Jazz April Birthday #30: Percy Heath 1923-2005

April 30, 2013
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Percy Heath with his brothers Jimmy and Albert credit:  Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos

Percy Heath with his brothers Jimmy and Albert
credit: Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos

Best known for his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet for its entire run (1952-1974), Percy Heath had only been playing bass for about four years when he joined the band.

Heath also recorded with most of the leading musicians in modern jazz, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

All three Heath brothers were professional musicians.  Percy’s first instrument was the violin, and he began playing bass as a student at the Granoff School of Music in Philadelphia in 1946, after he served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, where he trained as a pilot.  He was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.  Percy also played cello, which he tuned like a bass.

He moved to New York City in 1947 with his brother Jimmy, a saxophonist and composer, and in 1950 they both joined Dizzy Gillespie’s group.  He also worked with his siblings in The Heath Brothers band.

Percy Heath appears on more than 300 recordings.  His only recording as band leader “A Love Song” was released in 2004, just before his 81st birthday.

“The music was so good for so long. I remember standing there between Milt Jackson and John Lewis and wondering if I should really be getting paid for having this much fun.”  –Percy Heath, interview with Mike Zwerin, 2003

Percy Heath featured on cello:


Happy International Jazz Day!

April 30, 2013
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It’s the last day of Jazz Appreciation Month, and the second annual International Jazz Day.  It’s been a wonderful Jazz April!

I hope you’ve enjoyed and possibly even learned something from the daily posts I’ve made on Robin’s Nest Jazz blog, celebrating the great jazz artists whose birthdays are in April.

Worldwide events and activities for International Jazz Day are listed here.

This year’s International Jazz Day Global Concert will be webcast live from Istanbul at 2pm ET (11am PT) today.  The line-up is as impressive as any I’ve ever seen, including:  pianists John Beasley, George Duke, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis, Keiko Matsui and Eddie Palmieri; vocalists Rubén Blades, Al Jarreau, Milton Nascimento, Dianne Reeves and Joss Stone; trumpeters Terence Blanchard, Imer Demirer and Hugh Masekela; bassists James Genus, Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding and Ben Williams; drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Vinnie Colaiuta; guitarists Bilal Karaman, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour and Joe Louis Walker; saxophonists Dale Barlow, Igor Butman, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter and Liu Yuan; clarinetists Anat Cohen and Hüsnü Şenlendirici; violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; Pedrito Martinez and Zakir Hussain on percussion and other special guests.

See the webcast here:

If you can’t fit the live webcast into your schedule, most likely the video will be archived at the International Jazz Day site, where you can also find last year’s concerts:  morning concert from Congo Square in New Orleans and evening concert in Paris.

Jazz April Birthday #29: Duke Ellington 1899-1974

April 29, 2013
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[Portrait of Duke Ellington and Sonny Greer, A...

One of the most influential figures in American music and one of the twentieth century’s best known African-American personalities, pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington was, to use one of his signature phrases, “beyond category.”

Duke led his band from 1923 to 1974, using the entire orchestra as his instrument, and often writing parts specifically to showcase certain players in the group.  He is credited with over 1,000 compositions, received 12 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and a Grammy Trustees Award, had 9 compositions dating from 1928 through 1967 inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, received numerous “hall of fame” awards from other organizations, and was honored with both a commemorative postage stamp and a commemorative US coin.  In 1999, a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation was “bestowed posthumously on Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.”

“My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people”.  –Duke Ellington

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Jazz April Birthday #28: Blossom Dearie 1924-2009

April 28, 2013
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Blossom Dearie credit:   ITV / Rex Features

Blossom Dearie
credit: ITV / Rex Features

Blossom Dearie (her real name) had a something like a cult following in Paris, London and New York, and was known as a musician’s musician.  With a unique voice and equally unique piano style, she charmed audiences worldwide.

In the 1950s and 1960s she performed at jazz clubs, supper clubs and cabarets in Manhattan, on television on NBC’s Today show with David Garroway, and the Tonight Show with Jack Paar.  Her close friendships with songwriters Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg resulted in her definitive performances of witty songs like “I’m Hip,” “Peel Me a Grape,” and “Quality Time.”  In the 1980s she sang some memorable “Schoolhouse Rock” segments.

Blossom Dearie was the first recipient of the Mabel Mercer Foundation Award in 1983.

“I’m definitely a jazz musician, learning to be a jazz singer.”  –Blossom Dearie

Jazz April Birthday #27: Connie Kay 1927-1994

April 27, 2013
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Connie Kay credit:

Connie Kay

Best known for his work with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Conrad Kirnon was a master of coloration and swing.

As a teen-ager, he  performed at clubs in the Bronx. He played for comedians, singers, tap-dancers and chorus girls.

He was the  house drummer at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where be-bop was born.  He worked with swing era musicians, as well, and as house drummer at Atlantic Records he recorded with Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, and Joe Turner.

Connie joined the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1955, and maintained a busy freelance career, recording with Lucky Thompson, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Heath, Paul Desmond, Tommy Flanagan and Chet Baker.  Many people of a certain age recognize his name from Van Morrison recordings.

”A drummer is really a tap dancer.  ‘Like a tap dancer, a drummer fills openings in the music. A drummer is supposed to listen to what’s going on around him to enhance what the soloist is doing, to support him and to play things that fit the music.”  –Connie Kay, interview by Peter Watrous

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Jazz April Birthday #26: Teddy Edwards 1924-2003

April 26, 2013
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Teddy Edwards credit:

Teddy Edwards

Teddy Edwards was called “one of the crown jewels of Los Angeles’ Central Avenue jazz scene.”   He was one of the first to play full-blown bebop.

From Jackson, Mississippi, Edwards moved to Detroit in 1940, where he first picked up the alto sax. He worked with various touring bands in Michigan and Florida, and met trumpeter Howard McGhee, saxophonist Wardell Gray and bassist Al McKibbon.  After playing with R&B singer Roy Milton, he was invited to join McGhee’s band.

Teddy Edwards is widely credited with recording the first bop solo for tenor sax, on the recording  “Up in Dodo’s Room.  He influenced players as diverse as Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine and Joshua Redman.

“… I’ve always had my own sound on the alto and even on the tenor.  I think it’s just a matter of me doing it my way, the way I learned how to do it.  I never tried to copy Johnny Hodges or copy Willie Smith, but I loved those guys… but I didn’t sit down and say ‘I’m going to try to play like this.’  I never did.” –Teddy Edwards


Jazz Caliente celebrates Jazz April, part 2

April 25, 2013
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Mario Bauza  1911-1993 credit:

Mario Bauza 1911-1993

Jazz April birthday celebrations continue on Jazz Caliente:

April 28:  Saxophonist, trumpeter, composer and arranger Mario Bauza was a collaborator with Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo in the development of  “Cu-bop,” a blend of Afro-Cuban music and be-bop.  Bauza was also well known for his work with Machito and his Afro-Cubans, a ground-breaking orchestra that also fused jazz and Afro-Cuban dance rhythms.

Dave Valentin credit:

Dave Valentin

April 29:  A student of the great Hubert Laws, flutist Dave Valentin tells the story of taking up flute in order to impress a girl. The girl didn’t stick around, but the flute became his instrument of choice.  Aside from being a great performer and recording artist,  he has taught Latin Jazz to inner city kids through an after-school program called Change Through Music.   He was a full-time professor teaching Latin and music for several years.  Dave at one time had 5 cats, named Mambo, Cha-Cha, Bomba, Plena and Bolero.

Jazz April Birthday #25: Ella Fitzgerald 1917-1996

April 25, 2013
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English: Elia Fitzgerald in September 1947

Ella Fitzgerald, 1947

The “First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.

Ella won the Amateur Night competition at the famed Apollo Theatre in 1934, which led to her being hired by drummer and bandleader Chick Webb.  She took over the bandleader’s duties for a while after Webb died.  Her big hit came in 1938 with her recording of  “A Tisket A Tasket.”

An interesting story about Marilyn Monroe and Ella can be found at

“A lot of singers think all they have to do is exercise their tonsils to get ahead. They refuse to look for new ideas and new outlets, so they fall by the wayside… I’m going to try to find out the new ideas before the others do.”  — Ella Fitzgerald

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Jazz April Birthday #24: Joe Henderson 1937-2001

April 24, 2013
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Joe Henderson
credit: wikimedia commons

Influenced by Lester Young initially, then by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, Joe Henderson created his own unique sound.  After attending classes at Wayne State University with inspirational classmates such as Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris and Donald Byrd, Henderson was active on the Detroit jazz scene in the 1950s.

Part of Horace Silver’s Quintet for the recording Song for My Father, Henderson also recorded with Lee Morgan and McCoy Tyner.  One of the stable of Blue Note Records’ talented sidemen, he appeared on thirty albums from 1963 to 1968, five under his own name.  Leading his own bands for Milestone and Verve labels, he played everything from jazz/funk fusion to tributes to George Gershwin and Billy Strayhorn.  He was also a beloved teacher.

I’m in constant search of new information and ideas, and I want to make the best of this short time that we’re out here on this planet living this nebulous thing called life. And I want to plant a few trees along the way and nurture some minds and watch them grow, as people did for me.–Joe Henderson

Jazz Birthday #23: Alan Broadbent

April 23, 2013
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Alan Broadbent credit:

Alan Broadbent

New Zealand-born pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent is best known for his recordings with Natalie Cole and Charlie Haden’s Quartet West.

At the age of 19, Alan received a Downbeat Magazine scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1969 he joined join Woody Herman’s band as his pianist and arranger.

Broadbent is Diana Krall’s conductor for her occasional orchestra concerts and is the conductor on her “Live in Paris” DVD.  More recently, he wrote six string arrangements for Sir Paul McCartney’s “Kisses On The Bottom” with the London Symphony.

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    Robin’s Nest

    A blog about Jazz, Blues, Latin Jazz, New Orleans, musician's stories and more. My name is Robin Lloyd and I've been involved in jazz radio and the music business for over 30 years. This is my personal blog.

    Jazz April


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