Pia Beck was born Pieternella Beck on September 18, 1925 in Den Haag, Netherlands. She was a natural on the piano without significant musical training. In 1945 she joined the Miller Sextet taking the piano chair and vocalist slot touring Belgium, Germany, Sweden and the Dutch East Indies.
By 1949 she started her own combo and her first composition, Pia’s Boogie, became an instant hit, though she never learned to read sheet music. 1952 saw her first visit the United States, toured the jazz club circuit – an annual event until 1964, was nicknamed “The Flying Dutchess” by Time Magazine who also gave her the cover, and was bestowed honorary citizenship of New Orleans and Atlanta.
In 1965 Beck emigrated to Costa de Sol with her life partner and three children, opened a piano bar and when it went bankrupt she opened a real estate firm and wrote travel guides. By 1975 she was on the comeback trail in Scheveningen, Netherlands and once again enjoyed a successful career, albeit, openly exposing her homosexuality during her U.S. tours by resisting against the anti-gay activist Anita Bryant during the late Seventies.
Pia Beck said goodbye to the general public in 2003. The pianist who Oscar Peterson called the best jazz pianist in the world, died at age 84 of heart failure on November 26, 2009 in Malaga, Spain.
Bobby Short was born Robert Waltrip Short on September 15, 1924 in Danville, Illinois. With his mother’s permission he left home for Chicago and began performing as a busker at the age of eleven.
He started working in clubs in the 1940s and in 1968 he was offered a two-week stint at the Café Carlyle in New York City’s Carlyle Hotel, a relationship that lasted until 2004. His seemingly effortless elegance and vocal phrasing were perfected at the feet of Mabel Mercer and Ethel Waters. Bobby’s presentation of unknown songs worth knowing and his infectious good cheer made him tremendously popular and earned him great respect.
He became best known for his interpretations of songs composed by Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Noel Coward and the Gershwin brothers but was equally adept at championing the works of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Andy Razaf, Fats Waller and Bessie Smith.
Bobby Short, the pianist and cabaret singer, recorded 22 albums from 1955 to 2001, appeared in ten movies and 3 television shows and who was instrumental in spearheading the construction of the Ellington Memorial in his beloved New York City, passed away on March 21, 2005.
Harry Connick, Jr. was born Joseph Harry Fowler Connick, Jr. on September 11, 1967 and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. His musical talents soon came to the fore when he started learning the keyboards at the age of three, played publicly at age five and recorded with a local jazz band at ten.
When Harry was nine years old, he performed with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra and later played a duet of “I’m Just Wild About Harry” with Eubie Blake at the Royal Orleans Esplanade Lounge in New Orleans. His musical talents were developed at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and under the tutelage of Ellis Marsalis and James Booker.
Moving to New York, Connick studied at Hunter College and the Manhattan School of Music. It was here that Columbia Records A&R exec Dr. George Butler persuaded him to sign with the label releasing first a self-titled album and then “20” as his sophomore project. He soon acquired a reputation in jazz because of extended stays at high-profile New York venues.
Over the course of his career Harry has sung on film soundtracks, ventured into acting on Broadway and the big and small screens, has sold over 25 million albums worldwide, has seven top-20 US albums, and ten number-one US jazz albums, earning more number-one albums than any other artist in the U.S. jazz chart history. Harry Connick Jr., singer, big-band leader, conductor, pianist, actor, and composer, continues to perform, record and tour.
Meade Lux Lewis was born Meade Anderson Lewis on September 4, 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, he was greatly influenced by pianist Jimmy Yancey.
His 1927 rendition of “Honky Tonk Train Blues” for Paramount Records marked his recording debut and his best-known work. His early recordings included Adrian Rollini, Frankie Trumbauer, classical harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe, theater organist George Wright and drummer Cozy Cole. His performance at John Hammond’s historic “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 brought Lewis to public attention.
He went on to perform with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, played an extended engagement at Café Society, toured as a trio, and inspired the formation of Blue Note Records in 1939. Their success led to a decade long boogie-woogie craze with big band swing treatments by Tommy Dorsey, Will Bradley and others.
He became the first jazz pianist to double on celeste, recorded with Edmond Hall and Charlie Christian, also, then continued to Chicago and California. Lewis appeared in the movies “New Orleans”, “Nightmare” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” playing piano in the scene where George Bailey gets thrown out of Nick’s Bar.
Pianist and composer Meade Lux Lewis, who played the swing, blues and boogie-woogie styles, died in a car accident in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 7, 1964.
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Ernie Fields was born Ernest Lawrence Fields on August 28, 1904 in Nacogdoches, Texas, though raised in Taft, Oklahoma. He attended Tuskegee Institute before moving to Tulsa. From the late 1920s, he led the Royal Entertainers, and eventually began touring more widely from Kansas City, Kansas to Dallas, Texas, and recording. Fields’ band became the first African-American band to play at Tulsa’s landmark Cain’s Ballroom.
A 1939 invite to New York by John Hammond to record for Vocalion. He began touring nationally, never became a star but continued to work steadily, recording for smaller labels, and gradually transforming his sound through a smaller band and a repertoire shift from big band and swing to R&B. During WWII he entertained troops both at home and abroad.
Continuing to straddle these styles into the 1950s, Ernie played swing standards such as “Tuxedo Junction” and “Begin The Beguine” in a rocking R&B style. In the late 1950s he moved to Los Angeles, California and joined the Rendezvous Records and ran the house band In 1959 this band had an international hit with an R&B version of Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” that reached #4 on the Billboard chart, selling over a million copies. He would go on to record instrumentals under a variety of names including B. Bumble and the Stingers, The Marketts and The Routers.
After Rendezvous Records folded in late 1963, trombonist, pianist, arranger and bandleader Ernie Fields retired and returned to Tulsa. He died on May 11, 1997, at the age of 92.