William “Sonny” Criss was born on October 23, 1927 in Memphis, Tennessee and at the age of 15 moved to Los Angeles. Developing a concise, bluesy tone he easily fit into the bands he drifted between such as Howard McGhee’s playing alongside Charlie Parker, Johnny Otis and Billy Eckstine.
As his ability continued to increase his first major break came in 1947 with Norman Granz, playing on a number of jam sessions. In 1956 he was signed to Imperial Records, recorded a number of underground classics like “Jazz U.S.A.”, “Go Man” and “Sonny Criss Play Cole Porter” that featured Sonny Clark on piano.
He would go on to record for Muse, Impulse and Prestige record labels, worked with Wynton Kelly, rooted himself in the hard bop tradition recording charts by Horace Tapscott and also several well-acclaimed albums like Sonny’s Dream.
Alto saxophonist Sonny Criss settled in Los Angeles and continued to perform and record but by 1977 had contracted stomach caner. Unable to bear the pain, he committed suicide by gunshot on November 19, 1977. after contracting stomach cancer earlier that year and unable to bear the painful condition he was experiencing.
Clare Fischer was born October 22, 1928 in Durand, Michigan and started general music study in grade school with violin and piano as his first instruments. By age 7 he was picking out four-part harmony on the piano and by 12 was composing classical music and creating instrumental arrangements for dance bands.
In high school he added cello, clarinet and saxophone to his arsenal of instruments and studied music theory, harmony and orchestration privately. He started his own band at 15, writing all the arrangements, went on to college studying music composition and theory as a piano major. After graduation and a stint in the Army as the arranger for the U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point, N.Y., he returned to Michigan State and received his Masters in 1955.
He went on to arrange for the vocal quartet Hi-Lo’s that would later become a major influence on Herbie Hancock, would record under his own name in 1962 for Pacific Jazz, play with Bud Shank, Joe Pass and Cal Tjader among others, arrange for Sergio Mendes and Willy Ruff, began playing organ and composed his most famous compositions, Pensativa and Morning.
By the mid-‘70s Fischer was pioneering the electric keyboard, reconnected with Tjader started his group Salsa Picante, won a Grammy for his album 2+2 and Free Fall, forayed into R&B doing orchestral sweeteners, worked with Rufus with Chaka Khan, The Jacksons, Earl Klugh, The Debarges, Shot-gun and Atlantic Starr and pop artists such as Paul McCartney, Prince, Celine Dion and Robert Palmer, picking up numerous gold records.
From the Eighties on Clare has been commissioned to score symphonic work using Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn themes, working with Branford Marsalis, the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, arranged for Spike Lee’s Girl 6, has conducted clinics and master classes at numerous universities, and continued to record in small group and orchestral settings until his death in Los Angeles, California on January 26, 2012 at age 82..
Eddie Harris was born on October 20, 1934 in Chicago, Illinois to a Cuban father and New Orleans mother. He studied music at DuSable High School, then Roosevelt University becoming proficient on piano, vibraphone and tenor saxophone and playing professionally with Gene Ammons.
After graduating and a stint in the 7th Army Band playing alongside Leo Wright, Don Ellis and Cedar Walton, he worked in New York City prior to his Chicago return. He signed with Vee Jay Records and released his debut “Exodus To Jazz” and his jazz arrangement of the theme to Exodus was so heavily played on radio, it became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold.
Throughout his career he recorded for Columbia and Atlantic Records, ventured into electric piano and Varitone saxophone mixing jazz with funk on albums like “The Electrifying Eddie Harris” and crossing into rhythm and blues markets. By 1969 he would perform with Les McCann at Montreux with an unrehearsed band that produced the seminal work Swiss Movement that became one of the best selling jazz albums ever.
In the early to mid ‘70s Harris experimented with altering instruments like his reed trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, saxobone with a trombone mouthpiece and guitorgan, a guitar/organ combination. He also forayed into singing blues, played with jazz-rock, and comic R&B consisting of mostly stand-up comedy all of which ultimately declined his popularity.
He would work with Horace Silver in the ‘80s, record regularly well into the 1990s, tour and perform in Europe and return to hard bop. His move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s allowed him the opportunity to provide much of the music for The Bill Cosby Show.
Eddie Harris, tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist and composer of “Freedom Jazz Dance” popularized by Miles Davis in the Sixties and also the tune “Listen Here”, passed away from bone cancer and kidney disease at the age of 62 on November 5, 1996.
Samuel Carthorne Rivers was born September 25, 1923 in Enid, Oklahoma, the son of a gospel musician who sung with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Silverstone Quartet which exposed a young Sam to music at an early age. By 1947 he was in Boston studying Alan Hovhaness at the Boston Conservatory.
Active in jazz since the early 1950s, by the end of the decade he was performing with then 13 year-old drummer Tony Williams. In the mid Sixties he held a short-lived tenure with Miles Davis, producing the album Miles In Tokyo. He went on to sign with Blue Note leading four dates, his first being Fuschia Swing Song and contributing many more as a sideman.
A multi-instrumentalist, Rivers who plays soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano, is also a composer. Rooted in bebop and equally adept at free jazz he has performed and recorded with the likes of Quincy Jones, Herb Pomeroy, Tadd Dameron, Jaki Byard, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Andrew Hill, Larry Young and many others.
The 70s saw the rise of the loft era and Rivers ran RivBea in New York’s NoHo district where numerous performance lofts emerged. He continued to perform and record for a variety of labels including several albums for Impulse Records, two big band albums for RCA Victor, and joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band near the end of the trumpeter’s life.
With a thorough command of music theory, orchestration and composition, Rivers has been an influential and prominent artist in jazz music. He performs regularly with his RivBea Orchestra and Trio and is currently recording new works. Sam Rivers, who played soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano in the avant-garde and free jazz arenas, passed away on December 26, 2011 in Orlando, Florida at age 88.
Ken Vandermark was born September 22, 1964 in Warwick, Rhode Island but grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. Mostly a self-taught musician, the saxophonist studied intermittently under George Garzone in the early 80s. He performed and led groups while in high school and at McGill University in Montreal, graduated in 1986.
Returning to Boston Ken co-led the groups Lombard Street, Mr. Furious and Barrage Double incorporating “suite forms” into his arrangements and composing pieces dedicated to other Boston bands, thus, developing broad, free-ranging charts as his signature especially in large ensemble settings.
Vandermark moved to Chicago in 1989 and has performed or recorded with many musicians such as Fred Anderson, Joe Morris, Fredrik Ljungkvist and Yakuza to name a few. He first gained widespread attention working with the NRG Ensemble from 1992 to 1996, went on to co-lead DKV Trio, Free Fall, Territory Band, the Vandermark Five and some six more groups, collaborated with Joe Harriott, released his album Furniture Music in 2002 marking his debut as an accomplished soloist and has since concentrated on his own compositions.
A fixture on the Chicago music scene Vandermark plays tenor and baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet and has received critical praise for his performing multilayered compositions that typically balance intricate orchestration with passionate improvisation. He was awarded a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship, won the Cadence magazine poll for Best Artist and Best Recording. He continues to perform and record.