Carl Charles Fontana was born on July 18, 1928 in Monroe, Louisiana and learned jazz from his father Collie, a saxophonist and violinist. He first performed with his father’s band while in high school and would go on to attend the University of Louisiana Monroe for two years prior to transferring to Louisiana State University and getting a degree in Music Education.
Fontana got his first professional break on the jazz scene in 1951 when he was hired to stand in for Urbie Green in the Woody Herman band. Impressing the bandleader with his improvisational skills he kept him on as a permanent member of the band even after Green returned..
Three years later he left Herman and joined Lionel Hampton’s big band. In early 1955 he played briefly with Hal McIntyre before joining Stan Kenton’s big band later in the year. He recorded three albums with Kenton and also worked with fellow trombonist Kai Winding during this period. Being an inventive yet fluid player made it easy for him to record and tour, but Carl was also a master of the “Doodle Tonguing” technique, that allowed him to smoothly execute runs of notes at speeds many had not previously considered possible to achieve on a slide trombone.
By 1958, Fontana was living in Las Vegas, Nevada and would tour only on rare occasions. He primarily performed with house orchestras in Las Vegas during the 1960s, particularly Paul Anka’s band with Rosolino, and in the bands backing Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Wayne Newton and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. This continued into the Seventies in addition to recording with Louie Bellson, Bill Watrous, and Supersax as well as co-leading a date with Jack Hanna, titled The Hanna-Fontana Band: Live at Concord.
The 1980s saw him appearing regularly on National Public Radio’s Monday Night Jazz program. And although he recorded on more than 70 albums over his long career, his first true record as a headliner did not appear until 1985 when Uptown Jazz released The Great Fontana. He continued performing and recording sporadically throughout the 1990s.
Trombonist Carl Fontana, who never earned great fame but was on every great trombonist’s list of greats, passed away in Las Vegas, Nevada aged 75 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease on October 9, 2003.
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Glenn Ferris was born on June 27, 1950 in Los Angeles, California. He studied classical music from 1958 to 1967, but from 1964 onward he also studied jazz with Don Ellis. He went on to perform with a variety of musicians in varied genres before moving to France in 1980.
In France, trombonist Glenn Ferris worked with Tony Scott, Brotherhood of Breath, Henri Texier and others. As an educator he currently teaches at the Conservatoire de Paris and leads a trio and a quintet.
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Wycliffe Gordon was born May 29, 1967 in Waynesboro, Georgia and was heavily influenced musically by the church music his organist father played at several churches in Burke County as well as being a classical pianist and teacher.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Gordon became particularly inspired in jazz at age thirteen, listening to jazz recordings inherited from his great aunt. The collection included a five-LP jazz anthology produced by Sony-Columbia and was drawn in particular to Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens.
Wycliffe attended, at that age, Sego High School in Augusta, Georgia and played in the band under direction from Don Milford. He graduated from Butler High in 1985, performed in New York City as part of the McDonald High School All-American Band, went on to study music at Florida A&M where he played in the marching band.
His early works as a professional were with Wynton Marsalis but in recent years he expanded beyond swing and experimented with new instruments, notably the indigenous Australian wind instrument, didgeridoo. In 1995, Gordon arranged and orchestrated the third version of the theme song for NPR’s All Things Considered, the widely recognized melody composed in 1971 by Donald Joseph Voegeli.
In 2006 he founded Blues Back Records, his was an independent jazz label and released his Rhythm On My Mind album, a collaboration with bassist Jay Leonhart. His desire for full artistic control was the impetus for creating Blues Back. Blues Back had produced other artists in Wycliffe’s universe who met Gordon’s criteria for originality, however, since 2011 has been inactive.
Jazz trombonist, arranger, composer, bandleader and music educator at the collegiate-conservatory level, Wycliffe Gordon also plays didgeridoo, trumpet, tuba, piano, and sings. To date he has a catalogue of 19 albums as a leader and another eight as a sideman performing with John Allred, Marcus Roberts, Randy Sandke, Maurice Hines, Ron Westray, and Chip White. He continues to perform, tour, record and educate.
Isla Eckinger was born on May 6, 1939 in Dornach, Switzerland. As a child he played cello and moved on to trombone in his teens. After studying trumpet at the Conservatory in Basel, he taught himself the bass. When he turned professional, his first gig was playing with Oscar and Miriam Klein.
In the 1960s Eckinger accompanied international visiting musicians such as Ben Webster, Buck clayton, Don Byas and Johnny Griffin. A move to Munich saw him working with Mal Waldron, Joe Haider and Philly Joe Jones.
Entering the world of academia Isla taught at the Swiss Jazz School from 1970 to 1976 during which time he also performed with Haider, Peter giger and Heinz Bigler in the Group Four for Jazz. He also kept in good company working on several projects with Slide Hampton, George Gruntz, Horace Parlan, Benny Bailey and Dexter Gordon.
By 1975 Eckinger was touring Japan with Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy and Manfred Schoof and Italy with Chet Baker in ’76. By the end of the decade he was a member of the Wolfgang Engstfeld Quartet. He went on to work with Klaus Weiss, Fritz Pauer and Dizzy Gillespie.
Mid-1980s drew him to Los Angeles, California to record as a sideman with Chuck Manning on his 1991 release LA Calling. Trombonist and vibraphonist Isla Eckinger currently plays with Roman Schwaller, Jimmy Cobb,, Charly Antolini, Andy Scherrer and Paul Haag.
Robert Murray Gordon McConnell was born on February 14, 1935 in London, Ontario, Canada. He took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 1950s, performing and studying with Don Thompson, Bobby Gimby, Maynard Ferguson and music theory with Gordon Delamont. In 1968 he formed The Boss Brass, a big band that became his primary performing and recording unit through the Seventies and Eighties.
In 1988, McConnell took a teaching position at the Dick Grove School of Music in California, but gave up his position and returned to Canada a year later. In 1997, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and in 1998 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Rob remained active throughout the 2000s, touring internationally as both a performer and educator. The Rob McConnell Tentet, a scaled-down version of the Boss Brass featuring many Boss Brass alumni, has been quite successful; it has recorded three major albums, The Rob McConnell Tentet, Thank You, Ted and Music of the Twenties.
Rob McConnell & The Boss Brass became one of Canada’s most popular jazz ensembles, performing live and recording for Concord Jazz label and a variety of others. The valve trombonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator and recording artist died on May 1, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, aged 75, from cancer. He left a catalogue of 33 albums recording with Maynard Ferguson and Mel Torme among others.
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