albums for EMI and is a frequent sideman for the label and formed the Midnite Follies Orchestra focusing on the music of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.
He has gigged and recorded with Bing Crosby, arranged for the New York Jazz Repertory Company, Dick Hyman and the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, and has worked with Harry Gold, Digby Fairweather and Claus Jacobi.
The multi-instrumentalist, arranger and award-winning accordionist in his youth continues to perform and record prolifically in the UK, America and Europe with projects based in ragtime, and lectures at the Royal Academy of Music.