Patti Bown was born on July 26, 1931 in Seattle, Washington and began playing piano at age two. She studied piano while attending the university in Seattle and played in local orchestras toward the end of the 1940s. From 1956 she moved to New York and worked as a soloist, playing early on in sessions with Billy Eckstine and Jimmy Rushing.
Bowen released one album in 1958 as a leader titled Patti Bown Plays Big Piano for Columbia Records. The following year, she recorded in a trio with Ed Shaughnessy and then was part of the Quincy Jones Orchestra touring Europe. While there she also played with Bill Coleman in Paris.
By the 1960s Patti was working extensively in the studios, recording with Gene Ammons, Oliver Nelson, Cal Massey, Duke Ellington, Roland Kirk, George Russell, Etta Jones, Art Farmer and Harry “Sweets” Edison. Stretching outside the jazz genre, she also recorded with Aretha Franklin and James Brown, and for a period of time she was the musical director for the bands that were accompanying Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
The 1970s saw Bown working as a pianist in orchestras on Broadway and composing for film and television. She lived in Greenwich Village for the last 37 years of her life and played regularly at the nightclub Village Gate. Pianist, composer and music director Patti Bown passed away on March 21, 2008 in Media, Pennsylvania.
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William “Billy” Taylor was born July 24, 1921 in Greenville, North Carolina but his family moved to Washington, DC when he was five years old. Growing up in a musical family, learning to play guitar, drums and saxophone as a child but most successfully on the piano. He took classical piano lessons with Henry Grant, who had educated Duke Ellington a generation earlier.
His first professional appearance was playing keyboard at the age of 13 and was paid one dollar. He attended Dunbar High School, the U.S.’s first high school for African-American students. He went to Virginia State College, majored in sociology but pianist Dr. Undine Smith Moore noticed young Taylor’s talent on piano, changed his major to music, graduating with a degree in music in 1942.
After graduation a move to New York City saw Billy playing piano professionally from 1944, first with the Ben Webster Quartet on 52nd Street. He met Art Tatum the same night, who became his mentor. He went on to perform with Machito developing his love for Latin music, a tour of Europe with the Don Redman Orchestra, and remained to work Paris and the Netherlands. Retuning to New York he worked with Bob Wyatt, Sylvia Sims and Billie Holiday in a successful show called Holiday on Broadway. A year later, he became the house pianist at Birdland performing with Charlie Parker, J. J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He would become the longest playing pianist ever in the history of the club.
In 1949, Taylor published his first book, a textbook about bebop piano styles. In 1952 Taylor composed one of his most famous tunes, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, which subsequently achieved more popularity with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Nina Simone covered the song in her 1967 album Silk & Soul and the instrumental is used by the BBC for it’s long running television Film program.
Billy made dozens of recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, had a thriving broadcast career and in 1958, he became the Musical Director of NBC’s The Subject Is Jazz, the first ever television series focusing on jazz. The then new National Educational Television Network (NET) produced the 13-part series that hosted Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Rushing and Langston Hughes and others.
He founded the Jazzmobile in 1961 providing an arts education program via workshops, master classes, lecture demonstrations, arts enrichment programs, outdoor summer mobile concerts, special indoor concerts and special projects. Taylor worked as a DJ and program director on New York radio station WLIB, his trio was a regular feature of the Hickory House on West 55th Street, and from 1969 to 1972 became the first Black American to be musical director and lead a talk show band on The David Frost Show.
By the Eighties the Jazzmobile was producing shows for National Public Radio, receiving a Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting Programs. In 1981, after being profiled by CBS News Sunday Morning he was hired as an on-air correspondent and conducted more than 250 interviews with musicians. He received an Emmy Award for his segment on Quincy Jones. These are just two of the many awards he has received over the course of his career.
By the end of the decade he formed his own “Taylor Made” record label to document his own music. In 1997, he received the New York state governor’s art award. Suffering from a stroke in 2002 that affected his right hand did not stop him from performing almost until his death. He died after a heart attack on December 28, 2010, in Manhattan, at the age of 89. His legacy was honored in a Harlem memorial service on January 11, 2011, featuring performances by Taylor’s final working trio – bassist Chip Jackson, drummer Winard Harper and long-time Taylor associates Jimmy Owens, Frank Wess, Geri Allen, Christian Sands and vocalist Cassandra Wilson.
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Vince Guaraldi was born Vincent Anthony Dellaglio on July 17, 1928 in San Francisco, California. Growing up in the North Beach area, taking the name of his stepfather Tony Guaraldi after being adopted and being around his maternal uncle was a musician, singer and whistle all became an important influence on his blossoming musical career. He attended Lincoln High School, went on to San Francisco State University and then enlisted and served as an Army cook during the Korean War.
His first recording was a self-titled LP recorded in 1953 with the Cal Tjader Trio and released early the following year. By 1955, Guaraldi had his own trio with Eddie Duran and and Dean Reilly. Reuniting with Tjader in 1956 he became an integral part of two bands that the vibraphonist assembled, the first band played mainly straight jazz with Al Torre on drums and Eugene Wright on bass and Luis Kant playing congas and bongos. The second band included Al McKibbon, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bob, Paul Horn and Jose “Chombo” Silva. He made a big splash with his performance with Tjader at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Vince left the group early in 1959 to pursue his own projects full-time. He probably would have remained a well-respected but minor jazz figure had he not written an original number to fill out his covers of Antonio Carlos Jobim/Luis Bonfá tunes on his 1962 album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. His label, Fantasy Records released the single Samba de Orpheus with his original Cast Your Fate To The Wind on the B-side trying to catch the building bossa nova wave. As providence would have radio DJs began flipping it over and playing the B-side and the gentle, likeable tune stood out from everything else on the airwaves and became a grassroots hit and won the Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition.
Guaraldi would go on to record with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, began experimenting with electric piano and then composed a series of Latin influenced waltz tempos and jazz standards for the Eucharist chorus at the San Francisco Grace Cathedral. Through contact with Peanuts television producer Lee Mendelson, he was commissioned to score the upcoming Christmas special and played what would become Linus and Lucy over the phone two weeks later. The Vince Guaraldi Trio with drummer Jerry Granelli and bassist Fred Marshall recorded the soundtrack and he would go on to compose scores for seventeen Peanuts television specials, plus the feature film A Boy Called Charlie Brown.
Pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi passed away at age 47 on February 6, 1976. The evening before, he had dined at Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson’s home and was reportedly not feeling well, complaining of indigestion-like chest discomfort that his doctor had told him was nothing to worry about. The following evening, after concluding the first set at Butterfield’s Nightclub in Menlo Park, California with his interpretation of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, Guaraldi and drummer Jim Zimmerman returned to the room they were staying in that weekend at the adjacent Red Cottage Inn, to relax before the next set. Walking across the room he just collapsed. That was it. The cause of death has been variously described as a heart attack or an aortic aneurysm. He had just finished recording the soundtrack for It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown earlier that afternoon. He left us a modest catalogue of some 32 albums as a leader or co-leader, 14 notable appearances as a sideman and another eleven showcasing or featuring his music.
Big John Patton was born on July 12, 1935 in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, a church pianist, taught him how to play the fundamentals. When he was about 13 years old, in 1948, he began to teach himself. He was inspired by the music he heard in Kansas City, but he wanted to play beyond his hometown jazz scene.
In 1954 after high school, he headed east and found professional work in Washington D.C., he found out that R&B star Lloyd Price was playing at the Howard Theater, that he had just fired his pianist and needed a new player. John played a few bars from the introduction to “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” and was given the job.
It was a five-year relationship that gave him an education he couldn’t have gotten elsewhere. He was Lloyd’s “straw boss” and the leader, he recruited top players including drummer Ben Dixon, who encourage him to check out the Hammond B-3 organ when they played in clubs that had one. A man called Butts first showed Patton how to set up the organ and find the right registrations. When he moved to New York in late 1959, it was his friend Herman Green who played with Lionel Hampton who helped him learn how to play it.
That same year Big John formed his own Hammond organ trio. Blue Note artist Ike Quebec became his mentor, introducing him into Blue Note and to one of the most important relationships in his career, with guitarist Grant Green. He went on to work as a sideman for Lou Donaldson for three and a half years. During the 1960s he became one of the most recognizable figures on the jazz scene and was a driving force of the sound of electric organ.
Over the years he recorded for Blue Note with Harold Alexander, George Coleman, George Braith, Don Wilkerson, Clifford Jordan, Harold Vick, Johnny Griffin, Grachan Moncur III, Ron Carter, Black Star, James “Blood” Ulmer, John Gilmore, John Zorn, Jimmy Ponder, Johnny Lytle, Red Holloway, Art Blakey and Marshall Allen to name a few.
Patton’s style has been resistant to imitation because of its space and economy, often being called minimalist. But he claimed that he emulated the sounds of his favorite trumpet and reed players. By the time the Acid Jazz movement emerged in the 1980s there was a resurgence in interest in his music in the UK and he made several trips to England where he was embraced by the Acid Jazz community.
Patton continued recording until the late Nineties and he developed a loyal following in both Japan and Europe, both of which he toured in addition to his dates in the United States. He recorded as a part of the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album Red Hot + Indigo in tribute to Duke Ellington. He recorded 16 albums as a leader and another twenty-six as a sideman.
Pianist and organist Big John Patton, a major figure in the development of the funk and blues rooted jazz known as soul jazz and considered the inspiration for the Acid Jazz movement, passed away from complications arising from diabetes in Montclair, New Jersey on March 19, 2002.
George Allen Russell was born on June 23, 1923 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the adopted only child of a nurse and a chef on the B & O Railroad. He sang in the choir of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and listened to the Kentucky Riverboat music of Fate Marable and made his stage debut at age seven, singing “Moon Over Miami” with Fats Waller.
Surrounded by the music of the black church and the big bands played on the Ohio Riverboats, he started playing drums with the Boy Scouts and Bugle Corps, receiving a scholarship to Wilberforce University. There he joined the Collegians, a band noted as a breeding ground for great jazz musicians including Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Freeman, Frank Foster and Benny Carter. He was a member noted jazz composer, Ernie Wilkins. When called up for the draft at the beginning of WWII he was hospitalized with tuberculosis where he was taught the fundamentals of music theory by a fellow patient.
Following his release from the hospital, he played drums with Benny Carter’s band, but after hearing Max Roach decided to give up drumming as a vocation. Inspired by hearing Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, George moved to New York in the early Forties and became a member of a coterie of young innovators who frequented the 55th Street apartment of Gil Evans. This clique included Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis.
Back to the hospital in 1945 for 16 months with another bout of tuberculosis Russell worked out the basic tenets of what was to become his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. This was his theory encompassing all of equal-tempered music which has been influential well beyond the boundaries of jazz. At that time, Russell’s ideas were a crucial step into the modal music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis on his classic recording, Kind Of Blue, and served as a beacon for other modernists such as Eric Dolphy and Art Farmer.
George would go on to compose Cubano Be,Cubano Bop for the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, becoming the pioneering experiment of fusing bebop and Cuban jazz elements. The following year he composed A Bird In Igor’s Yard in tribute to Charlie Parker and Igor Stravinsky and recorded at a session led by Buddy DeFranco. He would start playingpiano and go on to work with Artie Shaw, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Hal McCusick, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Paul Motian, Paul Bley, Jon Hendricks, Bob Brookmeyer, Steve Swallow, Dave Baker, Eric Dolphy, Sheila Jordan, Tom Harrell, Ray Anderson and numerous and others.
Russell recorded his debut album as a leader, Jazz Workshop, playing very little but masterminding the events of the session in the same vein as Gil Evans. He was to record a number of impressive albums over the next several years, sometimes as primary pianist.
Over the course of his career he would be commissioned to compose a piece for Brandeis University and Swedish Radio for the Radio Orchestra, tour Europe, live in Scandinavia, assume the presidency of the New England Conservatory of Music and was appointed to teach the Lydian Concept in the newly created jazz studies department. He continued to compose major orchestral and chorus works, earned two Grammy nominations for his 45-minute opus The African Game, and toured with a group of American and British musicians, resulting in The International Living Time Orchestra, a group comprised of Dave Bargeron, Steve Lodder, Tiger Okoshi, Brad Hatfield, and Andy Sheppard, who still tour and perform today.
He received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, NEA American Jazz Master Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships and a British Jazz Award. He taught throughout the world, and was a guest conductor for German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish radio groups. Pianist, composer, arranger and theorist George Russell died of complications from Alzheimer Disease in Boston, Massachusetts on July 27, 2009.
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