George V. Johnson Jr. was born on December 20, 1950 in Washington, D.C. Self taught, he was first exposed to music by singing and participating regular with church and school choirs while listening and emulating records played by his parents. He attended Prince George’s Community College then went on to matriculate through Howard University School of Fine Arts.
A composer, George writes lyrics about complex things: personal experiences, love, history, family, home, heaven and jazz. Phrases turn, emotions connect and melodies soar with his natural gift of writing lyrics and poetry. Meeting pianist John Malachi was fortuitous as he helped shape and guide Johnson’s career over the next 15 years.
He met a major influence, Eddie Jefferson, and performed or recorded with Lou Donaldson and James Moody, has performed at numerous jazz festivals and tributes, played various nightclubs and toured Europe. He has penned lyrics to more than 40 Hank Mobley compositions as part of the Second Floor Music project that has single handedly kept vocalese alive.
Over a 35 year career, vocalist, lyricist, actor, playwright, producer, promoter, composer George Johnson has played with legendary jazz musicians and vocalists such as Lou Donaldson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Shirley Horn, Dizzy Gillespie, John Hicks, Billy Higgins, Rufus Reid, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, Kurt Lightsey and the list continues. He continues to perform, and record.
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Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was born on December 18, 1917 in Houston, Texas and took up the alto saxophone in his youth. By the late 30s he joined Milton Larkin’s Orchestra and at various times sat next to Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Cedric Haywood and Wild Bill Davis.
Exiting Larkin’s employment in 1941, Vinson picked up a few vocal tricks while touring with bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, moved to New York City joining and recording with Cootie Williams, and then struck out on his own in 1945, Eddie formed his own large band that performed, recorded and toured over the next ten years.
He signed with Mercury Records, and enjoying a double-sided hit in 1947 with his R&B chart-topper “Old Maid Boogie”, and the song that would prove to be his signature number, “Kidney Stew Blues”.
Vinson leaned towards jazz during the early 50s when his band included John Coltrane. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles working with Johnny Otis and by the late 60s he was touring in a strict jazz capacity with Jay McShann and his career took an upswing. A 1970 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Otis spurred a bit of a comeback for Vinson and throughout the decade worked high-profile blues and jazz sessions for Count Basie, Johnny Otis, Roomful of Blues, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate.
During this period he also composed steadily, including “Tune Up” and “Four”, both of which have been incorrectly attributed to Miles Davis. Vinson recorded extensively during his fifty-odd year career and performed regularly in Europe and the United States.
Jump blues, R&B, jazz and bebop alto saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, whose nickname came from a hair straightening incident in which the lye destroyed his hair, passed away on July 2, 1988 from a heart attack whilst undergoing chemotherapy in Los Angles, California.
James Carroll Booker III was born on December 17, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana to piano playing Baptist ministers. He spent most of his childhood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where his father pastored and got a saxophone from his mother. However his interest lay stronger with the keyboard and he started playing organ in his father’s church.
Returning to New Orleans in his early teens, Booker attended the Xavier Academy Preparatory School, learning some elements of his keyboard style and playing Bach and Chopin among other classical composers, in addition to memorizing solos by Errol Garner and Liberace. He became a masterful interpreter of jazz and other pop music styles combining performance elements of stride, blues, gospel and Latin piano styles.
Booker made his recording debut in 1954 on the Imperial label, with “Doin’ the Hambone” and “Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Baby.” This led to some session work with Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and Lloyd Price. In 1958, when just 18, James had the opportunity to play and astonish Arthur Rubenstein who revealed he could never play at that tempo. He would go on to matriculate through Southern University, record a few moderately successful singles, hit the Billboard charts, and venture into the drug world ultimately serving a brief sentence.
By the 70s he was recording for Paramount, then Island Records, performing at the Nice, Montreux and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals, touring Europe, house pianist at the Maple Leaf Bar, played and toured with Jerry Garcia, and his “Let’s Make A Better World” would be the last record produced in the former East Germany.
James Booker died on November 8, 1983, while seated in a wheelchair, waiting to be seen at the emergency room at New Orleans Charity Hospital. The cause of death was renal failure due to his life-long struggle with drug abuse and alcoholism.
Be My Love is now a jazz standard written by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn and was originally featured in the 1950 film The Toast Of New Orleans. Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza and David Niven were the stars of the movie with supporting roles by J. Carroll Naish, James Mitchell and a teenaged Rita Moreno.
The Story: The plot revolves around Pepe Abellard Duvalle, a New Orleans fisherman, who falls in love with opera star soprano Suzette Micheline.
Cleo Brown was born in Meridian, Mississippi on December 8, 1905. As a child she sang in church until 1919 when her family moved to Chicago and she began studying piano. In the 1920s she began taking gigs in clubs and broadcasting on radio.
From the 1930s to the 1950s she toured the United States regularly, recording for Decca Records among other labels and recorded many humorous, ironic titles such as “Breakin’ in a Pair of Shoes”, “Mama Don’t Want No Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil” and “The Stuff Is Here and It’s Mellow”.
Cleo’s stride piano playing was often compared to Fats Waller. In the 1940s she started moving away from singing bawdy jazz and blues songs because of her deepening religious beliefs, and in 1953 she retired and became a nurse.
Rediscovered in the 1980s after being tracked down by Marian McPartland, she returned to record again and performed on National Public Radio.
Cleo Brown, jazz and blues vocalist and pianist died on April 15, 1995 in Denver, Colorado at age 85.