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Archive for the ‘Jazz’ Category

RIP, Bob Flanigan (May 15, 2011) Lead Singer of The Four Freshmen

Posted by on May 15, 2011

Bob Flanigan
August 22, 1926 – May 15, 2011

Bob Flanigan was the founder and lead singer of influential jazz vocal group, the Four Freshmen.  Formed in 1948 while they were still students at Butler University, the group went on to release numerous hit records and perform in front of sold-out audiences the world over.  They would be cited as direct influences on the likes of the Manhattan Transfer, the Lettermen, and most notably, Brian Wilson who often gave credit to the group’s vocal harmonies for guiding his vision of the Beach Boys sound.  It was Flanigan’s distinctive high pitch that could be heard above the others on most of the group’s recordings.  He was also an accomplished trombonist and bass guitarist, in fact all the original members played instruments,  which separated them from other vocal groups of the era.  Upon retiring in 1992, Flanigan retained the rights to the group’s name and was involved in selecting new members.  Bob Flanigan was 84 when he died of congestive heart failure on May 15, 2011.

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RIP, Cornell Dupree (May 8, 2011) Jazz and R&B Guitar Great

Posted by on May 8, 2011

Cornell Dupree
December 19, 1942 – May 8, 2011

Cornell Dupree was a respected jazz and R&B guitarist who, over the course of his career, played on records by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Joe Cocker, and Brook Benton.  In his early years, Dupree could be found playing in the legendary Atlantic Records house band, with whom he played on such iconic records as Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia,” and Franklin’s “Respect” on which he provided the instantly recognizable opening guitar riff.  He was also a founding member of the much respected jazz funk combo, Stuff.  Dupree also released several of his own albums throughout the years, his most popular being 1994’s Bop ‘n’ Blues.  Cornell Dupree had been suffering from emphysema and had been waiting for a lung transplant when he passed away on May 8, 2011.  He was 68.

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RIP, Odell Brown (May 3, 2011) Jazz Musician; Wrote Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”

Posted by on May 3, 2011

Odell Brown Jr.
1938 – May 3, 2011

Odell Brown was a jazz organist who is best remembered for penning the Marvin Gaye hit, “Sexual Healing.”  Brown was just 4 years old when he began playing the keyboards – mostly old classical pieces – until he found his groove with jazz.  By the mid ’60s, he had settled in Chicago where he formed Odell Brown & the Organizers which was touted by no less than Billboard magazine as the Best New Group in 1966.  He built a sizable following during the late ’60s and early ’70s for his live performances at which he played what could be classified as soul-jazz or jazz-funk.   One such audience member was Gaye who couldn’t get one of his numbers out of his head, so he put some words to it, and “Sexual Healing” was born.  Released in 1982, the single was a Top 5 hit around the world and has since been covered by the likes of Michael Bolton, Phish, Soul Asylum, and Sarah Connor.  Sadly however, Brown was bottoming out at the time – he watched his song win a Grammy at a Skid Row bar in Los Angeles.   He eventually got his life and career back on track and moved to the Minneapolis area where he continued to record and perform.  Over the course of his career, Brown worked with Johnny Nash, Minnie Riperton, and Curtis Mayfield.  Odell Brown was 70 when he passed away on May 3, 2011.  Cause of death was not immediately released.

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RIP, Billy Bang (April 11, 2011) Jazz Violinist

Posted by on April 11, 2011

Billy Bang (Born William Walker)
September 20, 1947 – April 11, 2011

Billy Bang was a respected jazz violinist and Vietnam vet who has been recognized as a driving force of New York City’s experimental jazz movement of the 1970s.  Bang picked up the violin while still in school, but only because he was assigned the smaller instrument due to his smallish stature.  Bang ultimately left high school early and was drafted by the US Army just in time to serve a tour of combat duty during the Tet Offensive.  Upon his return home, Bang, like so many others like him, had a hard time adjusting to civilian life, so he became politically active and began working with an group of underground revolutionaries.  While on an outing to gather weapons at a pawnshop, Bang couldn’t help but notice the violins hanging on a wall, so he bought one and changed his life path.  Bang eventually found himself playing in Sun Ra’s band and later, formed his own.  Over the course of his career, Bang released several influential albums including two that were directly influenced by his time in Vietnam, Vietnam: The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections.  On April 11, 2011, Billy Bang died following a battle with lung cancer.  He was 63.

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RIP, Melvin Sparks (March 13, 2011) Respected Soul-Jazz Guitarist

Posted by on March 13, 2011

Melvin Sparks
March 22, 1946 – March 13, 2011

Melvin Sparks was a brilliant electric guitarist who made a name for himself on countless jazz and soul-jazz recordings as a session player and a band leader.  Born into a musical family, Sparks picked up the guitar at just eleven years old.  By the time he was in high school, he was playing behind Hank Ballard, and within a few years, he was in a touring band called the Upsetters who backed Little Richard, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Jackie Wilson.  He went on to become a session player for Blue Note and Prestige, playing on records by the likes of Lou Donaldson, Jimmy McGriff, and Hank Crawford.  In the 90s, he played with Soulive and Galactic during the acid jazz revival.  Melvin Sparks was 64 when he passed away on March 13, 2011.  It has been reported that diabetes and high blood pressure was to blame.

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RIP, Joe Morello (March 12, 2011) Jazz Drummer For Dave Brubeck

Posted by on March 12, 2011

Joe Morello
July 17, 1928 – March 12, 2011

Joe Morello was a world renowned jazz drummer who is perhaps best remembered for his 12-year run with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Born in Springfield, Massachusetts,  Morello had a birth defect that partially impaired his vision, so he tended to spend much of his free time participating in indoor activities .  He took up the violin first and soon found himself as a featured soloist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  At the age of 15, he switched over to the drums and eventually moved to New York City to further his career.  It was there he began playing with the likes of Stan Kenton, Art Pepper, and Brubeck to name a few.  He actually declined offers to play with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.  Over a career that spanned over 50 years, Morello played on at least 120 albums, 60 of those being Brubeck’s.  He also wrote several instruction books and became a highly regarded instructor – Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen and Conan O’Brien fame was one of his many successful students.  Joe Morello was 82 when he passed away in his home.

You can learn more about Joe Morello by watching THIS INTERVIEW for the National Association of Music Merchants.

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RIP, Hugh Martin (March 11, 2011) Wrote “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Posted by on March 11, 2011

Hugh Martin
August 11, 1914 – March 11, 2011

Hugh Martin was a highly successful American theatrical and film composer and arranger.   Over the course of a career that spanned some 60 years, Martin wrote the music and in some cases the lyrics for such musicals as Make A Wish, High Spirits, and his most celebrated, Meet Me In St. Louis, in which Judy Garland sang his  “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  He also worked as a vocal arranger on Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Sugar Babies, and Top Banana to name a few.  His film credits include Athena, The Girl Most Likely, and Best Foot Forward.  Hugh Martin was 96 when he passed away on March 11, 2011.

You can learn more about Hugh Martin by watching THIS INTERVIEW for the National Association of Music Merchants.

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RIP, George Shearing (February 14, 2011) Popular Jazz Pianist and Composer

Posted by on February 14, 2011

George Shearing
August 13, 1919 – February 14, 2011

George Shearing was a popular and influential jazz pianist and composer who could claim over 300 pieces as his own.  Born blind in London, Shearing spent his early professional career playing in an all-blind band – he started playing the piano at just three years old.  During his late 20s, Shearing moved to the United States where he continued to master his complex style of swing, bop and bebop.  In 1949, he formed the George Shearing Quintet and went on to record for such labels as Verve, Capitol, and MGM.  His hits included “Lullaby Of Birdland” and “September In The Rain.”    Over the years he’s collaborated with the likes of Oscar Pettiford, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Mel Torme.  In 2007, he was knighted – Officer of the Order of the British Empire – for his contributions to music.  George Shearing died of heart failure on February 14, 2011.  He was 91.

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RIP, Billy Taylor (December 28, 2010) Respected Jazz Pianist

Posted by on December 28, 2010

Billy Taylor
July 24, 1921 – December 28, 2010

Billy Taylor was a highly respected jazz pianist, composer, and educator whose career spanned the better part of seven decades.  A disciple of Art Tatum, Taylor began playing professionally in 1944, first as part of Ben Webster’s group, and eventually as the house pianist of the Birdland club.  During those early years, he collaborated with the likes of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie.   As one of jazz’s greatest ambassadors, Taylor devoted much of his time to ensure that the music be shared with new generations of fans through his teachings as well as on television and radio.  Many Americans may remember him from his 250+ interviews he conducted for CBS News Sunday Morning.  He has been awarded a Grammy, an Emmy, a Peabody, an NEA Jazz Masters Award and the National Medal of Arts, to name just a few.  Billy Taylor was 89 when he died of heart failure on December 28, 2010.

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RIP, Rory J. Thomas (December 27, 2010) Respected Australian Jazz Musician

Posted by on December 27, 2010

Rory J. Thomas
November 13, 1942 – December 27, 2010

Photo By Gene Ramirez

Rory J. Thomas was, among many other things, a gifted Australian jazz musician, conductor, and film documenatarian.  Thomas was just five years old when he first took up the piano, and by the time he was a young adult, he had played in such popular local bands as the Questions and Doug Parkinson in Focus.   After graduating college in Sydney, Thomas received a scholarship to the world renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.  While there, he found work as a late night disc jockey and field reporter for a local radio station.  One of his assignments was to cover the historic Woodstock music festival in 1969.  That was followed by music festivals across Europe during breaks from his studies.   He was also involved in the musical arrangements for the original Broadway production of Godspell and was later invited to be the musical director of the Australian production of the show.  During the ’80s, Thomas launched a long and respected career as a music educator in Australia, the U.S., and France.  During the final years of his life, Thomas was still teaching at times over 12 hours a day, all while undergoing chemotherapy.  He was awarded many honors over his long career, including being knighted by the French government in 2009, the first time that honor has ever been handed to an Australian jazz musician.  Rory J. Thomas, 68, died on December 27, 2010 following a 7-year battle with cancer.

Thanks to Anne Bentley for the help

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