Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. a.k.a. Cal Tjader was born July 16, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri to touring Swedish-American vaudevillians, a tap dancing father and pianist mother. At two, his parents settled in San Mateo, California, opened a dance studio where he received piano and tap instruction from his parents. Tapping alongside his father in the Bay area he landed a role in the film “The White of the Dark Cloud of Joy” tapping with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Playing in a Dixieland band around the Bay area, at sixteen Cal entered and won a Gene Krupa solo contest but the win was dampened by Pearl Harbor. After serving in the Army, he enrolled at San Jose State College and under the G.I. Bill majoring in education. He later transferred to San Francisco State College, took timpani lessons, met Dave Brubeck who introduced him to Paul Desmond. The three formed the Dave Brubeck Octet with Tjader on drums and recorded one album.
Disbanding the octet, Tjader and Brubeck formed a trio that became a fixture in the San Francisco jazz scene. During this period he taught himself the vibraphone, alternating between it and the drums depending on the song. A diving accident in 1951 forced Brubeck’s trio to dissolve, however, Tjader continued trio work with bassist Jack Weeks and pianists John Marabuto or Vince Guaraldi, recording his first 10″ LP as a leader with them for Fantasy. He went on to work with George Shearing and continued recording for Fantasy.
After a gig at the Blackhawk Cal quit Shearing and in 1954 formed The Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet that produced Mambo with Tjader. The Mambo craze reached its peak in the late 1950s, and his band opened the second Monterey Jazz Festival in 1959. The Sixties was his most prolific period and his biggest success was the 1964 album Soul Sauce, the title track, a Dizzy Gillespie composition.
The 70s were lean years suffering like most jazz artists due to rock and roll’s explosive growth. During his later years he cut what most consider his seminal work “Onda Va Bien”, roughly translated as The Good Life, earning him a Grammy for Best Latin Recording.
Just as he was born on tour, he died touring on the road with his band in Manila, succumbing from a heart attack on May 5, 1982. Cal Tjader, who 40 year career playing vibraphone, drums, bongos, congas, timpani and piano stands alongside Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson as a vital influence and is linked with swinging freely between jazz and Latin music.
Joe Chambers was born June 25, 1942 in Stoneacre, Virginia into a musical family. He grew up listening to the rock and roll of Louis Jordan and Slim Gaillard along with classical composers like Vivaldi and Beethoven. At the tender age of four he was playing pots and pans, setting them up like a kit. More taken with Lester Young and Lionel Hampton, nonetheless, he soon joined a band that played the R&B hits and at thirteen hearing the esoteric sounds of Miles Davis, he was hooked.
Chambers earned an undergrad degree from the Philadelphia Conservatory and by the time he was twenty cut his first session on Freddie Hubbard’s Breaking Point. That single date led to road work with Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Eric Dolphy and Dizzy Gillespie.
As a member of the ‘60s Blue Note fraternity, Joe stands amongst some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century. His intense drumming and trademark blend of cymbal-driven forward motion, deeply rhythmic continuity and explosive creativity has graced numerous landmark recordings like Hutcherson’s “Components”, Shorter’s “Schizophrenia” and “Etcetera”, and Tyner’s “Tender Moments”.
Joe Chambers is more than a drummer adding vibraphonist, pianist, composer and educator to his resume. He has eight albums as a leader, has scored several Spike Lee films, taught at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in NYC and leads the Outlaw Band at the school; and he is the Thomas S. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Jazz in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Music.
Lionel Leo Hampton was born on April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky and was raised by his grandmother. The multi-instrumentalist spent his early childhood first in Birmingham, Alabama and then in Kenosha, Wisconsin before his family settled in Chicago by the time he was ten. During his teen years he took up the xylophone, fife and drums. It was drums that kicked started his career in music playing with the Chicago Defender Newsboy’s Band.
Towards the end of the Roaring Twenties Hampton moved to California playing with the Dixieland Blues-Blowers, the Les Hite band and recording with The Quality Serenaders. But it was in 1930 when Louis Armstrong invited Hampton to play vibes during one of his California dates that his career as a vibraphonist and the popularity of the instrument began. But it was later that his star would shine when Johnny Hammond brought Benny Goodman to see Hampton play and invited him to join his group.
Over the course of his lifetime Lionel Hampton led his own orchestras, played with Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Wes Montgomery, Illinois Jacquet, Dinah Washington Arnett Cobb, Charlie Parker, Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich, Slam Stewart and the list of jazz luminaries is to numerous.
Hampton, a vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992, received the Papal Medal from Pope Paul VI, has toured and performed around the world, had his vibraphone of 15 years placed in the National Museum of American History and the University of Idaho renamed their music school for Hampton, becoming the first university to do so for a jazz musician.
One of the first jazz pioneers of the vibes and a giant whose career spanned over six decades, Lionel Hampton passed away of heart failure at the age of 94 on August 31, 2002.
More Posts: vibraphone
Karl Hanns Berger was born March 30, 1935 in Heidelberg, Germany and began playing piano when he was ten. By the time he reached young adulthood he had landed a job at Club 54 in his hometown as the house pianist and accompanied visiting American musicians such as Leo Wright, Lex Humphries and Don Ellis. During their stays he was able to learn the complexities of modern jazz.
Berger eventually picked up the vibraphone and in the early sixties became intrigued with free jazz. By 1965 he was a part of Don Cherry’s Paris-based quintet and the next year they came to New York to record Symphony For Improvisers on Blue Note. Staying in the U.S. Berger recorded his first album the following year.
Most of his output has been experimental in the free jazz circles playing with the likes of Carla Bley, Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, The Mingus Epitaph Orchestra and many others. From 1969 to 1975 Karl Berger continuously won the Down Beat critics poll for best jazz vibraphone player of the year.
In 1972 along with his friend and mentor Ornette Coleman, he founded the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, which was geared toward encouraging young students to explore their own creative ideas instead of imposing traditional concepts upon them. With visiting educators like Jack DeJohnette, Sam Rivers, and Anthony Braxton amongst other prominent musicians the school flourished until the mid eighties when Berger decided to venture back into performing.
From 1985 on Berger has led a 28-piece big band, played festivals worldwide, recorded as a leader and sideman, extending his educator talents to teaching jazz and ensemble playing in Frankfurt, and chaired the Music Department at U Mass-Dartmouth.
The musicologist, composer, pianist and vibraphonist was directly influenced by Ornette Coleman and his playing eschews four-mallet technique with an understanding and ability to play any meter from standard time signatures to odd meters and polyrhythms based on core elements of swing and coherent melody. Karl Berger continues to pursue the range of his instrument through recording, performing and touring.
Bobby Hutcherson was born January 27, 1941 in Los Angeles, California and studied piano with his aunt as a child. Not enjoying the formality of the training he tinkered with it on his own, especially since he was already connected to jazz through a brother’s high school friendship with Dexter Gordon and a singing sister who later dated Eric Dolphy. But it was hearing Milt Jackson that made everything clicked for Hutcherson during his teen years, working until he saved up enough money to buy his own set of vibes.
He began studying with Dave Pike and playing local dances in a group led by his friend, bassist Herbie Lewis. Parlaying his local reputation into gigs with Curtis Amy and Charles Lloyd in 1960. And joined an ensemble led by Al Grey and Billy Mitchell. A year later he’s in New York at Birdland and ends up staying on the east coast as his reputation of his inventive four mallet playing spread.
Attracted foremost to more experimental free jazz and post-bop, he made early recordings in this style for Blue Note with Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Granchan Moncur, but ironically his debut recording for the label in 1963, The Kicker, not released until 1999, demonstrated his background in hard bop and the blues.
His vibraphone playing is suggestive of the style of Milt Jackson in its free-flowing melodic nature, but his sense of harmony and group interaction is thoroughly modern. Easily one of jazz’s greatest vibraphonists, Bobby Hutcherson helped modernize the vibes by redefining what could be done with it — sonically, technically, melodically, and emotionally. In the process, he became one of the defining voices in the “new thing” portion of Blue Note’s glorious ’60s roster.
Throughout his career Hutcherson has performed or recorded with a who’s who list of avant-garde, free improvisation, modernist post-bop, straight-ahead, mainstream, fusion and bop jazz players on the scene, staying ever current in his message. As a leader he has recorded nearly four-dozen albums for Blue Note, Landmark, Columbia, Cadet, Timeless, Evidence, Atlantic and Verve. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson still maintains his reputation as one of the most advanced masters of his instrument.
More Posts: vibraphone