(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, ...
[Abrams, Richard Louis]
(b Chicago, IL, Sept 19, 1930; d New York, Oct 29, 2017). American pianist, composer, and administrator. After receiving private piano lessons, he studied at the Chicago Musical College and taught himself the system of composition devised by Joseph Schillinger. He began to work professionally in 1948 and performed regularly at the Cotton Club in Chicago during the 1950s, accompanying visiting musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, and Max Roach. After composing and arranging for the Walter “King” Fleming band in the mid-1950s, Abrams joined the hard bop ensemble MJT+3 and made his recording debut on the group’s album DADDY-O PRESENTS MJT+3 (1957, VJ 1013). Beginning in 1961 Abrams led the Experimental Band, a composer-centered rehearsal ensemble whose members included the double bass player Donald Rafael Garrett, Jack DeJohnette, Roscoe Mitchell, and the reed player Joseph Jarman. He subsequently co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians...
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 Pontiac, MI, June 12, 1957; d Philadelphia, June 27, 2017). American jazz pianist and composer. She began classical piano study at age seven with Patricia Wilhelm, who also encouraged her interest in jazz. After graduating from Detroit’s Cass Technical High School in 1975 (where trumpeter Marcus Belgrave was one of her teachers), she studied with John Malachi at Howard University (BA 1979, jazz studies) and with Nathan Davis at the University of Pittsburgh (MA 1982, ethnomusicology). She also took private piano lessons with Kenny Barron in 1979. She moved to New York in the early 1980s, where she became a member of the M-BASE collective. Allen recorded her first album as a leader, The Printmakers, in 1984 (Minor Music). After that she performed on more than 100 recordings in a variety of capacities. She worked in trios with Ron Carter and Tony Williams (on albums such as ...
[Stephen Valentine Patrick William]
(b New York, NY, Dec 16, 1921; d Encino, CA, Oct 30, 2000). American composer, radio and television personality, pianist, singer, and comedian. The son of Belle Montrose and Billy Allen, both of whom worked in vaudeville, he moved from place to place as a child, attending many schools for short periods of time. He played piano from an early age, although his musical training was mainly informal. He began a professional career in Los Angeles as a disc jockey on radio during the 1940s, then turned to television in the 1950s; he established himself as a comedian, and often played the piano during his shows, improvising jazz and singing his own songs. Among the musicians who appeared with him regularly was the vibraphonist Terry Gibbs. Allen’s most popular television program was “The Tonight Show,” which he began broadcasting locally in New York in 1953, subsequently leading it to nationwide success the following year. Allen performed the title role in the film ...
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 ...
[Walker, William Vincent]
(b Mobile, AL, Sept 20, 1947; d Harlem, NY, April 11, 2011). American jazz violinist and composer. He moved with his mother to the Bronx as a young child and attended school in Harlem where he played the conga. Bang took up violin at the age of 12 and played it in his school orchestra. After studying with a scholarship at the Stockbridge School, MA (1961–3), he served a tour of combat duty in the Vietnam War and subsequently joined the anti-war movement. Bang was inspired to take up violin again by the records of Ornette Coleman and Leroy Jenkins. He purchased an instrument at a pawnshop in 1968 and was playing professionally by 1972 after studying with Jenkins and practicing with Eric Dolphy records. He was active in the New York avant-garde loft scene, leading the Survival Ensemble and playing with Sam Rivers and Frank Lowe, and 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 Edgard, LA, Dec 24, 1920). 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 debut 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 Philadelphia, PA, July 29, 1945; d Woodbury, CT, July 22, 2008). American guitarist, composer, and producer. After graduating from high school, he moved to New York and played with a jazz trio in the club Chuck’s Compository. He also worked as a studio musician and jingle writer, which eventually led to collaborations with Gil Evans. Beck was among the first jazz guitarists to incorporate rock guitar techniques, including the use of a distorted tone, into his playing. He was also a key figure in the fusion movement of the 1970s, along with the Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn. In 1967 he participated in recording sessions with Miles Davis’s second quintet (alongside Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Tony Williams). Although the music from this session was not immediately released, it influenced Davis’s later fusion of jazz and rock on such albums as Bitches Brew. From the 1970s through the 2000s, Beck recorded and performed with many notable jazz musicians, including Woody Herman, Larry Coryell, Kai Winding, Don Grolnick, Sanborn, Atilla Zoeller, Red Mitchell, and John Abercrombie. He also invented and performed on an instrument he called the alto guitar. Beck remained an in-demand session guitarist throughout his life, performing on albums by popular musicians including James Brown and Paul Simon. He also founded and ran the company Code Works, which specialized in creating jingles and songs for television and radio commercials....
(b Kingston, Jamaica, Jan 27, 1943). American record producer, arranger, and songwriter of Jamaican birth. After spending his youth in Philadelphia he worked in the 1960s as a pianist for Cameo Records in Philadelphia and was a member of the group Kenny Gamble and the Romeos; Gamble later became Leon Huff’s production partner, and Bell collaborated with them on a number of projects. Bell had his first success as an independent record producer with the Delfonics’ “(La-La) means I love you” (Philly Groove, 1968) and two years later was responsible for another of their hits, “Didn’t I blow your mind this time” (Bell, 1970). He went on to create the refined, silky pop-soul sound of the Stylistics, who like the Delfonics made prominent use of falsetto in crooning ballads such as “You are everything” (Avco, 1971) and “Betcha by golly, wow” (Avco, 1972). Bell’s melodic style was heavily indebted to Burt Bacharach, and his sparkling orchestrations, using strings, woodwind, horns, and delicately scored percussion, were among the most ingenious quasi-symphonic, pop-soul arrangements of the 1970s. His equally fine work with the Spinners—including “I’ll be around” (Atlantic, ...
(b Bakersfield, CA, Aug 18, 1953). American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and producer. He studied piano and theory at El Camino College (1972), arranging and orchestration at Valley College (1973), and film scoring at UCLA (1981). His teachers included Abraham Fraser (piano), Donald Neligan, Heichiro Ohyama, Donald Ray, and Jan Robertson. In 1976 he became music director and conductor for the singer Lainie Kazan, followed by similar work for the singers Ann Margaret and Connie Stevens. From 1977 he has recorded his own smooth jazz albums; those from the 1980s, including This Side Up and Every Step of the Way (one of his many Grammy nominated recordings), helped to define the genre. He has been involved in a wide range of projects, including working for ten years as a composer for “Peanuts” TV specials, with the GRP All-Star Big Band, and with such musicians as Kenny Loggins, Patti Austin, Kenny Rankin, and Faith Hill. He is also a film score composer and conductor; in the latter role he has worked with the Asia America Symphony Orchestra, which gave the first performance of his piano concerto ...
(b Berkeley, CA, Oct 8, 1961). American jazz trumpeter, arranger, and composer. He took up trumpet at the age of 11 and, attracted to New York, chose to attend Columbia University. By the early 1980s he was regularly performing with a number of bands across a range of musical styles. He served as an arranger for the avant-garde group Spanish Flea in the early 1990s; its producer, Hal Willner, gave Bernstein many opportunities to compose and arrange, including a Leonard Cohen tribute and the music for Robert Altman’s film Kansas City (1996). Bernstein has performed and collaborated with musicians as diverse as Mocean Worker, Linda Ronstadt, Digable Planets, and Sting. Some of his own albums have explored his Jewish heritage, notably Diaspora Soul, Diaspora Blues, Diaspora Hollywood, and Diaspora Suite, all of which have included contributions by John Zorn. From 1995 Bernstein’s band Sex Mob has performed and recorded widely; its album ...
(b Athens, Greece, Dec 11, 1922; d Athens, April 7, 2005). Greek singer and composer. He began his career as a laïko composer and bouzouki soloist and sang only occasionally. He made his first great hit as a singer in 1956, with a song by Manos Hadjidakis, but he became widely known in the early 1960s when Mikis Theodorakis chose him as the main interpreter of some of his most important works. His career peaked between 1960 and 1974. He became the most important male voice of the entechno laïko song, performing a great number of songs of all the composers of this genre. He also recorded new influential versions of classic rebetika and many laïko and elafrolaïko hits (often his own compositions). His timid acceptance of the Junta regime blemished his image and, due also to the deterioration of his voice, his career declined and he made only a few recordings after ...
Daniel John Carroll
(b Shreveport, LA, July 25, 1970). American jazz drummer, bandleader, and composer. During his early years he became acquainted with gospel and soul music, studied violin, recorder and melodic percussion and eventually began playing drums in his father’s church. While in high school he began listening to John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and other jazz musicians and worked with the Polyphonics, a jazz group led by Dorsey Summerfield Jr. After moving to New Orleans in 1988 to attend Loyola University, Blade studied and played with several local jazz musicians including Ellis Marsalis, John Mahoney, Harry Connick Jr., and Alvin Red Tyler. In 1997 he formed a trio with Joshua Redman and Christian McBride and later performed in another trio with Larry Grenadier and Pat Metheney. In 1998 Blade and Jon Cowherd started recording together as leaders of the group Fellowship; its first album was Brian Blade Fellowship (1998...
Matthew Alan Thomas
(b New Orleans, 13 March 1962). American trumpeter and film composer. He began piano lessons at the age of five and switched to the trumpet in 1970. While enrolled at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (from 1978), he met the saxophonist Donald Harrison. In 1980 he won a music scholarship to Rutgers University and toured with Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra. Two years later he and Harrison replaced Wynton and Branford Marsalis in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Following the success of their joint album New York Second Line (1984, Concord), they left the group in 1986. Blanchard began collaborating with the filmmaker Spike Lee when he was invited to play on the soundtrack of School Daze in 1988, and he subsequently performed on Do the Right Thing in 1989. That year Blanchard curtailed his recording and performing in order to develop a new embouchure. After composing the score for Lee’s ...
[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 ...
(b Montreal, Canada, Nov 10, 1932; d Montreal, Jan 3, 2016). Canadian jazz pianist, composer, record producer, and bandleader. He was established by the age of 17, when Oscar Peterson recommended him as his replacement for the last year of an engagement at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal. After moving to New York to attend the Juilliard School (1950–54), he became part of the traditional and modern music scenes and recorded his first album as leader, with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey among his sidemen (Introducing Paul Bley, 1953, Debut). He also played with other notable musicians such as Ben Webster, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, and Charlie Parker during the 1950s. In 1957 he moved to Los Angeles where he performed at the Hillcrest Club. His quintet, which included Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, and Ornette Coleman, became Coleman’s quartet when Bley left for New York in ...