Richard “Richie” Kamuca was born on July 23, 1930 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His early playing, in what is generally considered the Lester Young style, was done on tour with the big bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, where he became a member of the later line-ups of Herman’s Four Brothers saxophone section with Al Cohn and Bill Perkins.
Like many players associated with West Coast jazz, he grew up in the East before moving West around the time that bebop changed the prevailing style of jazz. Kamuca stayed on the West Coast, playing with the smaller groups of Chet Baker, Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank, Bill Holman, Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino and others. He was one of the Lighthouse All-Stars, and recorded with Perkins, Art Pepper, Jimmy Rowles, Cy Touff, Jimmy Giuffre, Gary McFarland, The Modern Jazz Quartet and many others, as well as leading recording sessions in his own right.
Kamuca was a member of the group Shelly Manne and His Men from 1959 through 1962, when he returned East and settled in New York City. Here he worked with Gerry Mulligan, Gary McFarland, and Roy Eldridge before returning to the West Coast in 1972, where he recorded in the studios and performed with local groups.
Less well known to the general public than other saxophonists, Richie Kamuca passed away of cancer, in Los Angeles, California on July 22, 1977 just before his 47th birthday.
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Omer Victor Simeon was born on July 21, 1902 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a cigar maker. His family moved to Chicago, Illinois but he learned to play the clarinet from the New Orleans master Lorenzo Tio, Jr., and started playing professionally in 1920.
He worked in Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin with various bands, including Jimmy Bell’s Band and Charlie Elgar’s Creole Orchestra. Starting in 1926 he began playing with Jelly Roll Morton, and made a well regarded series of recordings with Morton’s Red Hot Peppers and smaller groups.
By 1927 he was a member of King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators with whom he moved to New York City. After time back in Chicago with Elgar, he joined Luis Russell in Manhattan, New York then again returned to Chicago in 1928 to play with the Erskine Tate Orchestra. 1931 saw him beginning a 10-year stint with Earl Hines.
In the 1940s he worked with Coleman Hawkins and Jimmie Lunceford. After some recordings with Kid Ory’s band, he spent most of the 1950s with the Wilbur de Paris band, including a tour of Africa in 1957. In 1954 he played saxophone in a duet on Louis Armstrong’s popular dixieland recording of Skokiaan.
Clarinetist Omer Simeon, who taught music and also played soprano, alto, and baritone saxophones and bass clarinet, passed away of throat cancer on September 17, 1959 in New York City at the age of 57.
Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. was born on July 20, 1922 in St. Louis, Missouri. In his early career he played in a military band, before joining Earl Hines’s last big band. By 1951 he began working with Count Basie but after four years, in 1955 he began freelancing as a jazz arranger and writer of songs and was much in demand at that time.
By the Sixties Ernie’s success declined but revived after working with Clark Terry. This led to his touring Europe and his eventual settling in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he would live for the rest of his life. There he formed the Almost Big Band so he could write for a band of his own. The idea was partly inspired by his wife Jenny as the city had a thriving jazz scene with several promising jazz musicians as well as an established community of expatriate American jazz musicians that formed in the 1950s and included Kenny Drew and Ed Thigpen who joined the band along with Danish saxophonist Jesper Thilo.
The band released four albums, but after 1991 he became too ill to do much with it. He was responsible for orchestral arrangements on 1972’s self-titled album by Alice Clark, on Mainstream Records, that is a highly sought-after collectible today. He has a street named after him in southern Copenhagen, Ernie Wilkins Vej.
Tenor saxophonist, arranger and songwriter Ernie Wilkins, who wrote for Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Dizzy Gillespie, in addition to being the musical director for albums by Cannonball Adderley, Dinah Washington, Oscar Peterson, and Buddy Rich, passed away on June 5, 1999 of a stroke in Copenhagen.
Joe Darensbourg was born Joseph Wilmer Darensbourg on July 9, 1906 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He received some of his earliest training from Alphonse Picou. After playing with local groups, and traveling with a medicine show and a circus band, he settled in Los Angeles, California and worked with Mutt Carey’s Liberty Syncopators.
He worked in Seattle from 1929 to 1944, working on cruise lines, playing in after-hours clubs and roadhouses, and backing several non-jazz entertainers. Darensbourg resumed playing jazz in 1944, in a traditional group with Johnny Wittwer. When he returned to Los Angeles, he recorded with Kid Ory and worked briefly with R&B bandleader Joe Liggins.
From 1947 to 1953 Joe worked solely with Ory, then spent the rest of his career in traditional ensembles, working with such musicians as Gene Mayl, Teddy Buckner and Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. He led his own groups, and had a hit with the song Yellow Dog Blues, and toured with the Legends of Jazz from 1973 to 1975. He also worked with Buddy Petit, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Creath, Fate Marable, Andy Kirk, Johnny Wittwer and Wingy Manone. Clarinet and saxophonist Joe Darensbourg, one of the purest soloists in traditional jazz, passed away in Van Nuys, California on May 24, 1985.
Bruce Turner was born Malcolm Bruce Turner on July 5, 1922 in Saltburn, England. Educated at Dulwich College, he learned to play the clarinet as a schoolboy and began playing alto sax while serving in the Royal Air Force in 1943 during World War II. He played with Freddy Randall from 1948–53, and worked on the Queen Mary in a dance band and in a quartet with Dill Jones and Peter Ind.
He briefly studied under Lee Konitz in New York City in 1950 then joined Humphrey Lyttelton’s outfit from 1953 to 1957. After leaving Lyttelton he led his own Jump Band from 1957–65 and was featured and arranged the music in the 1961 film Living Jazz. In 1961, Turner and his band recorded the LP Jumpin’ At The NFT (National Film Theatre) coinciding with the film’s release. Two years later he took part in the largest trad jazz event to be staged in Britain with George Melly, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Alex Welsh and Mick Mulligan.
He returned to work with Randall from 1964–66, and played with Don Byas in 1966 and Acker Bilk from 1966 to 1970. He continued to work with Lyttelton and Ind in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and played with the Jump Band every so often. He worked with Wally Fawkes, John Chilton, Stan Greig, Alex Welsh, and Dave Green through the Seventies. He led his own small ensembles in the 1990s, up until his death.
He was noted for his very quiet voice and his autobiography Hot Air, Cool Music was published in 1984. He also wrote a column on jazz for the Daily Worker. Saxophonist, clarinetist, and bandleader Bruce Turner passed away on November 28, 1993 in Newport Pagnell.