Excerpted from Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey Ward
Johnson was back in Chicago in the summer of 1934, appearing in Dave Barry’s Garden of Champions, a sort of sideshow at the Century of Progress International Exposition organized by a veteran referee to compete with such attractions as the Midget Village, Sally Rand’s Balloon Dance, and the Aunt Jemima Cabin. For a dollar, children could throw punches at Jack Johnson while he ducked and laughed and popped his eyes. One evening, he fought an exhibition there against Tom Sharkey, whose sparring partner he had briefly been back in 1901. It was supposed to be a nonviolent sparring session, […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Myself Among Others: A Life in Music by George Wein
Nineteen fifty-six was the Newport debut of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. I had struck an agreement with Irving Townsend, Columbia Records’s A&R man, earlier in the year. It would be good publicity to have some recordings from Newport. Our arrangement seemed like a good deal: for each artist recorded, the record company was to pay us an amount equal to that artist’s performance fee. As it turned out, it was a terrible deal, because the record company got exclusive rights and all of the royalties.
Columbia recorded the equivalent of four LPs during the 1956 festival:
[…] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Queen : The Life and Music of Dinah Washington by Nadine Cohodas
As Ruth was settling into the Garrick, Lionel Hampton and his sixteen-piece band were getting ready for a weeklong stay at the Regal that would include a gala Christmas and New Year’s performance with Billie Holiday. It was a heady time for a group that was barely two years old and was riding a wave of ecstatic reviews and sold-out houses. The band had recently made its first recording for Decca.
“Hamp,” as he was universally known, was a consummate showman, a fireplug of energy who inspired his bandmates and thrilled his audiences.
[…] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Lush Life : A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu
Shortly after midnight on December 1, 1938, George Greenlee nodded and back-patted his way through the ground-floor Rumpus Room of Crawford Grill One (running from Townsend Street to Fullerton Avenue on Wylie Avenue, the place was nearly a block long) and headed up the stairs at the center of the club. He passed the second floor, which was the main floor, where bands played on a revolving stage facing an elongated glass-topped bar and Ray Wood, now a hustling photographer, offered to take pictures of the patrons for fifty cents. Greenlee hit the third floor, the Club Crawford (insiders only), and spotted his uncle with Duke Ellington, who was engaged to begin a week-long run at the Stanley Theatre the following day. […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker by James Gavin
On August 12, the (Baker) quartet made its earliest known live appearance in a concert at LA’s Carlton Theater. But not everybody trusted Baker to stand on his own. With (Gerry) Mulligan in jail, John Bennett had paired Baker with Stan Getz, another baby-faced wunderkind whose feathery, cascading solos, even more detached than Baker’s, had made him a fellow prince of West Coast cool. Getz had won the 1952 tenor polls in Down Beat and Metronome by a landslide, while Baker still ranked low in the trumpet categories. The two addressed each other politely enough, but they loathed each other almost on sight, as their live duo recordings suggest: […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Giant by John Chilton
The booking at the Capitol was extended into 1941, but Roy’s long term prospects looked no better than they had a year earlier. However, Roy’s old friend drummer Gene Krupa was about to offer him a life-changing opportunity. Krupa had finished his stint with Benny Godman almost three years earlier and was now one of the foremost bandleaders of the era. Krupa’s Band played at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago during late 1940 and Gene often visited the Capitol (with his wife Ethel and manager Frank Verniere) after he’d finished his sets. Sometimes Roy went off with Gene to find a nightspot on the South Side where they could jam and eat ribs. During this Chicago stay Roy, as ever, was always game for an “after-work” blow, […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins
To hip musicians in Chicago, scat had been the rage for months. Bing and some of the other adventurous musicians in Whiteman’s band heard it that very week from the master himself, Louis Armstrong. If mobster Al Capone ruled the city, Armstrong ruled its music. Whatever he played was instantly picked up by other musicians. The previous spring Okeh issued his Hot Five recording of “Heebie Jeebies,” and it caused a sensation, selling some 40,000 copies thanks to his inspired vocal chorus – a torrent of bristling grunts and groans in no known language. […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway, by Frederick Nolan
A few days later, (Philip) Leavitt took young Richard Rodgers around to the Hart house. Larry Hart met them at the door. They were a study in opposites. Dick was fresh, tanned, athletic, handsome, a high school champion swimmer and tennis player. Larry was unshaven — according to Rodgers, Hart invariably looked like he needed a shave every five minutes after he’d had one — and wearing a bathrobe over an evening shirt and trousers, with carpet slippers on his feet. He was already talking — and doubtless puffing a cigar and rubbing his hands together as he invariably did — as his visitors climbed the steps, […] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Bright Moments: The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, by John Kruth
(Mark) Davis then sent the Ed Sullivan show a letter warning them that they were next. With its live audience and numerous commercials, the Jazz & People’s Movement would surely throw the show off its tight schedule. Sullivan’s people thought it over and decided it was best to make peace with the J&PM rather than risk a disruption of their show. “I brought the talent coordinator of The Ed Sullivan Show to see Rahsaan and he really dug his version of “My Cherie Amour,'” Mark continued.
[…] Continue reading »
Excerpted from Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester “Pres” Young, by Douglas Henry Daniels
(Lester) Young earned recognition for being not only a stylist but a saxophone “freak” – not a pejorative term at all but rather a comment on his unparalleled virtuosity. He “could make a note anywhere” on his instrument. Certain notes were usually produced by depressing specific keys or combinations of keys on the saxophone (or valves on the trumpet and cornet), but “freaks” found ways to defy convention and orthodoxy by means of “false fingerings” and adjustments of the mouth and lips, or embouchure. The trombonist-guitarist Eddie Durham explained that “Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry and those guys, they fingered it correctly with what they were doing.
[…] Continue reading »