Frank Strazzeri was born April 24, 1930 in Rochester, New York and began his musical journey on tenor saxophone and clarinet at age 12, switching to piano soon after. He attended the Eastman School of Music, then, in 1952, took a job as a house pianist in a Rochester nightclub. While there he accompanied visiting musicians such as Roy Eldridge and Billie Holiday.
Relocating to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1954, he performed with Sharkey Bonano and Al Hirt in a Dixieland jazz setting, though his main focus since has been bebop. He played with Charlie Ventura in 1957-58 and Woody Herman in 1959 before moving to Los Angeles, California in 1960. There he worked extensively as a studio musician on the West Coast jazz scene, and toured with Joe Williams, Maynard Ferguson, Les Brown and Elvis Presle, playing with the latter for the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert.
Pianist Frank Strazzeri copiously recorded as a leader and played with Terry Gibbs, Herb Ellis, the Lighthouse All-Stars, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Cal Tjader, Louie Bellson, Curtis Amy, Red Mitchell, Bill Perkins, Harold Land and Chet Baker. in addition to recording copiously as a leader. He passed away at the age of 84 on May 9, 2014.
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Henri Renaud was born April 20, 1925 in Villedieu-sur-Indre, France. His styles was evolutionary over the decades he was musically active and represented the swing, bebop and cool styles. His international renown came when he served as an ensemble-organizing point-man for visiting jazz performers from the United States.
Moving to Paris in 1946, Renaud established a career as a jazz pianist and joined tenor-saxophonist Jean-Claude Fohrenbach’s combo. During 1949 and 1950 he accompanied Don Byas, James Moody and Roy Eldridge. In 1952 he performed at various times with Lester Young, Sarah Vaughan and Clifford Brown.
Henri would go on to record several times with Brown as well as with Milt Jackson, J. J. Johnson, Al Cohn, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, Frank Foster and Bob Brookmeyer. In 1954, he visited the United States and recorded during that time.
He became an executive for French CBS’ jazz division in 1964 and for the most part stopped performing, though he occasionally worked as a film composer. Pianist Henri Renaud passed away in Paris, France on October 17, 2002.
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Kirk Stuart was born Charles Kincheloe Stuart on April 13, 1934 in Charleston, West Virginia. He studied at a conservatory before accompanying singers such as Billie Holiday in 1956, Della Reese from 1957–59 and for another two years with Sarah Vaughan beginning in 1961. He also arranged and conducted for these singers.
Stuart led his own unit in Los Angeles, California later in the 1960s, and recorded with Al Grey and once more with Reese along with a few 45 rpm records as a leader on the Josie and Jubilee labels during the decade. In later years he led ensembles in Las Vegas, and accompanied Joe Williams at the Smithsonian Institution in 1982.
Pianist, vocalist and educator Kirk Stuart, who taught at Howard University, passed away during spleen surgery on December 17, 1982.
Steve Kuhn was born on March 24, 1938 in Brooklyn, New York City and began studying piano at the age of five. He studied under Boston, Massachusetts piano teacher Margaret Chaloff, mother of jazz baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. She taught him the Russian style of piano playing and at an early age he began improvising classical music.
As a teenager Steve appeared in jazz clubs in the Boston area with Coleman Hawkins, Vic Dickenson, Chet Baker, and Serge Chaloff. After graduating from Harvard University, he attended the Lenox School of Music where he became associated with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Gary McFarland. His professors included Bill Evans, George Russell, Gunther Schuller, and the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. This experience with some of the most forward-thinking innovators of jazz improvisation and composition culminated with his joining trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s group for an extended time and for a brief time in John Coltrane’s quartet at New York’s Jazz Gallery club.
Kuhn has appeared or recorded with Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Oliver Nelson, Gary McFarland, Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, Scott LaFaro, Harvie Swartz, Pete LaRoca, Sheila Jordan, Billy Drummond, David Finck, and Miroslav Vitous. In 1967 he moved to Stockholm, Sweden where he worked with his own trio throughout Europe until 1971. Moving back to New York City he formed a quartet while continuing to play European gigs and appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Known as an avant-garde pianist in his early career, he was associated with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete La Roca during the Sixties that produced several notable recordings. He was part of the quartet on the landmark recording Sound Pieces led by saxophonist, composer, and arranger Oliver Nelson with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Grady Tate. Among other critically acclaimed recordings there was The October Suite composed by Gary McFarland for Kuhn and an ensemble which included strings, woodwinds, and reeds.
For decades he has led all-star trios that have included such players as bassists Ron Carter and David Finck, and with drummers Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, and Joey Baron. Pianist Steve Kuhn is the composer of the jazz standard The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers, has recorded several live albums at New York City jazz clubs and continues to lead a trio and compose.
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Deanna Witkowski was born on March 20, 1972 in New Hampshire, Ohio but was raised in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. She began her musical journey playing classical flute and piano long before discovering jazz. While studying at Wheaton College, Illinois, she turned to jazz, first as a saxophonist, then as pianist and composer. Jazz so captured her interest that she abandoned later studies at DePaul University, Chicago, to become a full time musician. Subsequently, she studied with Hilario Duran and Chucho Valdés, experiences that developed an interest in Afro Cuban music. In Chicago in the mid-90s she accompanied singer Linda Tate and was involved in the LaSalle Street Church’s annual jazz service.
Forming her first quintet in 1994 Deanna performed with them until a four month trip to Africa found her thousands of miles away teaching piano in Kenya. Two years later she returned to the States landing in Chicago, Illinois and recording a demo with her grant money. During this period she studied with several Cuban jazz musicians and the next year, she moved to New York City and became the music director at All Angels Episcopal Church, crafting jazz/gospel masses.
In 2000 released independently the Having to Ask album and began studying with Brazilian drummer Vanderlei Pereira. Leaving the church to follow her own musical path she continued writing and performing sacred music in her spare time, but she composed a piece for a jazz choir and reactivated her quintet.
In 2002 she won the annual Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Florida. She backed vocalist Lizz Wright, leading her supporting band on tour in the USA and on a visit to Europe, played a duo with pianist Fred Hersch at New York’s Jazz Gallery, and with multi-instrumentalist James Finn, playing on his Great Spirit.
In the early to years of the new millennium, members of her regular trio have been bass players Jonathan Paul and Dave Ambrosio, and drummers Tom Hipskind and Vince Cherico. She has also taught extensively, including spells at colleges in Germany and Kenya. Post bop pianist Deanna Witkowski continues to compose, perform and record combining jazz, Latin folk, and modern classical composition.
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