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Jazz Music

Biographies


  • Roy Eldridge

    Roy EldridgeBorn to Alexander and Blanche (Oakes) Eldridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 30, 1911, David Roy Eldridge showed an interest in music from an early age. His older brother, Joe, played the alto saxophone and violin, while Eldridge himself was first attracted to the drums. Before he was ten years old, he picked up the bugle and then the trumpet, which became his primary instrument. He also played the piano and flugelhorn. Able to pick up almost any tune and play it back by ear, the 16-year-old Eldridge was good enough on the trumpet to earn a spot with the touring carnival band the Nighthawk Syncopators after an impromptu audition. While he was still in his teens, Eldridge formed the first of several bands, Roy Elliott and His Palais Royal Orchestra. Prior to 1930 he also played brief stints with Horace Henderson's Dixie Stompers and other bands led by Zach White and drummer Laurence "Speed" Webb.

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  • Sadao Watanabe

    Sadao WatanabeSadao Watanabe is a revered cultural figure in Japan, the first jazz musician to win his government's Grand Prix Award (1976), the first of many national and regional Japanese honors he's received. He's also had a jazz radio program in Japan for decades, not just spinning records but presenting live performances, many of his own compositions, which run the gamut from bop and swing to bossa nova, jazz-rock and pop. Through the years he's also toured and recorded with a number of Americans, from Chick Corea and Hank Jones to Mike Stern and the Galaxy All-Stars.
    Born on February 1, 1933, in Utsunomiya, Japan, Watanabe was one of five children (four sons and one daughter). In the small town about 90 miles north of Tokyo, Watanabe’s father worked as an electrician but also played and taught the Japanese equivalent of the lute, called the biwa. It would be his father’s acquiescence to his desires that would allow Watanabe to move from this small town to the world.

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  • Snooky Young

    Snooky YoungEugene "Snooky" Young took up the trumpet at the age of five and first began to make a name for himself as the lead trumpeter of the Jimmie Lunceford band from 1939 to 1942. He briefly joined Count Basie in 1942, and moved on to the bands of Lionel Hampton and Gerald Wilson before re-joining Basie from 1945 to 1947, and again from 1957 until 1962. Upon leaving Basie, Young became a studio trumpeter at NBC, was a founding member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra in 1966, and was constantly in demand for all kinds of sessions (including a live, recorded New Year's Eve gig with the rock group the Band in 1971). While at NBC in New York, he was a member of the Tonight Show Orchestra, moving to Los Angeles with the show in 1972 and holding down his chair until 1992, when Johnny Carson's departure broke up the band. Young kept busy in the L.A. area, appearing regularly as a lead trumpeter in several big bands including appearances with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The self-effacing Young issued only three albums under his own name, and of these, only Horn of Plenty (Concord) featured Young as the sole headliner. In 2009, Young was named a jazz master by the National Endowment for the Arts. He passed away in 2011 due to complications from a lung disease. He was 92.

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  • Bobby McFerrin

    Bobby McFerrinThe son of opera singers (his father was the first black man to perform regularly with the Metropolitan Opera), Bobby McFerrin was born in New York City. In 1958 his family moved to Los Angeles. McFerrin attended Sacramento State University and Cerritos College, but dropped out to play piano for the Ice Follies. Over the next few years, he played keyboard with lounge acts and for dance troupes. In 1977 McFerrin decided, suddenly, to become a singer. "I was in a quiet moment when a simple thought just came into my head: ‘Why don’. you sing?’ It was as simple as that, but it must have had some force behind it because I acted on it immediately," he explained to Bourne. He sang with various bands and was eventually discovered by singer Jon Hendricks. While on tour with Hendricks, McFerrin was again discovered—this time by comedian Bill Cosby.

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  • Bill Doggett

    Bill DoggettWilliam Ballard Doggett was born February 16, 1916, on the north side of Philadelphia. At age nine, Doggett was attracted to the trumpet, but his family could not afford one. Bill's mother, Wynona, was a church pianist and his inspiration. Within a few years, he switched to the piano and was hailed as a child prodigy by the time he was thirteen. At fifteen, he formed his first combo, the Five Majors. While attending Central High School, he found work playing in the pit orchestra at the Nixon Grand theater with the Jimmy Gorman Band.

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  • Eubie Blake

    Eubie BlakeRagtime, for most Americans, meant a tinkling piano; and no one played the ragtime piano any better or longer than Eubie Blake. Blake, a musician, composer, and performer born in Baltimore in 1883, published his first rags in 1914. He met his lifelong friend and collaborator, Noble Sissle, the following year. The team of Blake and Sissle went on to write and perform such notable musical hits as "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and such successful Broadway shows as "Shuffle Along."

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  • Pony Poindexter

    Pony PoindexterOne of the first bop-oriented jazz musicians to start doubling on soprano, Pony Poindexter should have been much better known during his lifetime. As with many saxophonists, the clarinet was his first instrument before switching to alto and tenor. Poindexter worked very early on with Sidney Desvigne in New Orleans (1940) and later attended the Candell Conservatory of Music in Oakland. He was with the 1947 Billy Eckstine Big Band and toured with Eckstine a few times during 1948-1950. Poindexter was based in the San Francisco Bay Area during much of his life, traveling a bit while with Lionel Hampton during 1951-1952. He worked steadily as both a sideman and a leader in local clubs throughout the 1950s. Neal Hefti, who was aware of Poindexter's talents early on, wrote "Little Pony" for the Count Basie Orchestra in 1951 (it was a

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  • Sir Roland Hanna

    Roland HannaRoland Hanna began learning music from his father, a saxophone player and minister, at an early age. He began studying classical piano at the age of 11. Surrounded by a burgeoning, regionally distinctive bop scene, Hanna began playing with some of the Detroit area's noted jazz musicians, including Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Hank Jones, and Woody Anderson, while still a student at Detroit's Cass Technical High School. In the newsletter published by the Institute for Studies in American Music (ISAM), Mark Tucker described the characteristics of the postwar Detroit school of piano playing: "advanced harmonic knowledge, a strong relationship with bebop, a

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  • Sergio Mendes

    Sergio Santos MendesSergio Mendes was born on February 11, 1941, and raised in Niteroi, Brazil, the son of a physician. He studied music at a conservatory and harbored hopes of becoming a classical pianist. In the late 1950s, Mendes relocated to Rio de Janeiro, where he developed a passion for bossa nova music. He also immersed himself in American jazz until, as he explained to writer John Lannert on the William Morris Agency Web site, "around 15 or so, when I was given a Dave Brubeck record and that changed my life. From then on, I started listening to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and all those great jazz pianists. So that was my main influence during my adolescent years."

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  • Bill Laswell

    Bill LaswellBorn on February 14, 1950, Laswell spent his early years in Salem, Illinois. His father was an oil businessman who died when Laswell was young. In 1958 the family moved to a predominantly black section of Detroit. Music did not play a large role in Laswell’s family life. At school, instructors led him to the drums and the baritone sax, but Laswell had other ideas. True to his collaborative philosophy, he chose the bass. He explained to Down Beat’s John Diliberto: "I was interested in forming groups at that time, and everyone had guitars and drums. So if you had a bass you were in a group." By age 13, Laswell was performing at local gigs.

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