Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was born on December 18, 1917 in Houston, Texas and took up the alto saxophone in his youth. By the late 30s he joined Milton Larkin’s Orchestra and at various times sat next to Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Cedric Haywood and Wild Bill Davis.
Exiting Larkin’s employment in 1941, Vinson picked up a few vocal tricks while touring with bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, moved to New York City joining and recording with Cootie Williams, and then struck out on his own in 1945, Eddie formed his own large band that performed, recorded and toured over the next ten years.
He signed with Mercury Records, and enjoying a double-sided hit in 1947 with his R&B chart-topper “Old Maid Boogie”, and the song that would prove to be his signature number, “Kidney Stew Blues”.
Vinson leaned towards jazz during the early 50s when his band included John Coltrane. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles working with Johnny Otis and by the late 60s he was touring in a strict jazz capacity with Jay McShann and his career took an upswing. A 1970 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Otis spurred a bit of a comeback for Vinson and throughout the decade worked high-profile blues and jazz sessions for Count Basie, Johnny Otis, Roomful of Blues, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate.
During this period he also composed steadily, including “Tune Up” and “Four”, both of which have been incorrectly attributed to Miles Davis. Vinson recorded extensively during his fifty-odd year career and performed regularly in Europe and the United States.
Jump blues, R&B, jazz and bebop alto saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, whose nickname came from a hair straightening incident in which the lye destroyed his hair, passed away on July 2, 1988 from a heart attack whilst undergoing chemotherapy in Los Angles, California.
Joe Farrell was born Joseph Carl Firrantello on December 16, 1937 in Chicago Heights, Illinois and learned to play saxophone and flute. During the Sixties he played with The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and recorded with Charles Mingus, Andrew Hill, Jaki Byard, Players Association, and Elvin Jones.
In the 80s Joe released two albums with the group Fuse One, played sax and oboe on pop recordings by Hall & Oates, played with Airto and Flora Purim, his final recordings making their “Three-Way Mirror” project. He is best known for his series of albums as a leader for the CTI record label and for being an original member of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever.
Kanye West, Method Man, Redman and Common have sampled Farrell’s music “Upon This Rock”, without approval that subsequently resulted in a lawsuit by his daughter.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist and flautist Joe Farrell died of bone cancer on January 10, 1986 in Los Angeles, California at age 48.
Leo Wright was born on December 14, 1933 in Wichita Falls, Texas and studied saxophone under the tutelage of his father. His first recording was made in 1958 with vibist Dave Pike and the next year played the Newport Festival with bassist Charles Mingus’ group. He followed this joining Dizzy Gillespie’s band in 1959, remaining until 1962.
In addition to his sideman work, Wright established himself as a leader in the early ’60s, leading New York-based bands that included the likes of Ron Carter, Junior Mance, Charlie Persip and Kenny Burrell, among others. In 1960 he signed with Atlantic Records and recorded “Blues Shout” with Mance, Persip, Art Davis and Richard Williams.
After leaving Gillespie’s band, Leo went on to play and record with Lalo Schifrin, Jack McDuff, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Johnny Coles, Gloria Coleman and Jimmy Witherspoon. Moving to Europe he spent time working with George Gruntz, Carmell Jones and Lee Konitz in the group Alto Summit. Eventually he moved to Berlin playing in a studio band and freelancing.
Back in New York by 1978, Wright co-led a studio session Red Garland for Muse Records and then retired from music around 1979. He re-emerged in the mid-’80s and was playing gigs in Paris by 1986, working with Grachan Moncur, Kenny Drew Sr. and Nat Adderley. In the years before his death Leo would perform and record with his wife Elly Wright, making his final recording with her titled “Listen To My lea”.
Leo Wright, bop alto saxophonist and one of the finest flutists jazz has known, passed away on January 4, 1991 in Vienna, Austria.
Eddie Johnson was born Edwin Lawrence Johnson on December 11, 1920 in Napoleonville, Louisiana. Gleaning his style from the pre-war tenor greats like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, he combined the big brawling sound with romantic lyricism to come into his own.
Settling in Chicago in 1941 the tenor saxophonist freelanced around town until joining Cootie Williams and His Orchestra in 1946, appearing on several Capitol and Majestic recordings. Leaving Williams to join the Louis Jordan outfit he would go on to play with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, and regretfully turning down an offer to join the latter’s orchestra.
By the end of the 40’s Eddie retired from music, took a 9-5 job with the city to raise his family and didn’t pick up his horn until some 30 years later when he retired to music. He started playing at Andy’s in Chicago with a quintet and become a member of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.
He soon became one of the city’s enduring tenor icons alongside Fred Anderson and Von Freeman. As a leader he released two albums, “Indian Summer” on the Nessa label and “Love You Madly” for Delmark. Tenor saxophonist Eddie Johnson passed away on April 7, 2010 at age 89.
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Cecil Irwin was born December 7, 1902 in Chicago, Illinois. Learning to play clarinet and tenor saxophone, his career began playing with Carroll Dickerson, Erskine Tate and Junie Cobb. He would then join Earl “Fatha” Hines in 1928 in the reed section and arranging for the big band.
During this period Cecil recorded on more than a dozen sessions with Hines in a variety of ensembles with which his playing and arranging is prominent. Irwin also freelanced as a sideman working and recording with New Orleans notables Johnny Dodds, Jabbo Smith, King Oliver, and also with Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti.
While on tour driving outside Des Moines, Iowa, tenor saxophonist and arranger Cecil Irwin perished in a car accident at the age of 32 on May 3, 1935, cutting short a promising career.