Ray C. Sims was born on January 18, 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, the older brother of Zoot Sims. He learned to play the trombone and coming of age he was a part of the Swing Era in jazz.
He first played with Jerry Wald, then with Bobby Sherwood, and in 1947 was with Benny Goodman and recorded How High The Moon on Capitol Records. From 1949 to 1958 he was a trombone soloist and vocalist in the Les Brown Orchestra before joining Harry James.
In 1955 he recorded with Les Brown on trombone and vocals, Bill Johnson, Benny Goodman, Harry James and Frank Sinatra, among others It’s A Lonesome Old Town. Ray was primarily a lead trombone or session player and over the course of his career played and recorded with Earle Spencer, Lyle Griffin, Anita O’Day, Dave Pell, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Ray Anthony, Peggy Lee, Bill Holman, Jackie and Roy, Lena Horne, Georgia Carr, Red Norvo, John Towner Williams, Jerry Gray, Maxwell Davis, Ernie Andrews, Frank Capp and Corky Corcoran.
Trombonist and vocalist Ray Sims, who never led a session, passed away in 2000.
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Quentin “Butter” Jackson was born January 13, 1909 in Springfield, Ohio. His brother-in-law Claude Jones, who played with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers taught him to play the trombone. During the Thirties he played with Zack White, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and the Don Redman Orchestra.
The Forties saw Butter, as he was affectionately known, working with Cab Calloway and then Lucky Millinder, taking occasional solos with those groups, and in the early days was a ballad singer. In 1949 he became a fixture in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, becoming his best wa-wa trombonist utilizing the plunger mute. This relationship, that included recordings, lasted until 1960, both as a soloist and in the ensembles.
Jackson went on to tour of Europe and recorded with Quincy Jones, then performed and recorded with Count Basie for two years and recorded notable work with Charles Mingus in 1962-63, followed by a return to Ellington and worked with the big bands of Louie Bellson and Gerald Wilson. By the 1970s he was working with the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra until near the end of his life.
A consummate sideman he recorded with Dorothy Ashby, Kenny Burrell, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hodges, Leon Thomas, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Milt Jackson, Herbie Mann, Freddie McCoy, Wes Montgomery, Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith, Clark Terry, Billy Strayhorn, Randy Weston and Dinah Washington, who did a version of Bessie Smith’s Trombone Cholly on her album Dinah Sings Bessie Smith, enlisting Jackson on the horn, under the title “Trombone Butter”.
Trombonist Quentin Jackson, whose only session as a leader resulted in four titles in 1959 that were reissued by Swing, passed away on October 2, 1976 in New York City.
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George Duke was born on January 12, 1946 in San Rafael, California and raised in Marin City. It was at the young age of 4 that he first became interested in the piano when his mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert. He began his formal piano studies at the age of 7, at his local Baptist church. Attending Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass from the San Francisco Conservatory in 1967.
Initially he played with friends from garages to local clubs, George quickly eased his way into session work, before getting his master’s degree in composition from San Francisco State University. Although starting out playing classical music, his musician cousin Charles Burrell convinced him to switch to jazz and improvise what he wanted to do.
1967 saw Duke venturing into jazz fusion, playing and recording with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as performing with the Don Ellis Orchestra, and Cannonball Adderley’s band, and recorded with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention on a number of albums through the 1970s. He also played with Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Bruce Fowler from Zappa’s Overnite Sensation band that he was a part of, along with Johnny “Guitar” Watson and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour. Lynn Davis and Sheila E recorded with him on his late-1970s solo albums Don’t Let Go and Master of the Game.
During the 1980s he collaborated with bassist Stanley Clarke and produced the Clarke/Duke Project that released three albums, he served as a record producer and composer on two instrumental tracks on the Miles Davis albums Tutu and Amandla, worked with a number of Brazilian musicians, including singer Milton Nascimento, percussionist Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim, and in the 1992 film Leap of Faith featured gospel songs and choir produced by him and choir master Edwin Hawkins.
Duke was musical director for the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London, temporarily replaced Marcus Miller as musical director of NBC’s late-night music performance program Sunday Night during its first season, and was a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers. He worked with Jill Scott on her third studio album, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3; and put together a trio with David Sanborn and Marcus Miller for a tour across the United States.
His educator side had him teaching a course on Jazz And American Culture at Merritt College in Oakland, California. He was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Jazz Performance for After Hours in 1999, was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame in 2012, and was honored with a tribute album My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke, produced by long-time friend and collaborator Al Jarreau, that received a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album in 2015.
As leader he recorded some four dozen albums and as sideman he worked with such artists as Third World, The Keynotes, Gene Ammons, Billy Cobham, Eddie Henderson, Alphonse Mouzon, Michael Jackson, Deniece Williams, Miles Davis, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield, Chanté Moore, Joe Sample, Phil Collins, Regina Belle, Teena Marie, Joe Williams, Gerald Wilson and Larisa Dolina among many others.
Keyboard pioneer, vocalist guitarist, trombonist, producer and composer George Duke passed away on August 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 67. His songs have been sampled by Daft Punk, Kanye West and Ice Cube among numerous others.
Henry Coker was born December 24, 1919 in Dallas, Texas. He studied music at Wellesley College before making his professional debut with John White in 1935. From 1937 to 1939 he played with the Nat Towles territory band, then moved to Hawaii to play with Monk McFay.
Following Pearl Harbor, Coker settled in Los Angeles, California and played with Benny Carter from 1944 to 1946. He did a stint with Illinois Jacquet in 1945, then performed with Eddie Heywood between 1946 – 1947, and with Charles Mingus in the late ’40s.
Falling ill from 1949 to 1951 Henry played little, but after recovering he worked with Sonny Rollins and then joined Count Basie’s band, playing and recording with him from 1952 to 1963.
Working as a studio musician in the Sixties, he then toured with Ray Charles from 1966 to 1971. He did freelance and film/television studio work in the mid-1970s, rejoining Basie briefly in 1973 and Charles in 1976. Osie Johnson wrote a tribute to him entitled Cokernut Tree in 1955. Coker recorded on J.J. Johnson’s Trombones Incorporated session, featuring ten trombonists.
Trombonist Henry Coker passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 59 on November 23, 1979.
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Marshall Brown was born on December 21, 1920 in Framingham, Massachusetts. Little recorded, he devoted most of his career to education, earning a music degree from New York University, as a member of the Zeta Psi Fraternity.
He was also a high school band director leading the Farmingdale New York Daler Band from the early 1950s through 1957. Brown was the first high school band director to initiate a jazz education program, which he did in his tenure at Farmingdale High. By 1956 his stage band, the Daler Dance Band, a jazz big band with an average age of 14 years old, was so formidable and impressive, boasted future jazz stars pianist Michael Abene, saxophonist Andrew Marsala, and whiz drummer Larry Ramsden. One night at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, Count Basie, who was late for his appearance as he entered the festival grounds heard the Daler Band performing their set and exclaimed, “Damn, they started already”, mistaking the Dalers for his band.
Marshall received some attention for performing and recording in a quartet with Pee Wee Russell in the early 1960s. While Russell was most often associated with Dixieland or swing, their quartet performed more adventurous, free jazz-oriented pieces, including pieces by Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.
During the Sixties he was the resident trombonist at Jimmy Ryan’s, a noted dixieland venue. He also club dated with Luke O’Malley’s Irish band during this time. Brown also performed or recorded at one time or another with Ruby Braff, Beaver Harris, Lee Konitz, George Wein and Basie.
Conductor, arranger and educator Marshall Brown, who also played the valve trombone, trumpet, euphonium, electric bass and the banjo, passed away on December 13, 1983 in New York City.