John Anthony Pompeo, better known as Johnny Rae or John Rae was born on August 11, 1934 in Saugus, Massachusetts and grew up in music, as his mother played piano in night clubs in the Boston area. His area of musical study in jazz led him to become a drummer and vibraphonist. Graduating from East Boston High School in 1952, he went on to study piano at the New England Conservatory and timpani at Berklee College of Music.
Johnny joined Herb Lee’s R&B band right out of high school, gigged with Slim Gaillard and Milt Buckner, played drums and vibes with Al Vega and Jay Migliori. Upon the recommendation of MJQ’s John Lewis, he teamed up with to play with George Shearing, alongside Toots Thielemans, Al McKibbon on bass and three Latin percussionists that included conguero Armando Peraza. It was during this period that Peraza taught him to play timbales.
He played with Johnny Smith, Ralph Sharon, Cozy Cole and Herbie Mann throughout the Fifties. The next couple of decades were equally commanding of his talents by Cal Tjader, Stan Getz, Gabor Szabo, Charlie Byrd, Earl Hines, Art Van Damme, Anita O’Day and Barney Kessel among many others. Though mainly concentrating in the context modern jazz, he never wandered far from Latin music and the Latin jazz percussion he played.
Though he was on more than three-dozen recording sessions, Johnny only recorded one as a leader, “Opus De Jazz, Volume 2” in 1960 for Savoy. A second release under his name was in actuality him fronting Herbie Mann’s band for contractual reasons.
Since the 1980s Rae has worked in music education, has authored several instruction books and was a disc jockey in San Francisco for many years. He assembled a tribute band to Tjader called Radcliff (Tjader’s middle name) and led the band until his death. Johnny Rae, drummer and vibraphonist passed away in 1993 in San Francisco, California.
Charlie Shoemake was born on July 27, 1937, in Houston, Texas to music loving parents who began him on piano at age six. Excelling in both baseball and music by high school graduation he was also playing vibes and had attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals. He went on to Southern Methodist University to study music and play baseball. But it was during his first year he realized to be good he had to choose one and that choice was music.
In 1956 he moved to Los Angeles and embarked on an extensive study of the concepts of his idols, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell along with other greats Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Sonny Clark. During this period informal harmony studies with pianist Jimmy Rowles were very invaluable. But with the onset of rock and roll, the jazz scene began to dry up and he was forced to do studio work, commercials and accompanying vocalists to make ends meet.
Returning to the vibraphone in the Sixties and with the aid of Victor Feldman, Charlie was back in the jazz circles playing for composers Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin. It was 1966 that a stop by Shelly’s Manne Hole that he was offered and took a five week tour with the George Shearing Quintet that turned into a 7 year relationship. This tenure saw him playing with the likes of Andy Simpkins, Stix Hooper, Harvey Mason, Joe Pass, Pat Martino and others.
By 1973 Shoemake opened a successful jazz improvisation school in Los Angeles and by 1990 he had taught and guided over 1500 people, most notably saxophonists Ted Nash and Tim Armacost, trombonist Andy Martin and even smooth jazz artists Dave Koz and Richard Elliot.
Closing his studio in 1990, he moved north to Cambria with the idea of having a quiet home base and touring around the world. But with no jazz in town, he approached a restaurateur to bring in jazz and today The Hamlet performs some thirty concerts a year and he appears with every major jazz musician stopping through from the East coast and Europe. Vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake is currently the Director of the Central Coast Jazz Institute.
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Teddy Charles was born Theodore Charles Cohen on April 13, 1928 in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. He began his musical career studying at Julliard School of Music as a percussionist. Later he started recording and making personal appearances as Teddy Cohen with various bands as a vibraphonist, writing, arranging and producing records and in 1951 he changed his last name to Charles.
He was one of many jazz musicians who hung out at an apartment building at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City known as the Jazz Loft rented by photographer and artist David X. Young who in turn sublet an apartment to Charles’ mentor, Hall Overton. Teddy developed into a skillful musician not only on vibraphone but piano and drums as well and was known for his open-minded approach to more advanced sounds as well as his playing.
Known as an innovator, his main body of work was recorded in the 1950s. Teddy also did session work with musicians and singers as varied as Miles Davis, Oscar Pettiford, Roy Eldridge, Slim Gaillard, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Buddy De Franco and Dion. From 1953-55 he was a member of the Jazz Composer’s Workshop along with Charles Mingus and Teo Macero. This collaboration opened his style to the influences of classical music and freer improvising.
An avid seaman, Charles is the Captain of the Skipjack Pilgrim out of Greenport, Long Island, New York where he performs music locally. After spending years at sea, vibraphonist Teddy Charles started performing again until his passing on April 16, 2012 in Riverhead, New York.
Red Norvo was born Kenneth Norville on March 31, 1908 in Beardstown, Illinois. It is said that he sold his pet pony to help pay for his first marimba. He began his career in 1925 in Chicago playing with a band called “The Collegians”, in 1925. He played with many other bands, including an all-marimba band on the vaudeville circuit along with the bands of Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman.
By 1933 he had recorded two sessions for Brunswick under his own name including two of the earliest, most modern pieces of chamber jazz: Bix Beiderbecke’s “In A Mist” and his own “Dance of the Octopus”. For these he put aside the xylophone for the marimba yet outraged the label’s head that tore up his contract and threw him out, though the album remained in print throughout the 30s.
From 1934-35 Red recorded 8 modern swing sides for Columbia followed by 15 sides of Decca and their short-lived Champion label series in 1936. From there he formed a Swing Orchestra and recorded for ARC, Vocalion and Columbia featuring brilliant arrangements by Eddie Sauter and often vocals by Mildred Bailey.
In 1938, Red Norvo and His Orchestra reached number one with their recordings of “Please Be Kind” and “Says My Heart”. He went on to record with Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie in 1945, hit the West Coast in ’47, helped Charles Mingus rise to prominence in his trio, recorded for Savoy, recorded with Sinatra in Australia and released by Blue Note, appeared on the Dinah Shore Chevy Show and appeared in the movie Screaming Mimi as himself.
Red Norvo, helped to establish the xylophone, marimba and vibraphone as a viable jazz instrument continued to record and tour throughout his career until a stroke in the mid-1980s forced him into retirement. He died at a convalescent home on April 6, 1999 in Santa Monica, California at the age of 91.
Stefon Harris was born March 23, 1973 in Albany, New York and started playing the piano at age 6 and learned to read music by the time he began elementary school. By the time he reached 8th grade Stefon played nearly twenty different instruments from string bass to trombone. After seeing the Empire State Youth Orchestra on television, he auditioned for the ensemble and was accepted as the principal percussionist.
A few years later, he earned a full merit scholarship to attend Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where his roommate introduced him to jazz via Charlie Parker records. Smitten by the music, Harris moved to New York City and began gigging on the jazz scene as a vibraphone player while finishing his B.A. and Master’s degrees at the Manhattan School of Music.
Harris has released several critically acclaimed albums, composed numerous works and is one of the foremost young artists in demand today having played with such luminaries as Kenny Barron, Steve Turre, Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter, Joe Henderson, Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society. In 2011 he ventured to Havana, Cuba with saxophonist David Sanchez and trumpeter Christian Scott to record their critically acclaimed Ninety Miles. Having performed worldwide, vibraphonist Stefon Harris sits at the forefront of New York music.