Charles McPherson was born on July 24, 1939 in Joplin, Missouri but grew up in Detroit, Michigan. As a teenager he played with Barry Harris, played the Detroit scene through the Fifties and in 1959 moved to New York City. Along with his Detroit partner Lonnie Hillyer joined Charles Mingus in 1960, a relationship that lasted until 1972.
The alto saxophonist, had a short-lived quintet with Hillyer in ’66, and then broke out on his own after leaving Mingus to become a full-time leader. A move to San Diego in 1978 became home while recording for such labels as Prestige, Mainstream, Xanadu, Discovery and Arabesque during his prolific career.
McPherson, a Charlie Parker disciple, who brought his own lyricism to the bebop idiom, was commissioned to help record ensemble renditions of pieces from Charlie Parker used on the 1988 “Bird” film soundtrack. To date he has 25 albums as a leader to his credit and another sixteen as a sideman working with the likes of Toshiko Akiyoshi, Kenny Drew, Charles Tolliver, Clint Eastwood, Art Farmer and Sam Jones. The saxophonist has remained a stable figure in modern mainstream jazz.
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Herman “Junior” Cook was born on July 22, 1934 in Pensacola, Florida. After playing with Dizzy Gillespie in 1958, Cook gained some fame for his longtime membership in the Horace Silver Quintet until 1964. He went on to play with band mate Blue Mitchell until ’69.
Through his association with Mitchell he would play alongside Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, George Coleman, Louis Hayes, Bill Hardman, McCoy Tyner, Bertha Hope and Horace Silver to name a few. In addition to many appearances as a sideman in which he contributed his talents on more than three-dozen sessions, Cook recorded as a leader for Jazzland, Affinity, Catalyst, Muse, and Steeplechase.
As an educator, he taught at Berklee School of Music during the 1970s and by the early 1990s he was playing with Clifford Jordan and also leading his own group. Junior Cook, the tenor saxophonist who played in the hard bop style, died in his New York City apartment on February 3, 1992.
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Plas John Johnson Jr. was born on July 21, 1931 in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Along with his pianist brother Ray, he first recorded as the Johnson Brothers in New Orleans in the late 1940s. He then toured with R&B singer Charles Brown and after military service moved to Los Angeles and began session recordings as a full-time musician. There he backed artists such as B. B. King and Johnny Otis as well as scores of other R&B performers.
An early supporter was Maxwell Davis, who hired him to take over his own parts so that he could concentrate on producing sessions for the Modern record label. Recruited by Capitol Records in the mid-1950s, Johnson also played on innumerable records by Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and others.
For the next twenty years Plas remained a leading session player averaging two sessions a day and playing everything from movie soundtracks to rock and roll singles, by such artists as Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee, the Beach Boys and a number of instrumental groups.
By 1963, Johnson soloed for the television series The Odd Couple’s theme, recorded Ella Fitzgerald’s Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer Songbooks; and worked with Motown playing with the likes of Marvin Gaye and The Supremes.
In 1970, Johnson joined the studio band of the Merv Griffin Show while playing with a number of jazz and swing bands of the period. The soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist is probably most widely known for his solo on Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme”. He continues to record and perform, particularly at jazz festivals.
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Anton Schwartz was born July 16, 1967 in New York City. He attended the Dalton School, studied jazz privately with Warne Marsh and Eddie Daniels, and went on to pursue a degree in advanced mathematics from New York and Columbia Universities, and computer science at Stanford University where he pursued research in artificial intelligence. He soon left academia to become a full-time musician.
The saxophonist and composer has released five CDs as a leader on his Antonjazz label that has garnered notoriety amongst jazz enthusiasts. His 2006 release, Radiant Blue, landed in the Top Five on the U.S. jazz radio charts and featured sidemen Peter Bernstein and Taylor Eigsti. His most recent release “Flash Mob” has trumpeter Dominick Farinacci and pianist Taylor Eigsti joining him.
Anton performs periodically at Yoshi’s, has been a guest on NPR’s JazzSet and has been a soloist with the Boston Pops Orchestra. He returned to academia and has held artist-in-residence at Harvard University and The Brubeck Institute. He is currently a faculty member of the Jazzschool at the California Jazz Conservancy in Berkeley, California and The Stanford jazz Workshop.
Frank Wright was born on July 9, 1935 in Grenada, Mississippi but grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. In his youth he started his musical career playing electric bass with Bobby “Blue” Bland, B. B. King and R&B bands in Memphis and Cleveland. But it was his meeting of Albert Ayler that he switched to the tenor saxophone, embraced the free jazz movement and moved to New York City in the mid-60s.
During this decade he played with some of the biggest names in avant-garde jazz including briefly with John Coltrane. He also made his first recordings as a leader for the ESP label but not finding an appreciative audience, Frank moved to Europe and spent the remainder of his life there.
Wright recorded for a few small labels, performed free jazz with expatriate American musicians and the European leaders of the avant-garde, and returned to the U.S. occasionally to perform with Cecil Taylor and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Frank Wright, known for his frantic style, passed away on May 17, 1990.