George Wallington was born Giacinto Figlia on October 27, 1924 in Palermo, Sicily and then moved to New York City with his family in 1925. His father sang opera and introduced his son to classical music, but Wallington listened to jazz after hearing the music of saxophonist Lester Young. Acquiring the name Wallington in high school by the neighborhood kids for his flashy clothes, he left school at the age of 15 to play piano in the city.
From 1943 to 1953 Wallington played with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Marsala, Charlie Parker, Serge Chaloff, Allan Eager, Kai Winding, Terry Gibbs, Brew Moore, Al Cohn, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, and Red Rodney. He recorded as a leader for Savoy and Blue Note in 1950, toured Europe in 1953 with Lionel Hampton’s big band and in 1954-60 he led bands in New York City that contained rising musicians including Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean and Phil Woods. During this period he recorded as leader with these musicians for the Prestige and Atlantic labels.
1960 saw George leaving music and moving to Florida to work in the family air conditioning business. He cited the stress of endless touring as the reason, however, he returned to music in 1984 and recorded three albums. He also performed at the 1985 Kool Jazz Festival in New York.
Pianist and composer George Wallington, whose best-known compositions are Lemon Drop, and Godchild, passed away in Cape Coral, Miami, Florida on February 15, 1993.
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Benjamin James Aronov, known as Ben or Benny, was born October 16, 1932 in Gary, Indiana. He played in local jazz and dance ensembles as a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was a student at the University of Tulsa from 1951 to 1952, then was conscripted into the U.S. Army, stationed in Texas and played in a military band.
In 1954 he relocated to Los Angeles California and began playing at The Lighthouse, as well as with musicians such as Terry Gibbs, June Christy, and Lena Horne. But by 1961 Ben moved to New York City, enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1966.
Following this, he worked with Al Cohn, Benny Goodman, Jim Hall, Morgana King, Lee Konitz, Peggy Lee, Liza Minnelli, George Mraz, Mark Murphy, the National Jazz Ensemble, Ken Peplowski, Tom Pierson, Zoot Sims, Carol Sloane, and Warren Vache. For 18 years he was the pianist in the Broadway production of Cats from 1982 to 2000.
After leaving Broadway pianist Ben Aronov moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, where he remained until he passed away on May 3, 2015.
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Herman Chittison was born on October 15, 1908 in Flemingsburg, Kentucky. Known as Ivory in the jazz world he began his career in Zack Whyte’s territory band in Ohio in 1928. In the early Thirties he moved to New York City and found work as an accompanist to Ethel Waters, Adelaide Hall, and Clarence Williams. It was during these years that he visited Boston for the first time with a traveling show headlined by comic actor Stepin Fetchit.
In late 1933 he went to Europe with the Willie Lewis Orchestra and toured Europe and the following year he recorded with Louis Armstrong in Paris, France. Chittison and trumpeter Bill Coleman left Lewis in 1938 and formed a band that worked extensively in Cairo, Egypt and traveled as far east as India. The two musicians would later lead the Harlem Rhythm Makers.
By 1959 Ivory arrived in Boston for a stay of two years and took up residence as the house pianist at the Red Garter bar in the Lenox Hotel. He then moved to the Mayfair Lounge, in Bay Village. He was one of the earliest and most important ambassadors of American jazz in Europe.
Stride pianist, accompanist and virtuoso Herman Chittison, whose style and technique were very similar to Art Tatum, passed away on March 8, 1967 in Cleveland, Ohio.
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Teddy Weatherford was born on October 11, 1903 in Pocahontas, Virginia and was raised in neighboring Bluefield, West Virginia where he learned to play the piano. But it was while living in New Orleans, Louisiana from 1915 through 1920, that he learned to play jazz piano.
Moving to Chicago, Illinois he worked with the bands of Erskine Tate through the 1920s and with such jazz notables as Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds and impressed the young Earl Hines. Restless to experience the world, Weatherford then traveled, first to Amsterdam and then around Asia playing professionally. In the early 1930s, he led a band at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, now Mumbai, India. He joined Crickett Smith’s band in Jakarta, Indonesia and took over leadership of Smith’s band in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in 1937.
During World War II, Teddy led a band in Calcutta, where he made radio broadcasts for the U. S. Armed Forces Radio Service. Performers with in his band included Bridget Althea Moe, Jimmy Witherspoon, Roy Butler and Gery Scott.
Pianist and bandleader Teddy Weatherford, who was also an accomplished stride pianist, passed away of cholera in Calcutta, aged 41, on April 25, 1945.
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Johnny O’Neal was born October 10, 1956 in Detroit, Michigan and his playing was influenced by pianists Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. In 1974, he moved to Birmingham, Alabama and worked as a musician, never needing a day job to make ends meet. There he worked with locals Jerry Grundhofer, Dave Amaral, Cleveland Eaton, and Ray Reach.
Moving to New York City in 1981 to perform with Clark Terry, he also landed a regular job at the Blue Note, accompanying among numerous others, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Nancy Wilson, Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell. From 1982 to 1983 Johnny was a member of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985.
During the Nineties he lived in Atlanta, Georgia and performed prolifically at Churchill Grounds and Just Jazz, before settling in Canada for a few years. He has recorded with Art Blakey, Russell Malone, Magic City Jazz Orchestra, SuperJazz Big Band and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame All-Stars, among others.
On the recommendation of Oscar Peterson, O’Neal portrayed Art Tatum in the 2004 movie Ray, recreating Tatum’s sound on the song Yesterdays. He has been profiled in the 2006 DVD Tight, was featured in Lush Life: Celebrating Billy Strayhorn, performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and received a standing ovation.
Neo-bop pianist, vibist and vocalist Johnny O’Neal, whose playing ranges from the technically virtuosic to the tenderest of ballad interpretations, was a 1997 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and continues his career performing, recording and touring.