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Nico Schüler

(b Tyrone, PA, June 9, 1900; d University Park, PA, July 29, 1984). American musician, bandleader, choral conductor, radio-television personality, educator, and businessman. He grew up in a musical family, singing and playing guitar, drums, and banjo. Together with his brother Tom, he founded an ensemble in 1918 at Pennsylvania State University that in 1922 adopted the name “Waring’s Pennsylvanians” and had early hits with “Sleep” in 1923 and with “Collegiate” in 1925. A key characteristic of Waring’s ensemble was that all instrumentalists were also required to be strong vocalists. The group toured the United States as a stage act in film theaters and were featured in the early sound film Syncopation (1929), and by the 1930s they appeared on Broadway and became one of the most sought-after groups for radio hosting shows as well as in theaters. The ensemble was featured in the Cole Porter musical ...

Article

William H. Tallmadge

(b Santa Cruz, CA, Dec 19, 1911; d Santa Rosa, CA, Nov 5, 1989). American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. In 1938 he founded a swing band in Oakland from which, in 1940, he extracted a small unit, the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, to revive the New Orleans small-band style of King Oliver. Although other small dixieland bands existed at this time, notably Muggsy Spanier’s and Bob Crosby’s, the sense of alleged authenticity projected by Watters’s group set it apart and stimulated a large-scale revival of New Orleans and Chicago jazz throughout the world. Of the many revivalist bands formed during this period, two of the most successful were led by former sidemen in Watters’s group, the trumpeter Bob Scobey and the trombonist Turk Murphy. Watters retired from professional music activities in 1957.

M.W. Stearns: The Story of Jazz (New York, 1956, London, 1957, rev. and enlarged 1970/R)...

Article

J. Bradford Robinson

[William Henry ]

(b Baltimore, Feb 10, 1905; d Baltimore, June 16, 1939). American jazz and popular drummer and bandleader . He moved to New York around 1925 and from January 1927 led a group at the Savoy Ballroom that later became one of the outstanding bands of the swing period. Although the group did not include any prominent soloists during its years of prolific recording activity, it developed a distinctive style thanks in part to the compositions and arrangements provided by Edgar Sampson, for example, Let’s get together, Stomping at the Savoy (both 1934, Col.), Don’t be that way and Blue Lou (both 1934, Decca), and especially to Webb’s forceful drumming. In 1934 Ella Fitzgerald was engaged as the band’s singer, and it soon achieved popular success with performances of such tunes as A-tisket, A-tasket (1938, Decca). Webb’s band remained at the Savoy intermittently during the late 1920s and held long residencies there in the 1930s, regularly defeating rival bands in the ballroom’s famous cutting contests. After Webb’s early death, Fitzgerald led the group until ...

Article

Charles Fox

revised by Digby Fairweather

[Michael John David ]

(b High Wycombe, March 21, 1936). English jazz composer, pianist and bandleader . After working in an accountant’s office and studying painting he took up music professionally; he was largely self-taught and has an empirical approach to composition. Around 1960 he organized a jazz workshop in Plymouth, where he wrote for a small ensemble that included John Surman, then in 1962 he moved to London. From that time he has written pieces for a number of his own ensembles: the Mike Westbrook Band (1962–72), the Mike Westbrook Concert Band (1967–71), the multi-media group Cosmic Circus (1970–72), the jazz-rock band Solid Gold Cadillac (1971–4), the Mike Westbrook Brass Band (established in 1973 to perform in the theatre and on television), the Mike Westbrook Orchestra (formed in 1974), A Little Westbrook Music (formed in 1982) and the Dance Band (formed in ...

Article

Ryan D.W. Bruce

[Randolph Edward ]

(b Brooklyn, NY, April 6, 1926). American jazz pianist, bandleader, composer, and club owner. Weston did not identify with his classical music lessons as a youth, choosing instead to explore a percussive piano style under the influence of Duke Ellington. Other early influences include Count Basie, Nat “King” Cole, Art Tatum, and Coleman Hawkins. Weston’s playing was transformed after attending a concert by Hawkins and Thelonious Monk in 1945: Monk became Weston’s mentor from 1947–9, and inspired his heavy attack and improvisatory rhythmic displacements. He was hired by Marshall Stearns in 1949 to provide demonstrations of different jazz styles for university lectures given throughout the United States; their work lasted eight summers and fostered Weston’s interest in African music.

Beginning with his debut in 1954, his early recordings acquired critical recognition and included band members such as Art Blakey, Cecil Payne, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and Coleman Hawkins. Some of his compositions of the time, especially “Little Niles” and “Hi-Fly,” gained popularity and have been recorded by many others. Weston also worked with arranger ...

Article

Carl Johnson

(b Denver, March 28, 1890; d Doylestown, PA, Dec 29, 1967). American jazz and dance-band leader. He played the viola in the Denver SO from 1907 and in the San Francisco SO from 1914. During World War I he led a 40-piece navy band, playing march tunes by day and show music by night. Sensing new dimensions for popular music in the transition from ragtime to jazz, he organized a dance band in San Francisco in 1919, and later moved to Los Angeles and Atlantic City, New Jersey, before settling in New York in 1920. There he soon became the best-known American bandleader, particularly with his recording of Whispering and Japanese Sandman (1920, Vic.), which sold more than a million copies. By the early 1920s his lush orchestral style was widely copied on countless bandstands at home and abroad. He toured the British Isles in 1923 and Europe in ...

Article

Richard March

[Whoopee John ]

(b New Ulm, MN, May 11, 1893; d St Paul, MN, June 15, 1961). American polka musician and bandleader. “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt is the bandleader most responsible for developing and popularizing the type of German American polka music known as “Dutchman.” He was born on a farm in Sigel Township near New Ulm, Minnesota. Like most of the people in the community, his family was descended from Germans from Bohemia. Recognizing his musical talent, John’s mother Barbara purchased a concertina for him in 1904, and by 1909 John had formed a trio with his brother and a cousin, which featured concertina, trumpet, and tuba.

In the ensuing years, John’s band grew, adding additional brass and reed instruments, as well as piano and drums. Moreover, the band’s reach grew with the possibilities afforded by the technological advances of the early 20th century: records and radio, as well as paved roads and automobiles to facilitate touring. In the 1920s the band became consistently known as the Whoopee John Band. According to anecdote, an enthusiastic fan shouted, “Whoopee, John is here,” when he arrived late to an engagement, creating Wilfahrt’s moniker....

Article

J. Bradford Robinson

[Charles Melvin ]

(b Mobile, AL, July 10, 1911; d New York, Sept 15, 1985). American jazz trumpeter and bandleader . He taught himself to play the trumpet and toured with the Young Family band (which included Lester Young) when he was only 14. In 1928 he went to New York, where he made his first recordings (with James P. Johnson) and played briefly in the bands of Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. By February 1929 he had joined the Duke Ellington orchestra as a replacement for Bubber Miley, beginning a long association which was to make him famous. In his first 11 years with Ellington his playing became an indispensable part of the band’s sonority, and Ellington integrated solos for him into hundreds of compositions. Williams also took part in many excellent small-group recordings with Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian and other leading jazz musicians of the swing period....

Article

Richard March

[Frank ]

(b Davis, WV, July 28, 1915; d New Port Richey, FL, Oct 14, 1998). American polka accordionist and bandleader. He is the polka musician who led the most prominent career in American popular music. His style of polka, called Slovenian-style, Cleveland-style, or Yankovic-style, has remained the most frequently played polka idiom. He used lead accordion, a second accordion playing riffs, a tenor banjo striking chords, and a string bass. Later bands included drums. Some Slovenian bands use saxophone, although Yankovic never did.

The son of immigrants from Slovenia, he was raised in the predominantly Slovenian Collingwood neighborhood of Cleveland, where his parents ran a boardinghouse for immigrant workers. He learned to play the button accordion from a boarder named Max Zelodec. In the early 1930s, he switched to the versatile piano accordion.

Yankovic formed a small dance band, and in 1938 and 1939 made self-produced records, which sold briskly. Before shipping out to Europe with the army in ...