(b Port Chester, NY, Dec 16, 1944; d Cortlandt Manor, NY, Aug 22, 2017). American jazz guitarist, composer, and bandleader. He grew up in Greenwich, CT, and began playing guitar at the age of 14. He was primarily self taught until he studied at the Berklee College of Music (1962–6) and with Jack Petersen. Abercrombie joined Johnny Hammond’s touring band after the blues organist had spotted him performing with other Berklee students at Paul’s Mall in Boston. After studying briefly at the University of North Texas, in 1969 he moved to New York where he performed and recorded in Billy Cobham’s jazz-rock band Dreams (1970), joined Chico Hamilton’s group, and recorded with Gato Barbieri (1971), Barry Miles (1972), and Gil Evans (1974). Abercrombie attracted wider attention performing with Cobham’s fusion band Spectrum from 1974. He also toured with Jack DeJohnette and recorded his debut album, ...
J. Bradford Robinson
(b Dairen, China, Dec 12, 1929). Japanese jazz composer, pianist and bandleader. She studied classical music and turned to jazz only in 1947 after moving to Japan. There she was discovered by Oscar Peterson, who urged her to take up a career in the USA. After studying at Berklee College of Music (1956–9) she became a highly regarded bop pianist, especially in groups with the alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano (who was at that time her husband). She worked in Japan (1961), joined Charles Mingus in the USA (1962–3), then returned to Japan until 1965. In 1973 she founded a large rehearsal band in Los Angeles with the tenor saxophonist and flautist Lew Tabackin, whom she had married in 1969. Its first album, Kogun (1974, RCA), was commercially successful in Japan, and the group attracted increasing popularity and critical acclaim until, by ...
(b Louisville, KY, May 25, 1924). American alto saxophonist and bandleader. He began clarinet lessons when he was ten and later took up alto saxophone. After joining the US Army at 18 years of age, Allen performed in military bands and, while stationed in Paris, formed a trio with Art Simmons and Don Byas. Allen remained in Europe following his discharge, touring with James Moody and studying clarinet at the Paris Conservatory with Ulysse Delécluse. He returned to the United States in 1951 and led dance bands and worked as a composer in Chicago. After hearing a demo recording of Sun Ra’s Arkestra in a record store, Allen sought out the bandleader during a rehearsal and began an apprenticeship. He subsequently rehearsed with the Arkestra for more than a year before joining officially in 1958. His association with the ensemble has lasted more than 50 years.
Allen worked closely with Sun Ra for much of his professional career, composing for the bandleader and performing both in concert and on more than 200 albums; he even shared a house with him. Alongside John Gilmore Allen anchored the reed section, adding flute, clarinet, oboe, and in later years wind synthesizer. He invented the morrow, a woodwind instrument combining a saxophone mouthpiece with an open-holed wooden body, and learned to play and build the kora, a West African multi-string instrument. Allen rarely worked outside the Arkestra, although he made a notable recording with Paul Bley (...
Terence J. O’Grady
revised by Bryan Proksch
(b Los Angeles, CA, March 31, 1935). American trumpeter, composer, bandleader, and record company executive. He studied trumpet as a child and left college to play in the army for a two-year period. After three years of producing records on his own, he launched A&M Records with Jerry Moss in 1962. A&M’s first issue was also Alpert’s first recording as a trumpeter and bandleader, The Lonely Bull (A&M, 1962). The title track included sounds from the bullring in Tijuana, Mexico, so Alpert dubbed his band the Tijuana Brass. His music exploited a distinctive combination of Mexican mariachi-style brass with jazz rhythms, which was dubbed Ameriachi. A string of hits including “Mexican Shuffle” (A&M, 1964) and “Tijuana Taxi” (A&M, 1965) followed. In 1966 Alpert had five recordings simultaneously listed on the Billboard Top 20. His cover of “This guy’s in love with you” reached no.1 in ...
(b Chicago, IL, April 14, 1925; d Chicago, Aug 6, 1974). American jazz tenor saxophonist and bandleader, son of Albert (C.) Ammons. He studied music under Captain Walter Dyett at Du Sable High School and was influenced by Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. After touring with the trumpeter King Kolax in 1943, he was a member of Billy Eckstine’s seminal big band from 1944 to 1947—Eckstine is said to have given him the nickname Jug, referring to his hat size—and was also a member of Woody Herman’s Second Herd in 1949. Ammons began leading his own small groups in 1947 and had a hit with “Red Top” (named after his wife) that year. In the early 1950s he co-led a popular two-tenor band with Sonny Stitt and in the early 1960s he took part in successful collaborations in a soul-jazz idiom with several organists, including Jack McDuff and Johnny Smith. He served prison sentences for drug offences (...
(b Memphis, TN, Feb 3, 1898; d Chicago, IL, Aug 27, 1971). American jazz pianist, singer, bandleader, and composer. She studied keyboard privately from an early age and had hopes of becoming a concert pianist. While she was enrolled at Fisk University, her mother and stepfather moved to Chicago, where in 1917 she took a job as a sheet music demonstrator, which led to her joining the Original Creole Jazz Band as its pianist. It was her first job playing jazz and she decided not to return to Fisk. She subsequently worked with several bands, including King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, with which she performed in San Francisco in 1921 and made her recording debut in 1923. By this time the band included louis Armstrong, whom she married in 1924. Armstrong’s place in jazz history was assured by her participation on Oliver’s Gennett recordings and Louis’ Hot Five sessions for Okeh. She played an important role in Louis’ move into a brighter spotlight before their separation in ...
(b Detroit, MI, Aug 6, 1932; d Santa Monica, CA, April 13, 1986). American jazz harpist and bandleader, daughter of the jazz guitarist Wiley Thompson. She attended Cass Technical High School with Donald Byrd and Kenny Burrell, and took up piano, double bass, saxophone, and, eventually, harp. She then studied piano and music education at Wayne State University. Although she performed on piano in nightclubs, she had settled on harp as her primary instrument by 1952. She also formed a trio in which her husband, John Ashby, played drums. During the 1960s, Ashby presented her own radio show and, with her husband, formed the Ashby Players, an African-American theater group. Down Beat included her on its poll of best jazz performers in 1962, and by the late 1960s, she was in demand as a studio musician, in which capacity she recorded with Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, and Diana Ross, among others, and on movie soundtracks. Ashby’s most celebrated albums include ...
John L., Jr. Clark
(b Chattanooga, TN, Sept 19, 1887; d Chicago, IL, July 10, 1972). American jazz and blues pianist, composer, bandleader, arranger, and music director. After studying at Roger Williams University (Nashville) and Knoxville College, she performed on the TOBA circuit and toured accompanying her second husband Buster Austin. In the early 1920s Austin moved to Chicago, where for almost 20 years she directed shows for touring stage performers as the music director and bandleader at the Monogram and Joyland theaters. From 1923 to 1926 she also led the house band at Paramount Records, accompanying blues singers and making instrumental recordings featuring such jazz musicians as Tommy Ladnier, Al Wynn, Johnny Dodds, and Jimmy O’Bryant. After working in a defense plant during World War II, Austin returned to music, working in dancing schools. Her final recording, in 1961 for Riverside Records, was a reunion with her friend Alberta Hunter and several musicians she had previously worked with in Chicago....
(b Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, Dec 8, 1945). Mexican accordionist, singer, and bandleader. Born in Monterrey and raised in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Ramón Ayala has been the foremost figure in norteño music along the Gulf Coast and Texas border region since the 1970s. He first became famous in the 1960s as the accordionist and coleader of Los Relámpagos del Norte, with the singer-songwriter Cornelio Reyna; then formed his own band, Los Bravos del Norte, in 1971. In Mexico, Ayala is regarded as part of a great generation of border bandleaders, along with Carlos y José and Los Cadetes de Linares. North of the border, though, he has far outstripped his peers, and only California’s Los Tigres del Norte rival his ongoing popularity. Unlike the Tigres, who have consistently pushed norteño in new directions, Ayala is a traditionalist, and his success is due as much to his image as a hard-working, old-fashioned bearer of the classic tradition as to his intricate accordion passages and his keen eye for good material, from gunfighter corridos to romantically mournful ...
Charles Fox and Digby Fairweather
(b Welwyn Garden City, April 17, 1930). English jazz trombonist, arranger and bandleader. He studied the trombone and the double bass at the GSM in London, and formed his first traditional jazz band in 1949. In 1953 he helped to organize a band that was led by Ken Colyer, at that time the most ardent British propagandist for traditional New Orleans music. The following year Barber took over the band; Colyer was replaced by Pat Halcox, and the ensemble soon became one of the most popular and technically accomplished groups of its kind. From the mid-1950s Barber helped foster British interest in blues by bringing over such American musicians as Muddy Waters, the harmonica player Sonny Terry and the guitarist and singer Brownie McGhee. He made several tours of the USA beginning in 1959, and also recorded two albums with his American Jazz Band, which included Sidney De Paris, Edmond Hall and Hank Duncan. Barber expanded his interests, recording classic rags (scored for his band) long before the popular rediscovery of Scott Joplin, and working with musicians from other areas of jazz (notably the Jamaican saxophonists Bertie King and Joe Harriott). Renewed interest in traditional jazz in the early 1960s brought wide success to Barber and his group, which included as its singer his wife, Ottilie Patterson. After rhythm-and-blues achieved general popularity in the early 1960s he re-formed his group as Chris Barber’s Jazz and Blues Band, and, while retaining his roots in New Orleans jazz, engaged rock and blues musicians guitarist John Slaughter and the drummer Pete York. During the 1970s the band toured frequently in Europe. In ...
(b Lisle, IL, Nov 8, 1955). American singer, pianist, composer, and bandleader. Her father played with the Glenn Miller band and her mother was a professional blues singer. After studying psychology and classical piano at the University of Iowa, Barber returned to Chicago and began playing five nights a week at the Gold Star Sardine Bar, where she attracted varying critical attention for her husky voice and the inclusion of pop songs, including “Black Magic Woman” and “A Taste of Honey,” in her repertoire. She recorded her first album, Split (Floyd), in 1989 and her second album, A Distortion of Love (Antilles) in 1991. She subsequently moved to the independent label Premonition, which was bought by Blue Note in 1998. In 2003 Barber became the first songwriter to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Under its aegis she composed a song cycle based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. She is the subject of a documentary, ...
(b New York, NY, Oct 26, 1913; d San Diego, CA, Sept 4, 1991). American bandleader and tenor saxophonist. Born to a wealthy New York family, he began studying saxophone and immersing himself in New York’s jazz scene while in his early teens. He achieved commercial success as a bandleader, beginning in 1939 with the release of a hard-swinging version of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” (1939, Bb). Subsequent recordings, including “Pompton Turnpike” (1940, Bb) and “Skyliner” (1944, Decca), confirmed his position as the leader of one of the era’s hottest swing bands.
At the height of its popularity, the Barnet Orchestra was frequently compared to the Duke Ellington band. Although the influence of Count Basie as well as Ellington is clear, Barnet’s group had a distinctive sound shaped by his easygoing direction, Andy Gibson’s and Billy May’s dynamic charts, and the band’s virtuosic soloists, notably guitarist Bus Etri, pianist Dodo Marmaroso, and trumpeter Peanuts Holland. Along with Benny Goodman, Barnet was an important force for interracial musical collaboration, and he invited such African American musicians as Benny Carter, Andy Gibson, Lena Horne, Holland, and Frankie Newton to play with and write for his band. Like Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, Barnet was open to the sounds of bebop and incorporated some of its musical practises into his orchestra’s performances. With the decline of the dance bands, however, Barnet was forced to disband his group in the late 1940s, although he reunited it several times during the next few decades. As well as tenor saxophone, he also occasionally played the soprano instrument....
John L. Clark
(b New Orleans, LA, March 25, 1897; d New Orleans, Jan 28, 1983). American pianist, singer, and bandleader. The daughter of the Civil War veteran and Louisiana state senator W.B. Barrett, she learned piano by ear as a child and was playing professionally by her early teens. She never learned to read music and worked almost exclusively in New Orleans. During the 1920s Barrett played with many of the uptown New Orleans groups, including those led by Papa Celestin, Armand Piron, and John Robichaux. In the following decade she worked most often with Bebe Ridgley, with whom she developed a local following that subsequently brought her success at the Happy Landing from 1949 and the Paddock Lounge during the late 1950s. It was at this time that she became known as Sweet Emma the Bell Gal because of her habit of wearing garters with bells attached that created a tambourine-like effect as she played. In ...
(b Brooklyn, NY, April 29, 1929; d Hackensack, NJ, Feb 17, 2006). American conga player, bandleader, and producer of Puerto Rican descent. He began playing percussion informally during time in Germany as part of the US occupation army (1946–9). Returning to New York City in 1949, he participated in the lively jam-session scene in Harlem, playing bongos in sessions with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1957, he replaced Mongo Santamaría in Tito Puente’s band. By 1960, he became the house percussionist for various jazz labels (Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside), recording his first album as leader for Riverside in 1961. The Charanga La Moderna was his first full-fledged Latin dance band, beginning in 1962. In 1963, his song El Watusi became the first Latin tune to enter the Billboard Top 20. By 1990, his salsa career stagnant, he formed a small, jazz-influenced sextet, New World Spirit, recording a number of Grammy-nominated albums....
(b Edgard, LA, Dec 24, 1920; d New Orleans, June 23, 2019). American trumpeter, arranger, producer, songwriter, bandleader, and singer. He started his career as a trumpeter playing with established bands led by, among others, Papa Celestin, Joe Robichaux, and Claiborne Williams before joining Fats Pichon’s ensemble, considered one of the top groups in New Orleans, in 1939. During World War II he played in the 196th AGF (Army Ground Forces) Band, where he met Abraham Malone, who taught him how to write and arrange. After the war, he formed his own band in New Orleans, which made its début at the Dew Drop Inn and later performed at Sam Simoneaux’s club Graystone where many of the city’s top instrumental players, including the drummer Earl Palmer and the saxophonists Lee Allen and Red Tyler, were showcased.
Bartholomew is best known for his talents as an arranger and songwriter. In the 1950s and 60s he worked with many of the biggest stars of the day, including Smiley Lewis, Lloyd Price, Shirley and Lee, and Joe Turner. By the 1970s he had associations with some of rock and roll’s most established talents, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones. His most productive association was with Fats Domino, whom he met through Lew Chudd, the owner of Imperial Records, where he worked as a house arranger, an A&R man, and an in-house bandleader. From ...
(b Baltimore, MD, Sept 26, 1940). American jazz alto and soprano saxophonist, bandleader, composer, and vocalist. He began playing in Baltimore, where his father owned the well-known club the North End Lounge. He attended the Juilliard School between 1957 and 1958 and then studied at the Peabody Conservatory. After moving to New York he worked with Charles Mingus (1962–4) and Max Roach (1964 and 1968–9, when he traveled to Europe and the Middle East). He also performed and recorded with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1965–6) and Miles Davis (1970–71). Between 1969 and 1974 Bartz led his own ensemble, Ntu Troop, which recorded six albums blending African music and funk with jazz. In the late 1970s and 1980s, he worked occasionally with Woody Shaw’s group as well as with McCoy Tyner. After playing with Kenny Barron (1990s), Bartz was a member of the ensemble Sphere (...
(b Red Bank, NJ, Aug 21, 1904; d Hollywood, CA, April 26, 1984). American jazz pianist and bandleader. After taking piano lessons as a child, he was soon playing ragtime and show tunes at local dance events and performing for silent movies. In 1924 he worked with the singer and dancer Katy Krippen with whom he also toured. In the mid-1920s he met Fats Waller, who introduced him to the sound of the pipe organ, after which he was always fascinated by the instrument. He played in several bands in New York and in 1926 he embarked on a tour with Gonzelle White, during which he heard Walter Page’s band, the Blue Devils, in the Midwest. Basie left White’s group in Kansas City, worked as a silent movie organist, and was active on the city’s lively music scene. He heard many of the so-called territory bands, played for a while with Page’s Blue Devils, and then became a member of the Bennie Moten Orchestra, first as an arranger and then as a pianist....
(b Chicago, IL, 1941; d Palos Heights, IL, May 21, 2012). American polka bandleader, singer, and bass player. He was best known as the leader of his band, the Versatones. The son of two Polish immigrant musicians, he grew up in northern Wisconsin and formed a rock and roll band, which played backup for such stars as Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. Under the name of Eddie (or Eddy) Bell, he recorded “Hi-Yo Silver” and other songs on the Mercury label. The Lucky Four label released his well-liked novelty song, “The Great Great Pumpkin.” At the insistence of his good friend and fellow musician Chet Kowalkowski, he moved back to Chicago and joined Versatones in 1963, a six-piece polka band that played both traditional and modernized repertoire. The result ended up changing the polka world, and they were quickly invited to record. Their first disc was Polka Parade (...
[Borg, Lovella May]
(b Oakland, CA, May 11, 1936). American jazz composer, arranger, bandleader, pianist, and organist. She is best known for her idiosyncratic multi-genre compositions for large ensembles and her sense of humor, omnipresent throughout her oeuvre. Her harmonic language and rich chordal structures are inspired by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Gil Evans, then infused with rock, tango, Indian music, and the music of European composers, including Kurt Weill and Eric Satie, often in the form of parody and satire. Her experimentalism is widespread and ranges from avant-garde jazz to big band, small formats, chamber music, and soundtracks. During the 1960s she was at the center of the free jazz movement and was instrumental in co-creating independent musicians’ collectives, labels, and distribution services.
Except for music lessons from her father, a church musician who taught her piano from age three, she was largely self-taught. In her teens, she went to New York to immerse herself in the music she admired. She listened nightly to first-rate jazz, working at the Birdland jazz club, where she met the pianist Paul Bley, who encouraged her to compose. They married in ...
J. Bradford Robinson
(b Oakland, CA, May 11, 1938). American jazz composer, bandleader and keyboard player. She learnt the fundamentals of music from her father, a church musician, but is otherwise self-taught. At the age of 17 she moved to New York, where she wrote jazz tunes for musicians such as George Russell, Jimmy Giuffre and her husband at the time, the pianist Paul Bley. In 1964, with her second husband, the trumpeter Mike Mantler, she formed the Jazz Composers Guild Orchestra, known from 1965 as the Jazz Composer's Orchestra. In 1966 she helped found the Jazz Composer's Orchestra Association, a novel non-profit organization which commissions, produces and distributes commercially unviable jazz. In 1968 they founded the New Music Distribution Service, a pioneering outlet which extends far beyond jazz and into the realms of avant-garde and electronic recording and composition, to supply albums and scores that are otherwise difficult to obtain. Although already highly regarded by this time among critics, Bley first came to public notice with ...