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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 ...

Article

Ryan Bruce

(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 ...

Article

Jeffrey Holmes

(b Boston, MA, Jan 12, 1955). American soprano saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. She began playing piano, took up alto saxophone at the age of eight, and switched to the soprano instrument in her early teens. She studied with Herb Pomeroy before attending Yale University (BA 1976; MM 1977). After moving to New York, she studied with George Coleman. In addition to collaborating with such artists as David Friedman, Ed Blackwell, Charlie Haden, Bob Brookmeyer, Jay Clayton, Fred Hersch, and Kenny Wheeler, she has performed and recorded with various trios, quartets, quintets, and sextets, alongside Wheeler, Julian Priester, Mark Dresser, and Bobby Previte, among others. Her critically acclaimed recordings, which number more than a dozen, are at once contemporary, mainstream, and exploratory. Bloom has also composed for film and television, and for the American Composers Orchestra, St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, and the Pilobolus, Paradigm, and Philadanco dance companies. She has been granted two Chamber Music America artist fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a commission by the NASA Art Program, and the Charlie Parker Fellowship for Jazz Innovation. Among her many other honors are four Jazz Journalist awards, the Downbeat Critics Poll award for soprano saxophone, the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz award, and the International Women in Jazz Masters awards. Her musical voice has been fueled by a vigorous involvement with the visual arts and dance. Her well regarded work on the soprano saxophone sometimes incorporates live electronic effects. From ...

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David Thomas Roberts

(b New York, NY, April 24, 1902; d New York, NY, March 30, 1976). American pianist, composer, and songwriter. Although self-taught, he became an excellent pianist at an early age and in 1919 began work as an accompanist for vaudeville shows. He worked in dance bands and jazz groups throughout the 1920s, recording with such major artists as Bix Beiderbecke, the Dorsey brothers, Red Nichols, Frankie Trumbauer, Miff Mole, Noble Sissle, and Ethel Waters. In 1928 he was awarded first prize in the Victor Company’s contest for his “Song of the Bayou.” He arranged songs for numerous publishing companies during the 1920s and recorded his piano pieces for Victor, Okeh, Harmony, and Cameo. Bloom’s best piano music comprises some of the most original work in the novelty-piano idiom. His brilliant “Spring Fever” (1926) is still performed by pianists interested in this repertory. An archive of his materials is held by the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming....

Article

Jonas Westover

[Salvatore Phillip]

(b Detroit, MI, Feb 16, 1935; d South Lake Tahoe, CA, Jan 5, 1998). American singer, composer, producer, actor, and politician. Bono began his career as a composer; one of his first songs, “Things You Do To Me,” was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1957–8. He eventually made contact with Phil Spector, with whom he worked closely for several years. One of his first successes came in 1963, when his song “Needles and Pins” (co-written with Jack Nitzsche) was recorded by Jackie DeShannon and reached number one on the charts in Canada. The height of his musical career came in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the duo Sonny and Cher. He wrote, produced, and performed on many of their hits, including “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On.” Success with Cher, to whom he was married from 1964 to 1975, led to many appearances on television, including ...

Article

W.K. McNeil

[John William]

(b Miami, MO, May 17, 1864; d Warrensburg, MO, Oct 4, 1927). American pianist and composer. He was blind from infancy, but soon revealed musical abilities, and several prominent local families contributed funds to send him to the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, where he could further develop his talents. Although he was later expelled from this school, he received some formal piano instruction and acquired a reputation as a prodigy. He earned his living as an itinerant musician until 1879, when he came to the attention of John Lange, Jr., a prominent black contractor in Columbia, Missouri, who took charge of the youth’s musical career. Within five years Boone was giving regular concerts in a group with a banjoist, a violinist, and a child singer. They played an annual ten-month season from 1885 to 1915, performing six nights a week; by 1915 Boone had played 8400 concerts and traveled more than 200,000 miles....

Article

John Chilton

(b Tulsa, OK, April 25, 1913; d Rochester, NY, Oct 28, 1965). American jazz alto saxophonist and arranger. During the early 1930s he worked in several bands in the Midwest before studying at Xavier University, New Orleans. He left Louisiana to tour with various groups, then moved to New York in 1938. He was featured in big bands led by Don Redman, Edgar Hayes, and Lionel Hampton, but was better known for work within his own small group. In the 1930s and 1940s Bostic was recognized as an accomplished saxophonist and a skillful arranger, but was not considered to be a major soloist. However, after recording “Flamingo” in 1951, he gained widespread fame and subsequently his records sold in vast quantities. On them, he often overemphasized glissandos and deliberately exaggerated his vibrato. Despite these inelegant effects, Bostic regularly showed that he retained considerable technical prowess, particularly in producing high harmonics—a skill he taught John Coltrane. Heart ailments curtailed his activities during the last decade of his life....

Article

Lee Jeske

revised by Barry Long

(b Frederick, MD, Oct 11, 1941; d New York, NY, Nov 8, 1999). American jazz trumpeter and composer. He grew up in Little Rock and St. Louis, first studying the cornet with his father. He formed his first group, the Continentals, in 1954 and gained early musical experience with blues and rhythm-and-blues bands. After four years in the air force, Bowie studied briefly at North Texas State University and Lincoln University in St. Louis. He toured the South and Midwest with the bands of Little Milton, Albert King, Jackie Wilson, Rufus Thomas, and Solomon Burke and recorded in horn sections for the label Chess. In 1965 he moved to Chicago to become music director for his wife, the rhythm-and-blues singer Fontella Bass. There he became a founding organizer and the second president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective of young African American improvisers who experimented with avant-garde forms. He performed and recorded with the saxophonist and fellow AACM member Roscoe Mitchell from ...

Article

Ursel Schlicht

(Marie)

(b Ventura, CA, July 26, 1938). American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and educator. Considered one of the most sophisticated jazz pianists of her generation, she is known for her forceful, harmonically rich, rhythmically complex approach. Largely self-taught, she began her professional career in the 1950s in Los Angeles, sitting in with Dexter Gordon, Charles Lloyd, and Bobby Hutcherson. One of the few women hired by top players in the 1960s and 70s, she worked with Art Blakey´s Jazz Messengers (1969–72), Joe Henderson’s group (1972–5), and the Stan Getz Quartet (1975–7). This led to offers to record as a leader. She is featured on more than 25 albums, including her original compositions as well as standards. Her signature tunes are “Haiti-B” (1971, in 7/4), “Habitat” (1978, in 10/4), and “Picasso” (1990, mixed meter). Notable albums include Snooze (1975, Choice), ...

Article

Horace Clarence Boyer

(b Bessemer, AL, Jan 23, 1927; d Newark, NJ, Feb 15, 1978). American gospel singer and composer. At the age of 13 he joined the Protective Harmoneers, a children’s gospel group in Bessemer, and had his own radio show on a local station. He attended Snow Hill Institute in Snow Hill, Alabama, and as a student teacher acquired the title “professor,” which he maintained throughout his career. While traveling with Mahalia Jackson in 1941–2, he copied down the names of promoters from her address book and left her employ to organize his own group, the Bradford Singers. When they made no great impression on the gospel field, Bradford joined Willie Webb and his singers, with whom he recorded “Every day and every hour” (1950). On the strength of its success he organized the Bradford Specials, an all-male group who sang in robes with pastel stoles and choreographed most of their songs. In ...