Jazz 88.3 Blog
Jessica Williams is a well-known and highly respected pianist and composer who has deep roots in the Jazz Tradition. The two-time Grammy Nominee was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and classically trained at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. In her teens, Jessica moved to Philadelphia and began playing with the great Philly Joe Jones, drummer for the Miles Davis Quintet. Later, she moved to California, where she played in the bands of Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, Tony Williams, Stan Getz, Big Nick Nicholaus, Airto and Flora, Charlie Rouse, John Abercrombie, Charlie Haden, Leroy Vinnegar, and others. She has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; a Rockerfeller Grant for composing; the Alice B. Toklas Grant for Women Composers, and the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. Jessica has been an honored guest on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz.
She has released over 40 albums in a career spanning as many years. Her album Joyful Sorrow was among the Top 5 CDs of JazzTimes' Critics Poll in 1999, and her album In the Key of Monk won that honor again in 2000. In late 2004, her album LIVE at Yoshi's Volume One was nominated for a Grammy. In Europe, she scored Jazz Record of the Year for 2 consecutive years in the Jazz Journal International Reader's Poll. She has scored PBS and HBO specials, and has been presented the Keys to the City of both San Mateo, and Sacramento, California.
Born in 1941, Connie Crothers made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1974 as a solo jazz pianist, and her first album PERCEPTION, came out that year on the SteepleChase label. Subsequent reissues of PERCEPTION were named Coda’s 10 Best Records of 1983, Jazz Magazine’s record of the month in 1986, and record of the month in Jazz Hot in 1995. Crothers recorded SWISH, a duo album with drummer Max Roach, in 1982, and toured with him in Europe, Asia and the US. Their collaboration was honored by Harvard University, which named them Visiting Jazz Artists, and inspired a composition by Anthony Braxton. The Crothers/Roach duo also appeared with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the pianist worked as a soloist and in groups that at various times included Lenny Popkin, alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, tenor saxophonist Charlie Krachy, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Carol Tristano, among others. LOVE ENERGY (New Artists), a quartet CD co-led by Popkin and featuring Carol Tristano and Cameron Brown, was chosen as the #1 record of 1992 by Jack Cooke in Wire; another release from this quartet, IN MOTION, was honored as the best of 1991 by Jazz Magazine.
Recent recordings include four recordings from 2012 as a leader or co-leader including a 4-CD box set SPONTANEOUS SUITES FOR TWO PIANOS with pianist David Arner on the RogueArt label. Grego Applegate Edwards writes: “It is one of the finest improvisational solo-pianistic moments we have experienced in recorded form to date. It will repay your attention with an enthralling sublimity.” A duet recording with alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, TWO, was also issued by the Relative Pitch label in 2012.
Her SESSION AT 475 KENT recording (Mutable Music), a duo session with Michael Bisio, was placed on three top 10 records of the year lists in 2010 in Cadence Magazine and by the Jazz Journalists Association. In the centennial issue of Cadence, Crothers was selected for the list of the most important and influential musicians in the last twenty-five years of the 20th century.
Grammy nominated pianist/vocalist, Judy Carmichael is one of the world’s leading interpreters of stride piano and swing. Count Basie nicknamed her “Stride," acknowledging the command with which she plays this technically and physically demanding jazz piano style. Judy’s vocal debut on her CD “Come and Get It” features her singing debut on everything from Peggy Lee inspired standards, to humorous takes on Fats Waller tunes. Her first all-vocal CD “I Love Being Here With You” followed, which is also her first with someone else playing piano, in this case the great Mike Renzi (presently music director for Tony Bennett) with Harry Allen on sax and Jay Leonhart on bass.
A native of California, Judy Carmichael moved to New York in the early 80’s and has maintained a busy concert schedule throughout the world ever since. She has toured for the United States Information Agency throughout India, Portugal, Brazil and Singapore. In 1992 Ms. Carmichael was the first jazz musician sponsored by the United States Government to tour China. The musician that critics have referred to as “astounding, flawless and captivating” (The New York Times) has played in a variety of venues from Carnegie Hall, to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice (the first concert ever presented by the museum) to programs with Joel Grey, Michael Feinstein, Steve Ross and the Smothers Brothers. In addition, Ms. Carmichael has done comic skits and performed her music on radio and TV and performed private recitals for everyone from Rod Stewart and Robert Redford to President Clinton and Gianni Agnelli.
Judy Carmichael is one of a handful of musicians who approach jazz from a perspective of its entire history. Choosing to study jazz piano from its early roots on, she explores the music deeply, infusing it with a “fresh, dynamic interpretation of her own” (Washington Post ). The National Endowment for the Arts rewarded Carmichael’s knowledge of jazz piano with a major grant to present early jazz greats on film and to discuss the history and development of jazz piano with college students across the country. Judy Carmichael’s Grammy-nominated recording “Two Handed Stride” teamed her with four giants of jazz from the Count Basie Orchestra, Red Callendar, Harold Jones, Freddie Green and Marshall Royal.
She has written two books on stride piano, a celebrated memoir—Swinger! A Jazz Girl’s Adventures From Hollywood to Harlem—and numerous articles on the subject of jazz. She has served on a variety of music panels at the National Endowment for the Arts and is one of the few jazz pianists honored as a Steinway Artist. She has been included in a number of jazz anthologies and at one point, to her utter surprise, turned up in the Simon and Schuster murder mystery Murder Times Two as “the stride pianist Judy Carmichael,” the main suspect’s favorite piano player. Ms. Carmichael is included in Who’s Who in the East, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry in America, Who’s Who in American Woman, American Women in Jazz, Who’s Who in the World, as well as the Encyclopedia of Jazz. Ms. Carmichael has appeared frequently on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and has been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Entertainment Tonight and multiple features on CBS’ Sunday Morning.
One of the premier composers of the last 50+ years, Carla Bley has written music for big bands, choirs, chamber orchestras, and small combos. Her work demonstrates a wide compositional range as well as a healthy sense of humor. Bley’s skills have been in demand even outside of jazz, including performing and recording with Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt, and Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason.
Bley’s father, Emil Borg, was a church organist and piano teacher—he first introduced her to music when she was three, and she first heard jazz when she was 12. She moved to New York at age 17, working as a cigarette girl at the jazz club Birdland, where she met pianist Paul Bley, whom she married in 1957. Immersed in the city’s jazz scene, she began to write compositions, which Paul Bley and a number of other musicians, such as Art Farmer, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, and Tony Williams, began to record.
In 1964, with her second husband, trumpeter Michael Mantler, she formed the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and subsequently founded the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association, an independent record label focusing on more avant-garde forms of jazz, such as Bley’s collaboration with poet Paul Haines on the groundbreaking work Escalator over the Hill.
Bley’s compositions and arrangements reached wider audiences through such recordings as Gary Burton’s A Genuine Tong Funeral, an album dedicated to Bley’s first extended composition, and Charlie Haden’s The Liberation Music Orchestra.
In 1972, Bley and Mantler started a new record label, Watt, on which she has since issued recordings of her work. She also began experimenting outside of jazz, joining Jack Bruce’s band in 1975, writing all the compositions for and performing on Nick Mason’s 1981 album Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports, and recording the soundtrack to the 1985 film Mortelle Randonnée. In 1997, a live production of Escalator over the Hill was staged in Germany, then toured Europe the following year.
Among the awards bestowed upon Bley are a Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition (1972), the German Jazz Trophy "A Life for Jazz" (2009), and honorary doctorates from l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail (2012) and the New England Conservatory (2014).
Bley has toured all over the world, including Brazil, Japan, South Korea, and just about everywhere in Europe. She continues to perform and record frequently, both with her own big band and a number of smaller ensembles, notably the Lost Chords (including bassist Steve Swallow, saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and drummer Billy Drummond).
Joanne Brackeen was a child prodigy who at age 11, learned to play the piano in six months by transcribing eight Frankie Carle solos. By 12, she was already performing professionally. Some of her musical constituents at the time were Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, Scott Lafaro, and Charles Lloyd. Simultaneously, the Los Angeles Conservatory heard of her musicianship and offered her a full scholarship. She attended classes less than one week before deciding the bandstand was more significant.
Brackeen married and moved her family, including four children, to New York in 1965. She began her career there with such luminaries as George Benson, Paul Chambers, Lee Konitz, Sonny Stitt, and Woody Shaw among others. She joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1969, becoming the first and only female member of the group, staying until 1972. Brackeen then performed extensively with Joe Henderson(1972-75) and Stan Getz (1975-77). After leaving Stan Getz' quartet, she emerged as a leader.
Traveling and performing mainly with her own band was a delightful and enriching experience for both Brackeen and her band members, which included Terence Blanchard, Michael Brecker, Ravi Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette, Eddie Gomez, Billy Hart, Horace "El Negro" Hernandez, Branford Marsalis, Cecil McBee, John Patitucci, Chris Potter, and Greg Osby. She has recorded more than two dozen recordings as a leader, which include 100 of her 300 original compositions. She appears on nearly 100 additional recordings.
Sharing her musical knowledge and passing on the tradition have been important parts of Brackeen's career. In addition to teaching at Berklee College of Music and the New School, she has led clinics, master classes, and artistic residencies worldwide.
Berklee College of Music has recognized Brackeen with the following prestigious honors: a Distinguished Professor Award, an Outstanding Achievement in Education Award, and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Award. Worldwide, she received an Outstanding Educator Award from the International Association for Jazz Education, a Living Legend Award from the International Women in Jazz, and the BNY Mellon Jazz 2014 Living Legacy Award. She also received two National Endowment for the Arts grants for commissions and performances and received a U.S. Department of State sponsorship for a tour of the Middle East and Europe in the mid-1980s. She continues to teach and tour internationally, and to date, she has played in 46 different countries.
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda was an American jazz pianist, organist, harpist, singer, composer, swamini, and the wife of John Coltrane. Turiyasangitananda translates as the Transcendental Lord’s highest song of Bliss.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1937 to Solon and Annie McLeod, Alice was the fifth of six children. Her interest in music blossomed in early childhood. By the age of nine, she played organ during services at Mount Olive Baptist church.
In the early 60’s she began playing jazz as a professional in Detroit with her own trio and as a duo with vibist Terry Pollard. Alice would collaborate and performed with Kenny Clarke, Kenny Burrell, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Charlie Haden, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJonette, and Carlos Santana. Many people are unaware that she replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with the John Coltrane quartet and continued to play and record with the band until John’s death in 1967.
Alice’s interest in gospel, classical, and jazz music led to the creation of her own innovative style. Her talents expressed more fully when she became a solo recording artist. Her proficiency on keyboard, organ, and harp was remarkable. Later her natural musical artistry matured into amazing arrangements and compositions. Her twenty recordings cover a time span from Monastic Trio (1968) to Translinear Light (2004).
Alice and John Coltrane married in 1965. Together they embarked on a deeply spiritual journey of musical exploration and forged a new genre of musical expression. After John’s passing, Alice was left to raise their four small children — Michelle, John Jr., Ravi, and Oran.
Around the late 60’s, Alice entered into a most significant time in her life. As a seeker of spiritual truth, she spent focused time in isolation — fasting, praying, and meditating. In 1970 she met a guru, Swami Satchidananda. She traveled to India, and was divinely called into God's service. Alice dedicated her life to God and came to be known as Turiyasangitananda.
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda became the Founder and Director of The Vedantic Center in 1975, and later established a spiritual community in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. She would orate discourses and play organ to lead the members in devotional song for Sunday services.
A.C. Turiyasangitananda, known as Swamini to many, left her physical form January 12, 2007.
Over the course of a six-decade career, pianist, bandleader, and composer-arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi has made a unique and vital contribution to the art of big band jazz. Born in Manchuria, where she began playing the piano at age six, Akiyoshi moved back to Japan with her parents at the end of World War II. Her family, enduring the hardships of the period, could not provide her with an instrument, and so, just to touch a piano, she took her first job as a musician, playing in a dance-hall band.
She was not exposed to real jazz until a Japanese record collector introduced her to the work of Teddy Wilson, whose music immediately impressed her. In 1952, pianist Oscar Peterson discovered Akiyoshi while he was on a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Japan and recommended that producer Norman Granz record her. Thanks to this opportunity, she came to the United States in 1956 to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She moved to New York in 1959, playing at Birdland, the Village Gate, the Five Spot, and the Half Note; but despite a brief attempt in the 1960s to showcase her talents as a composer and arranger for large ensembles, she did not have the opportunity to form a big band until she moved to Los Angeles in 1972 with her husband, saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin. The following year, the couple formed the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. In 1976, the band placed first in the DownBeatCritics' Poll, and Akiyoshi's album Long Yellow Road was named best jazz album of the year by Stereo Review. In the 1970s, Akiyoshi began exploring Japanese themes in her compositions and arrangements, mixing them with the strong jazz base in her music.
In 1982, the couple returned to New York, where Akiyoshi re-formed her band with New York musicians. The band enjoyed a critically successful debut at Carnegie Hall as part of the 1983 Kool Jazz Festival. Akiyoshi has recorded 22 albums to date with the orchestra. Her recording Four Seasons of Morita Village was awarded the 1996 Swing Journal Silver Award, and her big band albums have received 14 Grammy Award nominations. Akiyoshi is the first woman ever to place first in the Best Arranger and Composer category in the DownBeat Readers' Poll.
In 1995, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra was invited to play in China, and in 1996 Akiyoshi completed her autobiography Life With Jazz, which is now in its fifth printing in Japanese. Among the many honors she has received are the Shijahosho (1999, from the Emperor of Japan); the Japan Foundation Award, Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosetta (2004, from the Emperor of Japan); and the Asahi Award (2005, from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper).
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.
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