Eli Robinson was born on June 23, 1911 in Greenville, Georgia. After working in Cincinnati in bands led by Speed Webb and Zack White, he worked as well with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.
Robinson made his first recordings in 1935 with Blanche Calloway. In 1936 he moved to New York City where he played with Teddy Hill, and Willie Bryant. After working briefly with Roy Eldridge in Chicago in 1939, he joined Count Basie from 1941 to 1947.
During the 1950s and 60s, he worked with Lucky Millinder and Buddy Tate. Trombonist and arranger Eli Robinson passed away on December 24, 1972.
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Papa Bue Jensen was born Arne Bue Jensen on May 8, 1930 in Copenhagen, Denmark, At an early age, he became fascinated with jazz, prompted by records from his brother with Harry James, Arte Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bert Ambrose, Bunk John and George Lewis in the stack.
After World War II, Jensen became a sailor for a few years, visiting ports all around the world, where he had an opportunity to listen to enjoy their music venues. It was around this time that he started to play jazz. He borrowed money to by a slide trombone, was taught the seven basic positions of the slide by a Royal Danish Orchestra musician, and the rest he taught himself. Soon he was playing with other young jazz musicians, performing in clubs and bars around Copenhagen.
He played in the Royal Jazzman band, that later became the Bohana Jazz Band, Henrik Johansen’s Jazz Band and recorded as a sideman with the Saint Peter Street Stompers in the 1950s. Papa Bue also worked with the Bonanza Jazz Band, Chris Barber, Adrian Bentzon and Johansen. During this period of his career he was immersed in the Nyhavn music scene jamming with other young jazz musicians. In 1956 he founded and led the New Orleans Jazz Band, and was given the nickname Papa Bue as he was the on father in the group.
In late 1957, after an article by Shel Silverstein was published in which he referred to them as the Danish Vikings, Jensen renamed the ensemble the Viking Jazz Band. They released their first album in 1958 and their sophomore project Schlafe Mein Prinzchen released in 1960, sold over one million copies, garnering them gold status.
Though bebop was in at the time he remained in the Dixieland style, but was influenced by early swing and is considered one of the most significant proponents of his genre. The group remained active into the 1990s, recording and/or performing with George Lewis, Champion Jack Dupree, Art Hodes, Wild Bill Davison, Wingy Manone, Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, Earl Hines, Stuff Smith and Ben Webster.
Papa Bue’s Viking Jazz Band recorded Bent Fabricius-Bjerre’s theme music for the Olsen Gang series, and was awarded the Golden Keys To The City in 1969 after performing at the 1969 New Orleans Jazz Festival. In 1989 he was awarded the Ben Webster Prize of Honor.
Trombonist Papa Bue Jensen, who released a large number of albums on Storyville, timeless and Music Mecca record labels though few are in print, passed away on November 2, 2011, at the age of 81.
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Hugh Ramopolo Masekela was born on April 4, 1939 in Kwa-Guqa Township of Witbank, South Africa. He began singing and playing piano as a child. At the age of 14, after seeing Kirk Douglas in the film Young Man With A Horn he took up playing the trumpet. He was given his first trumpet was given to him by anti-apartheid Archbishop Trevor Huddleston at St. Peter’s Secondary School.
Quickly mastering the instrument under the tutelage of Uncle Sauda of Johannesburg’s Native Municipal Brass Band, Masekela along with some of his schoolmates formed the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa’s first youth orchestra. By 1956, after leading other ensembles, he joined Alfred Hebrert’s African Jazz Revue.
In 1958 he wound up in the orchestra of South Africa’s first musical blockbuster King Kong, followed by touring the country for a sold-out year with Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers’ Nathan Mdledle in the lead. By the end of 1959 Hugh along with Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Makhaya Ntshoko and Johnny Gertze formed the Jazz Epistles. They became the first African jazz group to record an album and perform to record-breaking audiences in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre of 69 peacefully protesting Africans he left the country with the help of Huddleston, Yehudi Menuhin and John Dankworth for London’s Guildhall School of Music. Befriended by Harry Belafonte on a visit to the U.S. he gained admission to Manhattan School of Music studying classical trumpet.
By the late Sixties he had hits with Up, Up & Away and Grazing In The Grass, appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, and was featured in the film Monterey Pop. In 1974, Masekela and friend Stewart Levine organized the Zaire 74 music festival around the Rumble In The Jungle boxing match.
He has played primarily in jazz ensembles, with guest appearances on recordings by The Byrds and Paul Simon. Since 1954 Hugh’s music protested about apartheid, slavery, government and the hardships individuals were living but also vividly portrayed the struggles and sorrows, as well as the joys and passions of his country. In 1987, he had a hit single with Bring Him Back Home, which became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela.
Trumpeter Hugh Masekela also plays the flugelhorn, cornet, and trombone and is a composer and singer. He has some four dozen albums to date in his catalogue, has won two Grammy Awards with seven nominations, received two honorary doctorates, and serves as a director on the board of The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organization that provides a daily meal to students of township schools in Soweto. He continues to perform, record and tour.
Chris Pyne was born Norman Christopher Pyne on February 14, 1939 in Bridlington, England and played piano as a child before switching to trombone.
Beginning in 1963 he played with Fat John Cox, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, John Stevens’s Spontaneous Music and the London Jazz Orchestra before settling in with Humphrey Littleton from ’66 until 1970.
During the Sixties he recorded with John Dankworth, Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey. Staying very busy in the 70s Chris played with Mike Gibbs off and on from 1967-1979, toured with Frank Sinatra’s backing bands from 1970 and 1983, and was also performing with the John Taylor Sextet between 1971 and 1981.
Pyne also performed or recorded with Kenny Wheeler, John Surman, Philly Joe Jones, Maynard Ferguson, Tony Coe, Bobby Lamb, Ray Premru, Ronnie Ross, Barbara Thompson, John Stevens, Norman Winstone and Alan Cohen.
He toured with Gordon Beck in the Eighties, joined Surman’s Brass Project from ’84-’92 and later in his musical life became a member of the Charlie Watts Big Band. Trombonist Chris Pyne passed away on April 12, 1995 in London, England without ever recording as a leader.
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Conrad Janis was born February 11, 1928 in New York City and learned to play trombone as a child. Throughout his life, Janis has striven to keep traditional jazz alive often performing when not in front of a camera. In 1949, Janis put together a band of aging jazz greats comprised of James P. Johnson on piano, trumpeter Henry Goodwin, clarinetist Edmond Hall, Pops Foster on bass and Baby Dodds on the drum, with himself out front on trombone.
He was also a theater, film and television actor who at the age of 19 starred in the film the Brasher Doubloon with George Montgomery and went on to appear in the film Margie with Jeanne Crain.
In 1953, he played eldest son Edward in NBC’s Bonino, guest appeared on Get Smart, The Golden Girls and Quark. He was featured in the movies The Buddy Holly Story, The Duchess and The Dirtwater Fox, and appeared as himself in the bar scene in Tom Hanks/Jackie Gleason film Nothing In Common. Janis is best known for playing Mindy McConnell’s father Frederick on Mork & Mindy.
By the late 1970s, he formed the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band, which appeared multiple times on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and made eight sold-out performances at Carnegie hall. Trombonist and bandleader Conrad Janis continues to play and act whenever possible at the age of 87.
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