Delfeayo Marsalis was born July 28, 1965 in New Orleans, Louisiana into the musical family in which father and three brothers are musicians. Lying under the piano as a child while his father played, he eventually tried the bass and the drums but by the sixth grade gravitated to the trombone. His early influences were J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Al Grey, Tyree Glenn and Tommy Dorsey.
He went on to attend the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts high school and was classically trained at the Eastern Music Festival and Tanglewood Institute. He graduated from Berklee School of Music and the University of Louisville with degrees in performance and audio production.
While a gifted trombonist, Delfeayo has recorded only five albums as a leader and is more prolific and better known for his work as a producer of over 100 acoustic jazz recordings. Since the age of 17 he has produced such artists as Harry Connick Jr., Marcus Roberts, Spike Lee, Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Marcus Roberts, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and his family members – Ellis, Branford and Wynton.
Along with Tonight Show engineer Patrick Smith, he coined “to obtain more wood sound from the bass recorded without usage of the dreaded bass direct”, a phrase that became the single sentence to define the recorded quality of many acoustic jazz recordings since the late ’80s.
Forming Uptown Music Theatre in 2000, the organization has trained over 300 youth and staged 8 original musicals, all of which are based upon the mission of “community unity.” Marsalis has toured with internationally renowned bandleaders Art Blakey, Slide Hampton, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Abdullah Ibrahim. In addition he has performed and toured with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, was a part of the Ken Burns documentary Jazz and is an integral part of Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration DVD.
Delfeayo Marsalis, along with his father and brothers, are group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award. He continues to perform, record, tour and produce.
Dicky Wells was born William Wells on June 10, 1907 in Centerville, Tennessee but came to fame playing trombone as Dicky or Dickie Wells. He moved to New York City in 1926 and joined the band of Lloyd Scott.
He played two stints with Count Basie between 1938-1945 and 1947-1950. Dickie also played with Cecil Scott, Spike Hughes, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Teddy Hill, Jimmy Rushing, Buck Clayton and Ray Charles.
In his later years, Wells suffered a severe beating that affected his memory, but he recovered and continued to perform. He played frequently at the West End jazz club at 116th and Broadway, most often with a band called “The Countsmen”, led by alto saxophonist Earle Warren, his colleague from Count Basie days. His trademark was a “pepper pot” mute that he made himself.
Jazz trombonist Dickie Wells died on November 12, 1985, in New York City. Shortly after his death, his family donated his trombone to Rutgers University.
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Al Grey was born in Aldie, Virginia on June 6, 1925 but grew up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. After serving in the Navy during WWII, where he started playing trombone, he joined Benny Carter’s band, later moving to Lionel Hampton’s trombone section. After some solo worked he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in ’56 and a year later was touring Europe with Count Basie.
Trummy Young inspired Al’s early trombone style and he developed a wild, strong and full sound. Solos often consisted of short, pronounced phrases with precisely timed syncopation. He became known for his plunger mute technique, later writing an instructional book title “Plunger Techniques”. When playing with the plunger, however, he would produce the most mellow fill-ins and shape melodic answers to the lead voice.
After 1961 Grey performed only occasionally with the Count and apart from leading his own combos, he collaborated with many jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock, Melba Liston, J. J. Johnson, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Jack McDuff, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. His trombone skills were also featured on the award-winning soundtrack for The Color Purple.
Al Grey, who passed away on March 24, 2000, greatly contributed to the post-swing era jazz-trombone vocabulary and will be remembered for his charming personality as well as his ability to bond with audiences around the world.
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Milt Bernhart was born on May 25, 1926 in Valparaiso, Indiana and began his musical career with the tuba. By high school he switched to trombone and by 16 he was working in Boyd Raeburn’s band and later gigged with Teddy Powell.
After a tour in the Army he worked, off and on, with Stan Kenton for the next ten years. He is perhaps most associated with Kenton, but in 1955 he had his first album as a leader. In 1986 he was elected President of the Big Band Academy of America.
Widely known as a mild-mannered and humorous musician his brief period with Benny Goodman was one area that brought out his ire. Except for the Army’s basic training, Milt indicates working with Goodman was “the bottom” of his first 23 years of life, referring to him as a bore and could not abide Goodman’s public humiliation of tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray or his segregated treatment at a Las Vegas club.
West coast jazz trombonist Milt Bernhart, who supplied the exciting solo heard in the middle of Sinatra’s popular 1956 recording of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” conducted by Nelson Riddle, passed away on January 22, 2004 in Glendale, California.26-2004
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Jack Jenney was born Truman Eliot Jenney May 12, 1910 in Mason City, Iowa and started playing in his father’s band from the age of 11. The trombonist’s first professional work began with Austin Wylie in 1928 but he would go on to work with Isham James, Red Norvo, Artie Shaw, Mal Hallett and Waring’s Pennsylvanians.
Jack led his own band for a year in 1939-40, which included Peanuts Hucko, Paul Fredricks and Hugo Winterhalter. Although this band received good reviews it was a financial failure. Best known for instrumental versions of the song Stardust, he won the Down Beat Reader’s Poll for trombone in 1940 and would appear in the 1942 film “Syncopation”.
After his return from being drafted into the United States Navy, trombonist Jack Jenney died of complications related to appendicitis in Los Angeles, California on December 16, 1945.
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