Don Elliott was born October 21, 1926 in Somerville, New Jersey and played mellophone in his high school band and played trumpet for an army band. After study at the University of Miami he added vibraphone to the list and recorded with Terry Gibbs and Buddy Rich before forming his own band.
From 1953 to 1960 he won the DownBeat readers poll several times for miscellaneous instrument-mellophone. Known as the “Human Instrument”, Don additionally performed jazz as a vocalist, trombonist, flugelhornist and percussionist. He pioneered the art of multitrack recording, composed countless prize-winning advertising jingles, prepared film scores, and built a thriving production company.
Elliott scored several Broadway productions including James Thurber’s The Beast in Me and A Thurber Carnival, in the latter of which he performed with his quartet. He also provided one of the voices for the novelty jazz duo the Nutty Squirrels. He lent his vocal talents to such motion picture soundtracks as The Getaway starring Steve McQueen, $ (Dollars) starring Warren Beatty, and The Hot Rock starring Robert Redford, as well as composing the score to The Happy Hooker starring Lynn Redgrave.
Elliott owned and operated one of the very first multitrack recording studios in New York City and in Weston, Connecticut and recorded over 60 albums and 5,000 advertising jingles throughout his career. A longtime associate of Quincy Jones, he contributed vocal work to many of Jones’ film scores. As sideman he performed and recorded with Phil Bodner, Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, Jackie McLean, Paul Desmond, Billy Taylor, Billy Eckstine, Bill Evans, Urbie Green, Michel Legrand, George Shearing, Marty Bell, Bob Corwin, Louis Bellson and Mundell Lowe among others.
Trumpeter, vibraphonist, vocalist, and mellophone player Don Elliott, whose recording Calypso Jazz is considered by some jazz enthusiasts to be one of the definitive calypso jazz albums, passed away of cancer on July 5, 1984 in Weston, Connecticut.
Vera Auer was born on April 20, 1919 in Vienna, Austria, the grandniece of violinist Leopold Auer. She learned classical piano and later accordion. In 1948, along with guitarist Attila Zoller formed a combo. She later added vibraphone to her list of instruments and teamed with Helmuth Zukovits on bass and Franz Mikuliska on drums.
In 1950 the group performed and recorded under her own name and appeared on the Austrian radio AG RAVAG. 1951 saw the band The Audience Award for best combo at the taking was the band at the Vienna Jazz Competition. This was followed by her first tour abroad in Turkey and West Germany, where they also played with Friedrich Gulda.
Vera would go on to play with Joe Zawinul, Hans Salomon and Toni Stricker in her band. By 1954 she was playing mainly in West Germany due to poor working conditions for jazz musicians in Austria. She accompanied Donald Byrd, Lucky Thompson and Art Taylor. In 1956 she performed with Jean-Louis Chautemps at the German Jazz Festival.
In 1959 after marrying Brian Boucher and moved to the United States the next year. She attended the Lenox School of Jazz studying under Gunther Schuller, John Lewis and George Russell. She played with Dave Burns, Cal Massey, J. J. Johnson, Mal Waldron, Ted Curson, Zoot Sims, Walter Perkins and Richard Williams. Around 1970, she recorded as a leader an LP titled Positive Vibes with her quintet, which wasn’t released until 1977 and still amazingly fresh sounds.
She continued to perform into the Nineties on the Jazz Mobile and Jazz Vespers of St. Peter’s Church in New York City. In 1984 the American Public Broadcasting Service Program dedicated a one-hour portrait of her. On August 2, 1996 vibraphonist Vera Auer passed away in Newsane, Vermont.
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Walter Roland Dickerson was born on April 16, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Morgan State University in 1953 and after two years in the Army he settled in California. There the vibraphonist started to gain attention by leading a group with pianist Andrew Hill and drummer Andrew Cyrille.
During the Sixties in New York City was where he gained some further attention. He recorded four albums for Prestige Records and in 1962 Down Beat named him the Best New Artist.
Dickerson recorded his debut album This Is Walt Dickerson in 1961 on the New Jazz label and would go on to record six more before the end of the decade for New Jazz, Audio Fidelity and MGM record labels. He worked with Elmo Hope, arranging his 1963 album Sounds From Rikers Island.
From 1965 to 1975 he took a break from jazz, but later he worked again with Andrew Hill and Sun Ra. Beginning in 1975 after his return to performing he recorded Tell Us Only The Beautiful Things and Walt Dickerson 1976 on the Whynot label. He then began recording ten albums for the Danish Steeplechase label and one for Soul Note in 1978.
Vibraphonist Walt Dickerson, who was most notably associated with the post-bop idiom, passed away on May 15, 2008 from a cardiac arrest in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.
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Lem Winchester was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 19, 1928. He played piano, baritone and tenor saxophone before settling on the vibraphone. Formerly a police officer, he pursued music as a hobby in Wilmington, Delaware. He turned to music full-time after an appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. He was soon working with some of the top names in jazz, making his debut recording with pianist Ramsey Lewis.
Winchester recorded a handful of albums as a leader, mostly for Prestige Records and made sideman appearances with Oliver Nelson, Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Benny Golson, Tommy Flanagan and Johnny “Hammond” Smith.
The career of hard bop vibraphonist Lem Winchester was cut short when he passed away from an unsuccessful demonstration of a trick with a revolver on January 13, 1961 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was 32 years old.
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Ray Alexander was born on February 7, 1925 in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York. His mother was a concert pianist who began him on the instrument as a very young child. Asthma ended his ambitions to be a trumpeter but after hearing Gene Krupa his interest turned towards drums. He education also came from listening to Big Sid Catlett, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the clubs.
Ray started his musical career as a drummer, playing with Claude Thornhill, Bobby Byrne, the Dorsey Brothers, Stan Getz, Joe Venuti, Mel Torme, Johnny Smith, Chubby Jackson, Stuff Smith and numerous others. Switching to the vibraphone he worked with George Shearing, Charlie Barnett, Bil Evans, Anita O’Day and Mel Lewis, as well as his own quartet.
In the early ’70’s he joined with Mousey Alexander and formed the Alexanders the Great quartet which was booked frequently at the new Half Note uptown, as well as gained notoriety and bookings through the city.
By 1983 Ray put out an album called “Cloud Patterns“, recorded live at Eddie Condon’s featuring Albert Daily on piano, Harvie Swartz on bass, Ray Mosca on drums and Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone. He would go on to work with Kenny Barron, Warren Vache Jr., Bob Kindred, Harvie Swartz, Oliver Jackson, Mac Chrupcala, John Anter and Marshall Wood, tour England and nearby European countries. Vibraphonist and drummer Ray Alexander passed away on June 9, 2002 in new Hyde Park, New York as a result of complications from elective surgery.