Jazz 88.3 Blog
Shirley Horn began leading her own group in the mid-1950s, and in 1960 recorded her first album, Embers and Ashes, which established her reputation as an exceptional and sensitive jazz vocalist. Born in 1934 in Washington, DC, she studied classical piano as a teenager at Howard University's Junior School of Music.
Under the influence of artists such as Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, she then began a career as a jazz pianist and soon after discovered the great expressive power of her voice. When Miles Davis heard Embers and Ashes, he brought her to New York, where she began opening for him at the Village Vanguard. Soon she was performing in major venues throughout the United States and recording with Quincy Jonesfor the Mercury label.
For some years she spent much of her time in Europe, then took a ten-year hiatus to raise her family in Washington. She continued to appear in and around the DC area, and in the 1980s she returned to the recording studio. The overwhelming critical success of her 1981 appearance at Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival reintroduced revitalized her career, allowing her to take to the road with her trio and record more albums.
Her association with the Verve label, which began in 1987, gave a new showcase to her inimitable style and cemented her reputation as a world-class jazz artist. Six of her more than 20 albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards, and she has collaborated with jazz artists including Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Buck Hill, Branford Marsalis, and Toots Thielemans.
In 1990, she collaborated with Miles Davis on her critically acclaimed album You Won't Forget Me. Her 1992 recording Here's to Life was that year's top-selling jazz album and earned a Grammy Award for arranger Johnny Mandel. In 1998, Horn paid tribute to her mentor with the brilliant recording I Remember Miles, winning the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. Health problems in the early 2000s forced her to cut back on her appearances.
Terry Jean Pollard was sought after by none other than John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie.
She was born in Detroit on Aug. 15, 1931. She grew up in the jazz-infused Conant Gardens neighborhood, and first began plucking away on the piano at the age of 3. When her abilities surpassed the challenges of her piano lessons, she would use the money for her lessons to buy ice cream for her friends.
By 14, Pollard was sneaking out of the house at night to play in jazz clubs. And by 16, she'd developed the skills and reputation to play professionally. She thrived during the late 1940s and '50s, performing with up-and-coming local musicians, as well as even bigger names when they came to town. In addition to the giants already name-dropped, Pollard played with Johnny Hill, Yusef Lateef, Emmitt Slay, Billy Mitchell, Dick Garcia, Terry Gibbs, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, and Duke Ellington.
Pollard first considered a professional career in music when she first was paid to perform. At the commencement ceremony for her nursing school graduation in 1948, the keyboard player for the band didn't show up. Everyone knew of Pollard's reputation, so the band asked her to play with them, and she blew everyone away. She made $15 for the one gig, and realized she could make good money playing jazz, so she decided to take it more seriously. She got a day job working at Hudson's department store, and started playing regularly at local clubs, specifically Baker's Keyboard Lounge, a popular spot for locals like Art Tatum and Gerry Mulligan.
During this period, Pollard recorded with Billy Mitchell, and began collaborating with other local musicians Johnny Hill and the Emmitt Slay Trio. In 1952, she was discovered by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs while playing at Beehive Bar. Gibbs was so mesmerized by Pollard's raw talent that he asked her to join his band on their North American tour. She joined the Terry Gibbs Quartet, on piano and second vibes. They toured for eight years, from 1952-1960, and recorded five albums together. While touring with Gibbs, Pollard was offered a solo recording contract with Bethlehem Records and recorded a self-titled album, released in 1955. Labeled as the Terry Pollard Quintet, it would be her only solo LP.
On Oct. 12, 1956, Pollard made history as one of the first black female jazz artists to appear on NBC's Tonight Starring Steve Allen, the early incarnation of The Tonight Show, when she and Gibbs played "Gibberish" and a rendition of "Now's the Time." They playfully battled each other on the same vibraphone (search YouTube to see it yourself). That same year, Pollard was awarded the prestigious DownBeat magazine New Artist award, and nicknamed "Queen of the vibes."
In 1960, Pollard quit the road — just as she was peaking on a national level — to stay in Detroit, and focus on being a mother. However, as Hosper explains: "The downfall of her career was being mistreated on the road: racial slurs, disrespectful medical treatment, not being able to sit with the audience after performing. The climate of racial adversity during her time really robbed her of a national career."
Pollard was simultaneously so highly recognized and so extremely disrespected that she decided it was not worth sacrificing her time and family.
Pollard was an active player throughout metro Detroit until 1978, when she simultaneously had an aneurysm and a stroke. This left her entire left side paralyzed, preventing her from performing again. In 1979, a tribute concert hosted by Steve Allen was held in her honor. After recovering and laying low in Detroit, Pollard moved to New York in 2000 to live closer to her son. She resided in a nursing home, where she entertained the other residents by playing the piano for them most days.
Actually born with the name Blossom Dearie in the New York Catskills, she began playing piano at an early age and studied classical music before making the switch to jazz while in high school. After graduation, she moved to New York and began appearing with vocal groups like the Blue Flames (attached to Woody Herman) and the Blue Reys (with Alvino Rey). She also played cocktail piano around the city, and moved to Paris in 1952 to form her own group, the Blue Stars of France. Dearie also appeared in a nightclub act with Annie Ross, and made a short, uncredited appearance on King Pleasure's vocalese classic, "Moody's Mood for Love." She recorded an obscure album of piano solos, and in 1954, the Blue Stars hit the national charts with a French version of "Lullaby of Birdland."
After hearing Dearie perform in Paris in 1956, Norman Granz signed her to Verve and she returned to America by the end of the year. Her eponymous debut for Verve featured a set of standards that slanted traditional pop back to its roots in Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and cabaret. Her focus on intimate readings of standards ("Deed I Do," "Thou Swell") and the relaxed trio setting (bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jo Jones, plus Dearie on piano) drew nods to her cabaret background.
Dearie stuck to her focus on standards and small groups, though her gift for songwriting emerged as well with songs like "Blossom's Blues." She performed in solo settings at supper clubs all over New York, and appeared on the more cultured of the late-'50s New York talk shows. Her husband, flutist Bobby Jaspar, made several appearances on her records, notably 1959's My Gentleman Friend. After a recording break in the early '60s, Blossom Dearie signed to Capitol for one album (1964's May I Come In?), but then recorded sparingly during the rest of the decade.
Finally, in the early '70s, she formed her own Daffodil Records label and began releasing her own work, including 1974's Blossom Dearie Sings and 1976's My New Celebrity Is You. She also performed at Carnegie Hall with Anita O'Day and Joe Williams, billed as the Jazz Singers. She continued to perform and record during the 1980s through to the early 2000s, centered mostly in New York but also a regular attraction in London as well. She retired from playing live in 2006 due to health concerns and died quietly in her Greenwich Village apartment on February 7, 2009.
Jutta Hipp had a strangely brief career, dropping out of music altogether shortly after emigrating to the United States. She studied painting in Germany and played jazz during World War II. When the Soviets took over East Germany, she moved with her family to Munich. Hipp played locally and in 1952, recorded with Hans Koller. She led her own quintet in Frankfurt in 1953-1955 and recorded for several labels, including a session that was later released by Blue Note. Moving to New York in November 1955, Hipp played at the Hickory House for much of the first half of 1956, recording two trio albums for Blue Note. Although originally inspired by Lennie Tristano, she was criticized at the time for being too influenced by Horace Silver; however, a studio album from July 1956 with Zoot Sims finds her showing a fairly original style. Unfortunately, that was her final recording, for Jutta Hipp soon dropped out of music, returned to painting, then worked as a seamstress. She lost contact with the music world to the extent that Blue Note didn’t know where her royalties should be sent until 2000. Three years later, at the age of 78, Jutta Hipp passed away in the Queens apartment where she lived alone.
(Source: Scott Yanow www.bluenote.com)
Blessed with an enormous orchestral capacity at the keyboard, Dorothy Donegan was fluent in several styles of jazz as well as with European classical music. Underrated by some due to her proclivity towards showy flamboyance and her penchant for entertaining an audience, she was nonetheless an exceptional pianist with a rich harmonic sense.
Given her virtuosity, it's no wonder her earliest influence and one of her champions was the peerless master of the piano, Art Tatum. Encouraged by her mother to be a professional musician, Donegan was playing piano for a dollar a night at Chicago's South Side bars when she was only 14. She subsequently attended the Chicago Conservatory, Chicago Music College, and the University of Southern California, where she studied classical piano.
In 1943, Donegan gave a concert at the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the first African-American performer to do so. This created publicity that led to some work in film (Sensations of 1945) and theater (Star Time). Her playing career was largely centered around nightclub engagements, as Donegan was more comfortable in a live setting than a studio.
In the 1950s, she developed her flamboyant performance style, which at times tended to obscure her extraordinary piano playing, deep sense of swing, and wide-ranging repertoire. She would often spice her performances with uncanny impressions of other pianists and singers, skills that enhanced her abilities as an entertainer.
She spent the bulk of her career performing in trios with bass and drums. Her appearance at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in 1980 broke all previous attendance records. In 1983, she appeared on Marian McPartland's NPR radio program, Piano Jazz. Despite her many years of performing, she didn't appear at the legendary jazz club Village Vanguard in New York City until 1987. The New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson wrote at the time: "Miss Donegan has never let her show-business surface interfere with her virtuosity or her sensitivity as a pianist. No one since Art Tatum has brought together a flow of running lines, breaks, changes of tempo and key, oblique references and rhythmic intensity as skillfully as Miss Donegan does."
In the early 1990s, her show-stopping appearances on Hank O'Neal's Floating Jazz cruises brought her talents to the attention of another generation of jazz fans. She also lectured at several colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northeastern, and the Manhattan School of Music, and received an honorary doctoral degree from Roosevelt University in 1994. Donegan performed at the White House in 1993 and gave her last major performance at the Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival in 1997.
(Source: https://www.arts.gov/honors/jazz )
Hazel Scott was born on June 11, 1920, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1924, Scott and her parents migrated to Harlem, New York, where Hazel, a musical prodigy, studied classical piano with Paul Wagner, a Juilliard professor. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, her career blossomed as she became a regular performer, earning a weekly salary of $4,000 at New York’s elegant dinner club Café Society. Her husband, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., once fondly referred to her as the “darling of Café Society.”
In 1938, her talent brought her to Broadway, where she performed in the musicals Singing Out the News and, four years later, Priorities of 1942. The 1940s were thrilling years for Scott, with appearances in major Hollywood productions like Something to Shout About, I Dood It, and The Heat’s On in 1943, Broadway Rhythm in 1944, and Rhapsody in Blue in 1945. Scott distinguished herself from other black actors by refusing to play the traditional roles, such as maids and prostitutes, offered by movie executives to black actresses. Instead, Scott made cameo in movies playing the piano.
For a brief moment, Scott was a superstar, but her militancy and racial pride halted her ascent. Her onscreen image of sophistication, intelligence, and dignity inspired African Americans. Although her career faded, Scott’s initial television success paved the way for Billy Daniels, Nat King Cole, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Oprah Winfrey. Hazel Scott died on October 2, 1981 in New York. She was 61.
Best known as the host of the weekly national radio program Piano Jazz, Marian McPartland helped to popularize jazz with her intricate knowledge and prowess on the piano. She made the program one of the most popular in the history of public radio.
Born to a musical mother who played classical piano, she studied at the famed Guildhall School of Music in London. Her first professional activity was as part of a touring vaudeville act featuring four pianists. During World War II, she entertained the troops and while playing in Belgium met her late husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, whom she married in 1945. They relocated to the U.S. in 1946, whereupon she performed in his band in Chicago. She formed her first active trio in 1950 for an engagement at the Embers in New York. Two years later, she began what would be an eight-year residency at the Hickory House in New York with her trio.
In 1963, she worked with the Benny Goodman Sextet, and in 1965 she began her radio career, at WBAI in New York. In 1970 she started her own record company, Halcyon Records, one of the first jazz women to do so. In 1979, she began her weekly radio show Piano Jazz, which -- after 30 years of continuous programming -- became the longest-running syndicated National Public Radio program, and led to McPartland's induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007. An intimate program involving just her and a guest -- usually a pianist -- the program won numerous awards, including the Peabody Award. Many of the programs have been subsequently released on compact disc. As part of the segments, McPartland interviewed the guest, drawing out colorful anecdotes and stories about their careers. The shows also included performances of McPartland and the guest together. Taken as a whole, the series presents a formidable history of jazz.
Her playing career also included piano tours with such greats as Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Ellis Larkins, and Benny Carter. She performed with symphony orchestras and at many of the major jazz festivals, and received numerous awards, including a DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
McPartland received several honorary doctorates as well as a Grammy Trustee's Award for lifetime achievement. She also authored The Artistry of Marian McPartland, a collection of transcriptions, and Marian McPartland's Jazz World: All in Good Time, a collection of her jazz profiles.
Mary Lou Williams was an African American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger who wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements and recorded over one hundred records. Williams was born as Mary Elfireda Scruggs on May 8, 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, but grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was one of eleven children, and taught herself to play piano at a very young age, performing her first recital at age ten. She became a professional musician at the age of fifteen, when she played with Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians. In 1925, she joined a band led by saxophonist John Williams, and married him in 1927.
Williams and her husband moved to Oklahoma City, where in 1929 John joined Andy Kirk’s band, Twelve Clouds of Joy. Mary Lou Williams worked for a year as a solo pianist and a music arranger until she joined the band in 1930. By that point she took the name “Mary Lou” and was recording jazz albums. By the late 1930s Mary Lou Williams was now well known as a producer, composer, and arranger working for bandleaders Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey.
Williams left Twelve Clouds of Joy in 1942 after divorcing her husband. She moved back to Pittsburgh, where she started a band with Harold “Shorty” Baker and Art Blakey. Williams eventually left the group to join Duke Ellington’s orchestra in New York where she became the star vocalist. In 1947 Williams moved back to New York where she started a radio show called Mary Lou Williams’s Piano Workshop.
In 1952, Williams took her talents overseas, moving to Europe for two years, and performing mostly in England. In 1954 she abruptly retired from music and focused on her newly embraced Catholic faith. She created the Bel Canto Foundation, an effort to help addicted musicians return to performing. By 1957 she returned to the music business in time to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival. She also started her own record label and founded the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.
Through the 1960s Williams focused on religious jazz with recordings like Black Christ of the Andes which was a tribute to the Afro-Peruvian priest St. Martin de Porres. She also wrote Music for Peace which was choreographed and performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Williams never fully abandoned secular music as in 1965 when she performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. In the 1970s her career underwent a revival when younger audiences discovered her talent. She recorded new albums and became an artist-in-residence at Duke University (1977-1981), teaching the History of Jazz among other courses. She also directed the Duke Jazz Ensemble. In 1978 she performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter and invited guests. Later that year she participated in Benny Goodman’s 40th anniversary Carnegie Hall concert.
Mary Lou Williams died in Durham, North Carolina on May 28, 1981. She was 71.
Lil Hardin was originally from Memphis and raised on and taught to play church hymns, traditional spirituals, and classical music. Her early piano education began with her third grade teacher, but Hardin would go on to attend Fisk University to study piano and music. One of her first gigs was working in a cabaret, something she knew her family would not approve of...so she told them she was the accompanist for a dance school. She later studied at New York College of Music and earned her post-graduate diploma in 1929. She was working with bandleader Lawrence Duhe, when King Oliver asked her to join his band. She played with that band until her return to Chicago in the early 1920s. Her noted works with Louis Armstrong, who was her husband from 1924 until their divorce in 1938. Her contributions to Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens are many. Not only was she a well-schooled pianist, she was also a vocalist and composer. Among her well-known compositions are classics "Struttin' With Some Barbeque" "Just For a Thrill" and "Clip Joint." Hardin also led her own swing bands in the late 1930 and early 40s. She died in Chicago and, unfortunately, her letters and the unfinished manuscript for her autobiography disappeared from her home.
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