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Mark Berresford

(Coleman )

(b Brunswick, MO, Feb 7, 1882; d New York, NY, March 9, 1961). American clarinetist, bandleader, composer, and music publisher. His first professional engagement (c1897–8) was with a “pickaninny” band led by Nathaniel Clark Smith. In 1902 he was assistant leader of P.G. Lowery’s band with Forepaugh and Sells Circus and later that year joined Mahara’s Minstrels band under the leadership of W.C. Handy. In 1903 he formed his own band in Minneapolis, where he made the first recordings by an African American band. Sweatman moved to Chicago in 1908, where he led trios at the Grand and Monogram theaters. In 1911 he made his first vaudeville appearance, and in late 1916 made the first records recognizable as jazz performances. In 1918 Sweatman’s band was signed to an exclusive recording contract with Columbia, their records rivalling those by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. He continued to work through the 1920s and early 1930s in vaudeville, and in ...


Patrick Huber

[James Gideon ]

(b Thomas Bridge, near Monroe, GA, June 6, 1885; d Dacula, GA, May 13, 1960). American fiddler, singer, comedian, and hillbilly string band leader. He was a well-known entertainer in north Georgia during the early 20th century, famous for his outrageous comic antics, old-time fiddling, and trick singing. He competed regularly at Atlanta’s annual Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association conventions and won the state fiddling championship in 1928. In 1924, Columbia A&R man Frank B. Walker recruited Tanner and his sometime musical partner, the blind Atlanta street singer and guitarist Riley Puckett, to make some of the earliest recordings of what soon came to be called hillbilly music.

In 1926, Walker assembled a studio group around Tanner called the Skillet Lickers, whose other regular members consisted of guitarist and lead singer Puckett, fiddler Clayton McMichen, and banjoist Fate Norris. The band’s first release, “Bully of the Town”/ “Pass around the Bottle and We’ll all Take a Drink,” recorded in ...


Steven L. Isoardi

(Elva )

(b Houston, TX, April 6, 1934; d Los Angeles, CA, Feb 27, 1999). American pianist, composer, bandleader, and social activist. He began studying piano at six and trombone two years later. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1943 and was enveloped in the Central Avenue scene. He studied with Samuel Browne at Jefferson High School, where he played with the alto saxophonist Frank Morgan. Private tutelage with Lloyd Reese followed, along with mentoring by Gerald Wilson, Melba Liston, and the composer William Grant Still. He worked with Wilson’s orchestra before graduating from Jefferson in 1952. Tapscott enlisted in the air force in 1953, playing in the Ft. Warren band in Wyoming until his discharge in 1957. He joined Lionel Hampton’s band in 1959 and toured until early 1961, at times sitting in on piano and arranging charts. By the early 1960s piano had become Tapscott’s exclusive instrument, as a result of persistent dental problems....


James Lincoln Collier

[Weldon Leo; Big T]

(b Vernon, TX, Aug 29, 1905; d New Orleans, Jan 15, 1964). American jazz trombonist, singer and bandleader. He started learning the piano with his mother when he was five, then turned to the baritone horn, and took up the trombone at the age of ten. He began playing professionally as a teenager, working mainly in the Southwest with local bands. He then went to New York, where he played briefly with Wingy Manone. After working freelance for a while he joined Ben Pollack’s band in 1928, though he continued to play and record with other musicians, such as Red Nichols, Louis Armstrong and Eddie Condon. In December 1933 he became a member of Paul Whiteman’s band. For one month in 1936 he played after hours at the Hickory House on 52nd Street in New York with his fellow Whiteman sidemen Frankie Trumbauer and his brother Charlie Teagarden, calling themselves the Three T’s. Teagarden remained as a star soloist and singer with Whiteman until ...


Walter van de Leur

(b Terre Haute, IN, Aug 10, 1908; d Caldwell, NJ, July 1, 1965). American bandleader, pianist, composer, and arranger. After completing his piano and composition studies at the Cincinnati Conservatory and the Curtis Institute, Thornhill worked as an arranger for various orchestras, including those of Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, and Skinnay Ennis. His 1937 arrangement of “Loch Lomond” for Maxine Sullivan became a hit record. In 1940 he founded his own band, which he said would be “something new and arresting, an orchestra different from others on the scene.” The Claude Thornhill Orchestra featured atypical instruments for a jazz band: two French horns, flutes, and bass clarinets. Impressionistic arrangements of European classics formed an important part of Thornhill’s musical palette, whereas other swing bands played mostly danceable music. For instance, the band performed arrangements of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” Granados’s Spanish Dance, no.5, and Brahms’s Hungarian Dance no.5. Thornhill incorporated impressionistic touches in his own pieces, such as “Portrait of a Guinea Farm” (...


J. Bradford Robinson

(b Fort Smith, AR, Aug 24, 1905; d Fort Smith, AR, Oct 14, 1959). American jazz bandleader and pianist. He performed in Arkansas and Oklahoma before taking over a small “territory” band in 1923, which shortly afterwards began a long tenure at the Adolphus Hotel, Dallas. The band’s performances, radio broadcasts, and tours made it the most successful and respected of the early Southwest jazz bands. Its recordings of 1928 show a polished ensemble style as advanced as those of Duke Ellington or Fletcher Henderson at that time, and include excellent improvised solos by the violinist Stuff Smith, the trombonist Leon “Snub” Mosley, and a trumpeter thought to be Peanuts Holland. The group played in New York around 1930 with notable success, but Trent refused further offers to work on the East Coast: he remained based in the Southwest and filled engagements on steamboat lines. The second of two recording sessions, in ...


[Frank; Trombar, Frank; Tram]

(b Carbondale, IL, May 30, 1901; d Kansas City, MO, June 11, 1956). American jazz saxophonist and bandleader. He learned to play the C-melody saxophone by arpeggiating chords that his mother, a pianist, played on the piano, acquiring proficient knowledge of harmony in the process. He attended school in St. Louis and Carbondale and served in the US Navy during World War I. From 1919 to mid-1922 he played with or led various bands, developing a reputation for his unique tone. After moving to Chicago, in 1923 he joined the Benson Orchestra and in 1924 the Ray Miller Orchestra, where he befriended trombonist Miff Mole. While touring with Miller’s band, he first heard cornetist Bix Beiderbecke’s playing in New York in 1924. Greatly impressed, Trumbauer recorded with Beiderbecke on Gennett Records as the Sioux City Six and in 1925 invited him to join Trumbauer’s band in St. Louis. They developed a close personal and musical rapport and played in the same bands throughout the 1920s, including the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, which Trumbauer directed, the Adrian Rollini Orchestra, and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra....


Susan Fast

(Wister )

(b Clarksdale, MI, Nov 5, 1931; d San Marcos, CA, Dec 12, 2007). American songwriter, guitarist, pianist, bandleader, talent scout, and record producer. He began playing piano as a boy in Clarksdale, forming the Kings of Rhythm while still in school. His musical education consisted of listening to music and playing with blues musicians such as B.B. King. Turner is often credited with writing and recording the first rock and roll record (according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), “Rocket 88,” although the track was released under the name of Jackie Brenston (a member of Turner’s band who sang and played sax on the record). Recorded in 1951 at Sam Phillips’s Sun Studios in Memphis, this uptempo R&B song provided a template for the rock and roll emerging later in the decade. The modified 12-bar blues form, boogie woogie bass line, percussive piano, guitar distortion, and rowdy sax solo became standard features of songs by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others....


Edgardo Díaz Díaz

[Roberto ]

(b Orocovis, PR, June 9, 1941). American bandleader, composer, arranger, and performer. Although he played various brass and string instruments, he was given the title the King of the Bass. At 11 he formed a trio, played guitar, and entered the Quintón Academy of Music in Coamo, then moved at 15 to New York, where he studied trumpet with the renowned teacher Carmine Caruso. He joined the salsa band of Joe Quijano in 1958 and subsequently worked in the ensembles of Willie Rosario, Tito Rodríguez, Charlie Palmieri, and Ray Barreto. Valentín organized his own salsa group composed of two trumpets, trombone, tenor and baritone saxophones, bass, timbales, and a succession of lead singers, including Marcelino Morales, Marvin Santiago, Johnny Vazquez, Luigi Texidor, and Carlos Estremera. A recording agreement with Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci earned him a position with Fania Records as main arranger and bass player in the mid-1960s. Later, he produced ...


Alyn Shipton and Bill Dobbins

[Thomas Wright]

(b New York, May 21, 1904; d Kansas City, MO, Dec 15, 1943). American jazz and popular pianist, organist, singer, bandleader and composer.

Alyn Shipton

His father Edward Waller, a Baptist lay preacher, conducted open air religious services in Harlem, at which as a child Fats Waller played the reed organ. He played the piano at his public school and at the age of 15 became organist at the Lincoln Theatre on 135th Street. His father hoped that Waller would follow a religious calling rather than a career in jazz, but after the death of his mother, Adeline Waller, in 1920 he moved in with the family of the fellow African American pianist Russell Brooks. Through Brooks, Waller met James P. Johnson, under whose tutelage he developed as a pianist, and through whose influence he came to make piano rolls, starting in 1922 with Got to cool my doggies now...