Lennie Hayton was born Leonard George Hayton on February 14, 1908 in New York City, New York and developed a penchant for the piano when six years old, showing unusual interest in the early classics from the rolls of the family player piano. His parents were keen followers of the concert hall and took their son to many concerts, however, disliking jazz, it was not until he was 16 that he really discovered it. He left high school to become pianist with the Broadway Hotel Orchestra of Cass Hagen, a boyhood friend.
In 1928 while playing at the Park Central, Hayton was heard by Paul Whiteman who immediately engaged by him as second pianist, playing piano and celeste as well as acting as a part-time arranger. He played alongside Frankie Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols and Joe Venuti, and became friendly with Bing Crosby. With the ongoing Depression in 1930, theatre audiences fell to the economic problems and he and Eddie Lang were let go as Whiteman streamlined the band. He then joined the Charles Previn Orchestra, which had a weekly assignment on radio in the Camel Pleasure Hour.
Re-joining Bing Crosby who was enjoying tremendous success on record, radio and the stage, in 1932 they embarked on a tour of Paramount-Publix theatres, working across the country to Hollywood where he was to make the film The Big Broadcast. At each location, he continued to broadcast his radio show until he reached the West Coast. He and Lang provided the musical support to Crosby on his theatre appearances and on his radio shows.
His long relationship with Crosby leading his orchestra rendered the singer’s first hit recordings Cabin in the Cotton, Love Me Tonight and Some of These Days and Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? his most famous recordings. which went to the top of the charts of the day. Hayton became the musical director for the Chesterfield radio series Music That Satisfies, again featuring Crosby. He would go on to be musical director for the singer’s film Going Hollywood in 1933, and continue to work with Crosby until he became a musical director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1940 and guided it through its prime years as forerunner of the movie musical.
He would be nominated for six Oscars for Best Original Music and won two for On The Town and Hello Dolly!, the latter co-composed with Lionel Newman. He arranged the music for 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain, arranged Frank Sinatra’s first attempt at the Beatles tune Something. Lennie composed Apple Blossoms with Joe Venuti, Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang; as well as Flying Fingers, The Stage is Set, Mood Hollywood with Jimmy Dorsey, and Midnight Mood, and co-arranged the Hoagy Carmichael composition Stardust with Artie Shaw, for a 1940 recording on the Bluebird label.
Hayton met Lena Horne when both were under contract to MGM and married her in 1947 in Paris, France. Throughout their marriage he was her music director but the pressures of an interracial relationship made it tumultuous, and they were separated for most of the Sixties. Always a heavy drinker and smoker, pianist, composer, arranger, musical director and bandleader Lennie Hayton passed away of heart disease while separated from Horne, in Palm Springs, California on April 24, 1971.
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Sam Allen was born on January 30, 1909 in Ohio and accompanied silent films in movie palaces from the age of ten, and in the next few years seemed to have absorbed plenty of slapstick hi-jinx and derring-do from the Hollywood sagas he accompanied. In 1928 he moved to New York City, where he joined Herbert Cowans’s band at the Rockland Palace. Within a year he moved back to Ohio, where he played with Alex Jackson in 1930. Soon afterward he joined James P. Johnson‘s orchestra as the second pianist, as one piano could not play all the chords in the scores. This engagement he followed with an extended run in Teddy Hill’s band, which occupied him for most of the 1930s and included tours of Europe.
Early in the 1940s Sam worked one of his most musically satisfying collaborations as piano man in the sometimes rowdy combo of violinist Stuff Smith. He then became the pianist for the madcap jive jazz duo of Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart, the gig for which he was best known, his years in the movie houses came in handy. His talent was further challenged with the bebop hyper-drive of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie during the same decade.
By the end of the Forties decade Allen moved to Washington and worked locally as a solo pianist for a time, giving up being a touring sideman. Finally he relocated and settled into the Oakland, California, where he often accompanied vocalist Billie Heywood, among others.
Pianist Sam Allen passed away in September 1963.
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Milt Raskin was born on January 27, 1916 in Boston, Massachusetts and played saxophone as a child before switching to piano at age 11. In the 1930s he attended the New England Conservatory of Music and worked on local Boston-area radio.
Moving to New York City, Milt played with Wingy Manone in 1937 at the Famous Door and with Gene Krupa in 1938-39. He then played with Teddy Powell and Alvino Rey before rejoining Krupa again for a short time. Following this stint, he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra for two years in 1942, replacing Joe Bushkin.
He relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1944, where he occasionally worked in jazz, recording with Artie Shaw, Billie Holiday and Georgie Auld, but concentrated on work as a studio musician and musical director. Much of his studio work from the 1940s on was uncredited, and he never led his own jazz recording session. He did, however, formed and led his Exotic Percussion Orchestra and released a few albums in the 1950s and Sixties.
Swing pianist, composer and arranger Milt Raskin passed away on October 16, 1977 in Manhattan, New York.
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Barbara Carroll was born Barbara Carole Coppersmith on January 25, 1925 in Worcester, Massachusetts. She began her classical piano training at age eight, but by high school decided to become a jazz pianist. She attended the New England Conservatory of Music for a year, but left it as it conflicted with working for bands.
In 1947 Leonard Feather dubbed her “the first girl ever to play bebop piano”. The following year her trio, which featured guitarist Chuck Wayne and Clyde Lombardi on bass, worked briefly with Benny Goodman. Personnel changes would occur later with Charlie Byrd replacing Wayne and Joe Shulman replaced Lombardi. After Byrd’s departure, Carroll decided to have it be a drums, bass, and piano trio.
The 1950s saw Barbara and her trio working on Me and Juliet by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then the decade saw her career ebb due to changing musical tastes and personal concerns. However, by 1972 she revived her career due to a renewed interest in her work. In 1975 she worked on an A&M recording session with Rita Coolidge and by 1978 she was touring with Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson. In the following two decades she became known as a cabaret performer.
She has recorded for DRG, Venus, Harbinger and Birdland record labels, with her latest of eight albums, Barbara Carroll Plays At Birdland, released in 2016. Pianist Barbara Carroll has received a MAC Lifetime Achievement Award and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award, and she continues to perform and record.
George Duke was born on January 12, 1946 in San Rafael, California and raised in Marin City. It was at the young age of 4 that he first became interested in the piano when his mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert. He began his formal piano studies at the age of 7, at his local Baptist church. Attending Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass from the San Francisco Conservatory in 1967.
Initially he played with friends from garages to local clubs, George quickly eased his way into session work, before getting his master’s degree in composition from San Francisco State University. Although starting out playing classical music, his musician cousin Charles Burrell convinced him to switch to jazz and improvise what he wanted to do.
1967 saw Duke venturing into jazz fusion, playing and recording with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as performing with the Don Ellis Orchestra, and Cannonball Adderley’s band, and recorded with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention on a number of albums through the 1970s. He also played with Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Bruce Fowler from Zappa’s Overnite Sensation band that he was a part of, along with Johnny “Guitar” Watson and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour. Lynn Davis and Sheila E recorded with him on his late-1970s solo albums Don’t Let Go and Master of the Game.
During the 1980s he collaborated with bassist Stanley Clarke and produced the Clarke/Duke Project that released three albums, he served as a record producer and composer on two instrumental tracks on the Miles Davis albums Tutu and Amandla, worked with a number of Brazilian musicians, including singer Milton Nascimento, percussionist Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim, and in the 1992 film Leap of Faith featured gospel songs and choir produced by him and choir master Edwin Hawkins.
Duke was musical director for the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London, temporarily replaced Marcus Miller as musical director of NBC’s late-night music performance program Sunday Night during its first season, and was a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers. He worked with Jill Scott on her third studio album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3; and put together a trio with David Sanborn and Marcus Miller for a tour across the United States.
His educator side had him teaching a course on Jazz And American Culture at Merritt College in Oakland, California. He was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Jazz Performance for After Hours in 1999, was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame in 2012, and was honored with a tribute album My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke, produced by long-time friend and collaborator Al Jarreau, that received a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album in 2015.
As leader he recorded some four dozen albums and as sideman he worked with such artists as Third World, The Keynotes, Gene Ammons, Billy Cobham, Eddie Henderson, Alphonse Mouzon, Michael Jackson, Deniece Williams, Miles Davis, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield, Chanté Moore, Joe Sample, Phil Collins, Regina Belle, Teena Marie, Joe Williams, Gerald Wilson and Larisa Dolina among many others.
Keyboard pioneer, vocalist guitarist, trombonist, producer and composer George Duke passed away on August 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 67. His songs have been sampled by Daft Punk, Kanye West and Ice Cube among numerous others.