Jazz 88.3 Blog
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.
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.
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