Benjamin Gordon Powell Jr. was born on March 1, 1930 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He first played professionally at age 14 and by 18 he was playing with Lionel Hampton. In 1951 he left Hampton’s band and joined Count Basie, where he remained until 1963. Powell takes the trombone solo in the bridge of Basie’s 1955 recording of “April In Paris”.
After leaving Basie, Benny freelanced in New York City and from 1966 to 1970 he was a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, playing Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. Among other engagements, he played in the house band of the Merv Griffin Show, relocating to Los Angeles, California when the show moved to the West Coast in 1970.
During this period Powell did extensive work as a session musician working with Abdullah Ibrahim, John Carter and Randy Weston. In the 80s he moved back to New York and added educator to his resume becoming part of the Jazzmobile and later, in 1994 teaching at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
Benny Powell, tenor and bass trombonist, died following back surgery on June 26, 2010 in Manhattan, New York City. He was 80 years old.
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Keith Ronald Christie was born January 6, 1931 in Blackpool, England and began playing trombone at 14 while attending the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He formed a band with his brother Ian in the late 1940s, and soon after the pair joined the band of Humphrey Lyttleton, recording copiously.
Keith served in the military early in the 1950s, reconvening to lead an ensemble with his brother in 1951 that lasted until 1953. He went on to work with other jazz musicians like John Dankworth, Cleo Laine, George Chisholm, Vic Ash and others in the mid 50s. He worked with Ted Heath as well as Allan Ganley in the Jazzmakers from the late 50s to early 60s, with brief stints in other bands through the end of the decade.
During this period he joined Benny Goodman on a European tour, also playing with Tubby Hayes, Paul Gonsalves, Kenny Wheeler, Ronnie Ross, and Bobby Lamb among others. In the mid-1970s Keith Christie suffered and recovered from a fall but his continuing battles with alcoholism eventually resulted in the trombonist’s early death on December 16, 1980 in London, England.
Snub Mosley was born Lawrence Leo Mosley on December 29, 1905 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Playing trombone in high school after graduation he joined Alphonse Trent’s territory band from 1926 to 1933. Following this he played with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in 1934, Claude Hopkins from 1934-35, was band mates with Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong with the Luis Russell Orchestra 1936-37. In addition, he led his own groups before settling in New York City.
Though Mosley spent most of his career on trombone, he also invented an instrument called the slide saxophone, which had both the slide portion of a trombone and a saxophone mouthpiece. The instrument is prominently featured in his 1940 recording “The Man With The Funny Little Horn”. From 1940 to 1978 he recorded for Decca, Sonora, Penguin, Columbia and Pizza record labels.
Trombonist Snub Mosley passed away quietly on July 21, 1981 at his home at 555 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem, New York City.
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Curtis DuBois Fuller was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 15, 1934 to Jamaican parents who died when he was very young and raised in an orphanage. He took up the trombone while in Detroit and became friends with schoolmates Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd and also knew Tommy Flanagan, Thad Jones and Milt Jackson.
After two years of army service ending in 1955, where he played in a band with Chambers and the Adderley brothers, Fuller joined the quintet of another Detroit musician, Yusef Lateef. By 1957 the quintet moved to New York and Curtis recorded his first sessions as a leader for Prestige Records.
Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records heard him playing with Miles Davis in the late Fifties and featured him as a sideman on record dates led by Sonny Clark and John Coltrane. His work on Trane’s “Blue Train” album is probably his best-known recorded performance. This was followed with four Fuller led dates for Blue Note.
Over his career Curtis has worked with Slide Hampton, Bud Powell, Jimmy Smith, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Blue Mitchell and Joe Henderson, and that’s the very short list. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie’s band, toured with Count Basie, was the sixth Jazz Messenger with Art Blakey in 1961, was the first trombonist to hold membership in the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, and has recorded for Savoy, Epic, Impulse, Status, Challenge, Timeless and Capri among others and his latest album, “Down Home” on Capri.
In addition to continuing to perform and record, trombonist Curtis Fuller is currently a faculty member of the New York State Summer School of the Arts – School of Jazz Studies.
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James M. Knepper was born November 22, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. He began playing trombone at nine, started playing professionally at 15 and worked with the big bands Freddie Slack, Roy Porter, Charlie Spivak, Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill during the late forties and early ‘50s.
A good friend and arranging/transcribing partner of bassist and composer Charles Mingus, Knepper was twice on the receiving end of Mingus’ legendary temper. The first incident was being a punch in the mouth while onstage at a memorial concert in Philadelphia, the second punch landed in Mingus’ apartment broke one of his teeth ruining his embouchure and resulting in the permanent loss of the top octave of his range on the trombone, thus ending their working relationship.
Throughout his career Jimmy worked with Lee Konitz, Stan Kenton, Herbie Mann, Gil Evans, Benny Goodman, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, toured Africa and the Soviet Union, and cut sessions as a leader several albums on Debut, Bethlehem, Blackhawk, Steeplechase and Criss Cross labels among others.
Knepper’s nimble technique enabled him to articulate the trombone more in the manner of a saxophone coupled with the slurs and tonal variations of his predecessors. His improvisation was filled with subtle surprises and his reputation has remained strong in the jazz world over the years. After a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, Jimmy Knepper passed away on June 14, 2003.
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