Jazz 88.3 Blog
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.
March is Women's History Month and KSDS-FM is celebrating by shining the spotlight on the great female jazz pianists. Listen every weekday throughout the month to hear our daily featured artist. And, if you would like to nominate your own, please do when you make a pledge of support.
February 26, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Birdland
Birdland, named after Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, opened on December 15, 1949 at 52nd and Broadway in Manhattan.
Opening night was a star-studded affair billed as an All American Jazz Festival featuring a Journey through Jazz. The idea was to present the entire history of jazz up to that point and featured Max Kaminsky, Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano and Stan Getz.
For the next fifteen years the club played host to all the jazz greats and became one of the most well known nightclubs in the world.
The awning over the entrance had “Birdland” emblazoned on both sides. You entered street level and descended down into the basement where you would find an unusually large venue that could seat 400. The walls were decorated with murals of famous jazz personalities.
In honor of the clubs’ namesake, opening night featured live birds in cages suspended from the ceiling but they lasted only a few weeks due to lack of appropriate ventilation.
There was a long bar with red and white checkered tablecloths and a fenced in bullpen known as the peanut gallery where no alcohol was served and underage patrons could watch and listen.
The club was owned by several partners with the infamous Morris Levy being the most visible. Levy had been part of the group that opened the Royal Roost several months earlier.
The club’s manager was Oscar Goodstein and the diminutive Pee Wee Marquette, the doorman and master of ceremonies.
Not long after Birdland opened Symphony Sid Torin moved over from Bop City and began broadcasting from the club with his “all night, all frantic” show on WJZ. He broadcast from a booth in the back of the club which featured the latest jazz records alternating with live music from the stage.
February 25, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: New Jazz and the Prestige Label
Prestige Records came along at the tail end of the bebop era recording their first session in January of 1949. It wasn’t known as Prestige though, the original name was "New Jazz."
The label was formed by Bob Weinstock a jazz fan and record dealer that rented space in the Jazz Record Center in 1947. The Jazz Record Center was located on 47th Street in New York right around the corner from the location of the Royal Roost.
When the first Thelonious Monk records came out on Blue Note, Alfred Lion stopped by Weinstock’s shop and dropped some off. Weinstock was hooked and became a fan of the new music. Drummer Kenny Clarke was a regular at the shop as well and encouraged Weinstock to start his own record label.
Several record shops had successfully started their own label most notably Commodore and Apollo in New York and Dial on the West coast.
The first New Jazz session took place on January 11, 1949 and featured Lennie Tristano’s Quintet.
New Jazz made a number of sessions during that first year including dates by Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs and Kai Winding.
In May, they recorded a series of classic bebop dates with J.J. Johnson, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell and Wardell Gray.
Weinstock also started leasing recordings from European labels which included several outstanding sides by James Moody who was living in Europe at the time.
In 1950 New Jazz recorded important dates with Dizzy Gillespie and the first of many two-tenor battles with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt.
The Prestige name began being used by the middle of 1950 and, along with Blue Note, become one of the most celebrated independent jazz labels of all time. Weinstock had a different approach than Alfred Lion at Blue Note. He liked to bring musicians together, unrehearsed and capture everything in one take. In a 1990 interview he explained- “I found charts and rehearsals were the kiss of death. I believe jazz should be free and loose, and should swing. That’s the atmosphere I wanted to create, not the stress and strain of trying to work out some chart. For a certain period of time while I was supervising sessions, I had every Friday booked at Van Gelder’s studio, often without anything in particular in mind.”
February 24, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: The Royal Roost
The Royal Roost was a jazz nightclub in New York that became one of the most legendary venues for modern jazz. Its heyday only lasted eleven months but in that time they presented all of the great names of the bebop era.
The club was located in a basement space at 1580 Broadway between 47th and 48th Streets, just above Times Square. It originally opened as a fried chicken restaurant that advertised itself as “The Royal Chicken Roost, New York’s Grooviest Nest”.
The restaurant was heading for bankruptcy when three businessmen, Ralph Watkins, Bill Faden and Morris Levy took over operations and purchased it in 1947.
They shortened the name to The Royal Roost and re-opened it as a jazz club in early 1948.
Watkins had been one of the owners of Kelly’s Stables on 52nd St. and Levy had mob connections that helped finance the purchase and acquire the necessary permits.
Things were slow until Monte Kay and Symphony Sid Torin came along in March of 1948.
Kay was hired as the artistic director and Sid began broadcasting from the club.
Tuesday nights were off nights so Kay and Torin began presenting Tuesday Bop Concerts. The concept worked and was expanded first to two nights, then six and finally seven nights a week.
The Royal Roost began using the taglines “The House that Bop Built” and “The Metropolitan Bopera House”.
Symphony Sid was on WMCA at the time and started out doing his disc jockey show from four to five AM. On Friday into Saturday mornings Sid began broadcasting his All Night All Frantic show at one AM featuring live performances from the stage.
The combination of all-star talent and the radio promotion made the Roost into a big success. So much so that Watkins and Kay decided they needed a bigger space. They both left in 1949 and opened Bop City just up the street in the Brill Building. Levy stayed at the Roost but soon teamed up with Watkins and opened Birdland in December of 1949.
Many of the iconic photographs from the bebop era were taken at the Royal Roost by Herman Leonard. Leonard, who had recently served in world war two and graduated from Ohio University, opened his first studio in Greenwich Village in 1948 and spent his evenings at the club.
Although the Roost was only in existence a short time they were able to present all the great stars of modern jazz including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Woody Herman, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon and Max Roach. The Roost was also the venue that presented Miles Davis’s Nonet that we now refer to as The Birth of the Cool.
Luckily some of those WMCA broadcasts have survived and we can experience those exciting nights at the house that bop built.
February 23, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop
Blue Note Records was founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and joined a couple of years later by Francis Wolf.
Together they created one of the most important record labels in jazz that still continues today.
At first they were dedicated to recording traditional jazz, boogie woogie and small group swing and are most well known for their classic hard bop recordings of the fifties and sixties.
Before hard bop came along though, Blue Note played an important role during the bop era of the nineteen forties.
When modern jazz came along they embraced it and recorded thirteen important bebop sessions between 1947 and 1949.
This includes Thelonious Monk’s first recordings as a leader; the recordings that established him as a major figure in the jazz world. Blue Note recorded several of Monk’s early masterpieces including Evidence, Misterioso, Epistrophy and Round Midnight.
Also in 1947, Blue Note recorded Art Blakey’s first session as a leader as well as important dates by Babs Three Bips and a Bop and Tadd Dameron.
In 1948 they added leader dates by The Howard McGhee/Fats Navarro Boptet plus James Moody with Chano Pozo.
In 1949 they recorded Bud Powell as a leader featuring his early recordings of Bouncing with Bud, 52nd Street Theme, Dance of the Infidels, Un Poco Loco and Parisian Thoroughfare.
February 22, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Cubop
Cubop is the marriage of Afro-Cuban rhythms with bebop harmony and improvisation. It emerged during the bop era when Dizzy Gillespie added Chano Pozo to his big band in 1947.
Jazz oriented Afro-Cuban music first appeared in New York in the early nineteen forties with Machito and His Afro-Cubans. The music director for the band was Machito’s brother in law Mario Bauza.
Bauza was one of the first cuban musicians to work in American big bands. He played the trumpet and alto and joined Chick Webb in 1933. Bauza helped Webb discover Ella Fitzgerald at one of the Apollo Theater amateur contests. He also met Dizzy Gillespie during his time with Webb.
In 1938 he joined Cab Calloway’s trumpet section and convinced Calloway to hire Gillespie. Working with Bauza piqued Dizzy’s curiosity about the mysteries of Afro-Cuban rhythm.
In 1943 Bauza wrote the tune "Tanga" which is considered the first latin jazz tune.
After Dizzy formed his big band in the mid-forties he got the idea to add the Afro-Cuban rhythmic element to the band. In 1947 Bauza introduced Dizzy to Chano Pozo.
Chano had become famous in his birthplace of Havana as a dancer and master percussionist and was the most sought after Rumbero. He immigrated to the United States in 1947 and was soon introduced to Dizzy and added to the band. The addition of Chano Pozo’s conga drum to Dizzy’s rhythm section created the birth of Cu-bop.
He debuted at Dizzy’s high profile Carnegie Hall concert on September 29, 1947 and was featured on George Russell’s Cubana Be-Cubana Bop. He also collaborated with Dizzy on several of the early Cubop pieces including Tin Tin Deo and Manteca.
Their collaboration was short-lived though as Pozo was shot and killed in a bar in Harlem in December of 1948.
In the meantime Cu-bop was established and others started to experiment with the style.
In 1948 Howard McGhee worked with Machito and performed and recorded the tune Cubop City.
Machito incorporated Charlie Parker into two recording sessions plus some live performances. The sessions produced several titles for Norman Granz including No Noise, Mango Mangue and Chico O’ Farrill’s masterpiece The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.
Other notable congueros that came to the US at that time include Mongo Santamaría, Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella, Carlos Vidal and Modesto Durán.
February 19, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Bebop Spoken Here: The Bebop Singers
During the Bebop Era there were basically three types of vocals that emerged. One was simply vocalists who worked with bop musicians. This included artists such as
Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Kenny Pancho Hagood and Earl Coleman. For example this is Sarah Vaughan singing Mean to Me with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in 1945.
Next were the vocalists who adapted the bebop style to scat singing. The most prominent and the pioneer of this style was Babs Gonzales. Joe Carroll with Dizzy Gillespie was another.
The third was vocalese which is different from scat singing in that the vocalist creates lyrics to famous jazz solos. King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson were the pioneers of this style along with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross among others. Vocalese didn’t really start to appear on records until the early fifties but the style was rooted in the bop era.
February 18, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron was a brilliant composer and arranger and one of the first to show that bebop could be orchestrated for larger ensembles. Many of his compositions such as "Hot House," "Good Bait," "If You Could See Me Now" and "Our Delight" became jazz standards.
He was born in Cleveland in 1917 and came onto the jazz scene in the late nineteen thirties without much formal musical education. He first drew attention writing for Harlan Leonard and His Rockets in Kansas City.
In the early nineteen forties he moved to New York and soon embraced the new music that was happening in Harlem. He had crossed paths with Charlie Parker in Kansas City so he already had some idea of where things were headed.
When Billy Eckstine formed his bop oriented big band in 1944, Dameron added several things to the book including Our Delight and Cool Breeze.
In 1945 Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker recorded Hot House which was his original line based on "What is this Thing Called Love."
When Dizzy Gillespie formed his big band in 1946 he used several of the arrangements that Dameron had written for Eckstine and also commissioned Dameron to write new works as well.
In addition to writing for others, Dameron led his own band during the late nineteen forties and became somewhat of a house band at the Royal Roost in New York. His quintet included Fats Navarro and Allen Eager and they often accompanied guest musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Milt Jackson. He also debuted his forward looking “Big Ten” at the Roost in 1949.
Dameron’s writing style was personal and unique and was influenced by a number of sources including Duke Ellington and the french impressionists Debussy and Ravel. His music was extremely lyrical and displayed a depth of emotional expression.
In a Metronome Magazine interview in 1947 he said “There’s enough ugliness in the world, I’m interested in beauty.”
Dameron was an integral part of the bop vocal movement working with pioneer singer Babs Gonzales in his Three Bips and a Bop group.
You can learn more about Tadd Dameron by reading Paul Combs outstanding biography titled Dameronia published by the University of Michigan Press.
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