FAMOUS RESIDENTS OF DAYS GONE BY

ART BLAKEY - DRUMMER

October 11, 1919 - 1990

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American jazz drummer and bandleader Arthur Blakey was born on October 11, 1919 in Pittsburgh, PA, and like many jazz musicians, learned the bible and piano in unison.  After three years touring with Fletcher Henderson, Blakey joined the great Billy Eckstine band and was introduced to the bebop style and such musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. From 1939 to 1944, Blakey played with fellow Pittsburgh native Mary Lou Williams and he toured with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra.  In 1947 Blakey took a trip to Africa, and chose to live there for 2 years, where he studied polyrhythmic drumming and Islam, taking the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina.

 

Arthur Blakey and Horace Silver joined together and formed the Jazz Messengers in the mid-1950s, a band drummer Blakey was associated with for the next 35 years. Though the band was formed as a collective of contemporaries, it became an incubator for young musical talent. The band’s first record, titled Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, produced their biggest hit “Moanin’” along with jazz classics “Blue’s March” and “Along Came Betty”.

In 1981, Blakey was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame followed by the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.  In 2005, he was the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  Blakey died at the age of 71 after an illustrious career in jazz music that spanned six decades. 

MARY GUNNING MAGUIRE COLUM - WRITER

June, 1887 - October 22, 1957

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Mary Colum was born Mary Gunning Maguire in June, 1887.  At the age of eighteen, she entered the National University of Ireland in Dublin where she studied literature and became fascinated with the Irish Literary Revival, alongside leading figures such as WB Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Russell (AE), Edward Martyn and Douglas Hyde.  Colum was a friend and colleague of Padraig Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Plunkett in the movement for national independence. She was also a committee member of the women’s organization founded in April 1914 that became Cumann na mBan, the Irish Republican women’s paramilitary organization. A founding member of The Irish Review, the major publication of Irish literature, art and science from 1911 to 1914, Colum earned the position and title of “critic in chief” after her piece on The Collected Works of John Synge was published in the inaugural issue.

 

After turning down the forceful advances and proposals from another suitor, she married her friend Padraic Colum in 1912.  In August of 1914, the couple took a trip to America; due to the political eruptions starting with the Easter Rising of 1916 and through Irish Civil War (ending in 1923) the couple never made Ireland their home again. Colum built her career and reputation in the United States based, in part, on her turn-of-the-century Dublin belief in cultural freedom.

Frequently cited as an authority on literature and criticism up until the early 1960s, Colum not only mixed with the important writers of her time but wrote extensively and intelligently about them. Colum covered a broad expanse of 20th-century literature in her reviews and criticism, writing essays on Yeats, Joyce, and Wylie as well as T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Rebecca West, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf. In November 1931, The English Journal named Mary Colum “the most brilliant of our women critics and one of the most scholarly and far-reaching critics in the United States”.  Her life’s story, Life and the Dream, published ten years before she died, was called “one of the most forthright and powerful proto-feminist autobiographies of the twentieth century”.  Mary Colum died on October 22, 1957.

PADRAIC COLUM WRITER

October 11, 1919 - 1990

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Born Patrick Collumb on December 8, 1881 Colum is from Longford, Ireland. The oldest of eight children, Colum was awarded a fellowship in the Irish Railway Clearing House at the age of 17 and worked there until 1903. During this time, he began writing and met famous Irish writers such as Lady Gregory and WB Yeats.  It was at the National Library of Ireland where Colum’s lifelong friendship with James Joyce began. A wealthy American, Thomas Kelly, awarded Colum a five-year scholarship to University College Dublin.

 

Colum wrote several plays including Fiddler’s House (formerly titled Broken Sail), The Land and Thomas Muskerry. He married Mary Gunning Maquire in 1912, another student at University College Dublin. In 1914, the couple made a trip to the United States. What was supposed to be a visit turned into eight years. It was in America that Colum started to write children’s stories, the first of which titled The King of Ireland’s Son (1916) was published in the New York Tribune. Three of his books were awarded citations for the Newberry Honor.  His financial stability came from a contract for children’s literature with Macmillan Publishers.

 

The couple spent 3 years in France, where Padraic renewed his friendship with James Joyce, then moved to New York City where he and his wife taught at Columbia University and at CCNY. Mary died in 1957, and one year later Our Friend James Joyce, a book on which Padraic and Mary collaborated, was published. In 1961 the Catholic Library Association awarded him the Regina Medal. A prolific author with 61 published books (not even counting his plays), Padraic Colum died in Connecticut at the age of 90.

MARION CUMBO CELLIST

March 1, 1899 - September 17, 1990

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Marion Cumbo, a cellist with the Negro String Quartet, was a leading figure in New York City’s musical life since the Harlem Renaissance. The Negro String Quartet performed in the early 20th century, mainly in churches, community organizations and college venues in New York City.  The high point of the group's existence came on November 27, 1925 when the Negro String Quartet appeared in concert at New York's Carnegie Hall with renowned singer Roland Hayes. New York Times music critic Olin Downes described the program of classical works and traditional Negro spirituals as coming together "in the presence of a common ideal of beauty," to which the audience "listened with unusual intentness and applauded with discriminating enthusiasm”. Cumbo played with the New York Chamber Orchestra, the Cosmopolitan Little Symphony, the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, and the Harlem Philharmonic Orchestra.  Marion was a member of the cello section of the Symphony of the New World, the first totally integrated professional symphony in the United States created 1965.

 

Born on March 1, 1899 and raised in New York City, he studied cello with Willem Willeke at the Institute of Musical Art. Marion married Clarissa Burton, who was born in Roseau, Dominica (British West Indies). Clarissa and Marion founded Triad Presentations in 1970, a nonprofit organization that promotes and encourages black artists by presenting them in community concerts.  Clarissa died in 1988; two years later, on September 17, 1990 Marion Cumbo died at the age of 91.

 

The following link from 1978 features a story about the Cumbos from the Black Music Research Newsletter.  The interview took place in their apartment at 415CPW:

http://collections.carli.illinois.edu/utils/getfile/collection/col_bmrnews/id/73/filename/65.pdf 

YIP HARBURG - LYRICIST

April 8, 1898 - March 5, 1981

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American composer Edgar Yipsel “Yip” Harburg, was born on April 8, 1898 on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan to Yiddish speaking, Russian Orthodox Jews. After World War I, Harburg attended City College of New York with his good friend Ira Gershwin. In 1929, his electrical contracting business went bankrupt, a casualty of the Wall Street crash and the Depression. Harburg turned all of his energy to songwriting.  Thanks to an introduction by his friend Gershwin, Harburg and musician Jay Gorney wrote “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” (for the 1932 revue Americana) which quickly became the anthem for the Great Depression. Harburg and Gorney were offered a contract with Paramount and moved to Hollywood where he wrote the lyrics for a series of musicals including The Wizard of Oz for which he won an Academy Award.  A master lyricist, poet and book writer, Harburg was known for the social commentary of his lyrics as well as his liberal sensibilities. A member of several radical organizations and the Socialist party, Harburg’s name was listed in Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.  Blacklisted in Hollywood for 12 years, Harburg returned to New York to write lyrics for Broadway shows. A master lyricist, poet and book writer, he wrote the words to over 600 songs.  Yip Harburg died in Los Angeles on March 5, 1981 in a car crash.

ELVIN JONES - DRUMMER

September 9, 1927 - May 18, 2004

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“When I was a young man, my parents and their peers had ways of encouraging the young people, and there was an expression they would use: Tell your story.”

American jazz drummer of the post bop era, Elvin Ray Jones was born on September 9, 1927 in Pontiac, Michigan. The youngest child in a family of ten, Jones started showing an interest for drumming at the age of two. In high school, Jones joined the black marching band to learn the rudiments of drumming.  He served in the United States Army from 1946 to 1949 and played drums professionally with the Army Special Services program and Operation Happiness.  After his discharge in 1949, Jones used his mustering-out pay and an additional $35 he borrowed from his sister to buy his first drum set.

In 1949, he played in a band led by Billy Mitchell in Detroit's Grand River Street club. Eventually he went on to play with artists such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Wardell Gray. In 1955, after a failed audition for the Benny Goodman band, he found work in New York, joining Charles Mingus's band, and releasing a record called J is for Jazz.

 

In 1960, he joined the John Coltrane Quartet, a band that is widely considered to have redefined swing. Playing with bassist Jimmy Garrison and pianist McCoy Tyner, Jones became a prominent contributor to jazz drumming with masterfully constructed solos and evolving patterns.

 

After six years with Coltrane, Jones led some highly influential bands. Perhaps the most notable was a trio with saxophonist Joe Farrell and bassist Jimmy Garrison (from John Coltrane Quartet) with whom Jones recorded the album “Puttin’ It Together” for Blue Note.  Jones recorded extensively for Blue Note under his own name in the late sixties and early seventies, with groups that featured prominent as well as up and coming greats.  In the 1990s, Elvin performed and recorded with his own band, The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine.

 

Life Magazine called Jones “the world's greatest rhythmic drummer", his free-flowing style a major influence on many leading drummers such as Ginger Baker, Janet Weiss and Mitch Mitchell.  He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1995.  On May 18, 2004, Elvin Jones died of heart failure in Englewood, New Jersey.

ABBEY LINCOLN - SINGER/SONGWRITER

August 6, 1930 - August 14, 2010

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Born Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, Lincoln grew up in Michigan on a large farm with her eleven siblings. Lincoln‘s interest in music started at an early age and she started singing in school and in church.  To escape the harsh Michigan winters, Lincoln moved to California where she met lyricist Bob Russell, who became her manager . . . . and renamed her Abbey Lincoln.

 

Lincoln’s voice evoked life’s joys and life’s pains; her versatility and depth of emotion elevated her above the rest and she successfully carved her name as a singer, songwriter, and storyteller.

While performing at the intimate supper club, Village Vanguard, Lincoln met drummer/composer/bebop innovator Max Roach. They began collaborating during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Abbey and Max Roach were married from 1962 through 1970. It was Roach who introduced her to New York City's jazz elite and also played a major role in Lincoln becoming a socio-political artist and activist.

In addition to her growing career in music, Lincoln found success in acting, starting with her 1956 role singing in The Girl Can't Help It, wearing a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. Throughout the late sixties and seventies, Lincoln appeared in episodes of television dramas and sitcoms.  In 1968 she returned to film and co-starred with Sidney Poitier and Beau Bridges in

For Love of Ivy for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.

 

From the 1990s and until her death, Lincoln fulfilled a 10-album contract with Verve Records. These albums represent a crowning achievement in Lincoln's career. The "World Is Falling Down", released in 1990, propelled Lincoln back to stardom. In 2003, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award.  Abbey Lincoln died on August 14, 2010 in Manhattan, eight days after her 80th birthday.

DWIKE  MITCHELL - JAZZ PIANIST

February 14, 1930 - April 7, 2013

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Dwike Mitchell (Ivory Mitchell Jr.) was born on February 14, 1930 in Dunedin, Florida, a small city on the Gulf of Mexico. An only child, Mitchell started teaching himself chords on a used piano his father picked up on his garbage route. Mitchell attended Chase Memorial Elementary School, a school for black students. He had fond memories of school, possibly because of Mrs. Whitehead, one of his teachers who played the piano and taught him how to read music.  Wanting a name that did not sound like a gimmick for a piano player, his mother came up with Dwike (a combination of several family names). 

In 1946, Mitchell joined the US Army and was stationed at Lockbourne Airforce Base, an all-black facility known for its excellent music program, particularly its concert band and the legendary bandmaster John Brice. While in the Army, he was introduced to the music of Russian composer Rachmaninoff and also learned how to play concerto scores. After his service, Mitchell attended the Philadelphia Musical Academy. In 1954, Mitchell reunited with his army buddy Willie Ruff, a bassist and French horn player, and the two became members of Lionel Hampton’s band. They left the orchestra in 1955, and the Mitchell-Ruff Duo began opening for major acts like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. They were not embraced by jazz critics, who considered their classical training a detriment. It was their academic backgrounds that catapulted them into world fame, when the Mitchell-Ruff Duo accompanied the Yale Russian Choir on a 1959 visit to the Soviet Union. The duo performed an impromptu concert at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, hailed by Time magazine as the first unofficial concert by US jazz musicians in the Soviet Union.  In 1981, the duo demonstrated jazz techniques at conservatories in Shanghai and Beijing. Headlines called it the first jazz performance in China after the Cultural Revolution.

 

The Mitchell-Ruff Duo gave thousands of concerts at schools and colleges and in foreign countries where jazz was taboo. Ruff, who became Mitchell’s lifelong musical partner, told the Tampa Bay Times "(Lionel) Hampton became the first in a long line of legendary jazzmen … who became devout admirers of Mitchell's awesome technique, his stunning harmonies and his boundless range. He is a pianist who can do it all. Relatively unknown to the public, he is a giant to his peers."

 

Throughout his time playing with Ruff, Mitchell maintained a New York City residence and taught piano there. In 2012, Mitchell returned to Florida. On April 7, 2013 he died from pancreatic illness.

MAX ROACH - JAZZ DRUMMER

January 10, 1924 - August 16, 2007

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An American jazz drummer and composer, Maxwell Lemuel Roach was born January 10, 1924 in Newland, North Carolina. When he was four, his family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Gospel music was quite prominent in his home; his mother was a gospel singer and at ten years of age, Roach began drumming in a gospel ensemble. After graduating from The Boys School, he was called to fill in for Sonny Greer in the Duke Ellington Orchestra playing at the Paramount Theatre. His first professional recording took place in December 1943, supporting Coleman Hawkins.

 

From 1950 to 1953, he gained his formal music education at the Manhattan School of Music. He became house drummer at Monroe's Uptown House, where he interacted and played with some of the giants of the bebop era. In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records with bassist Charles Mingus

 

One of the two leading drummers of the bebop era, Roach was also one of the leading musicians, composers, and bandleaders in jazz. Roach participated in recordings by Parker’s quintet in 1947–48 and in the Miles Davis sessions that were later collected in the album "Birth of the Cool" (1957). In 1954 he became co-leader of a quintet with trumpeter Clifford Brown. Roach and Kenny Clarke devised a new concept of musical timing, playing the beat-by-beat pulse of standard 4/4 time on the ride cymbal instead of on the bass drum. The two drummers developed a flexible and flowing rhythmic pattern that allowed soloists to play freely, a pattern that gave a drummer the ability to insert dramatic accents on the snare drumcrash cymbal, and other components of the drum set.

 

Ken Micallef of Modern Drummer wrote: “Max Roach brought jazz drumming into the modern age. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell revolutionized jazz with new melodies and concepts; Max matched these musical geniuses with startling rhythms and reactive, action-packed drumming that still influences drummers on a profound level today.”

 

In the late 1950s, Roach added political commentary to his recordings, starting with "Deeds Not Words", followed by "We Insist! Freedom Now Suite" in 1960. The work’s theme of racial equality reflected Roach’s political activism. In the early 1970s he established an all-percussion ensemble, M’Boom, and from 1972 through the 1990s, he brought jazz education to students at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst.  In the 80s and 90s, Roach embarked on solo concerts, demonstrating that his multi-percussion instrument could satisfy audiences. Roach also started a series of improvisation duet recordings and wrote the music for theatrical productions.

 

Jazz historian Burt Korall wrote “When Max Roach's first records with Charlie Parker were released by Savoy in 1945, drummers experienced awe and puzzlement and even fear." Stan Levey, one of those drummers said of Roach "I came to realize that, because of him, drumming no longer was just time, it was music.”

Max Roach was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1992.  He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 1990 from Manhattan School of Music and was inducted into the North Carolina Hall of Fame in 2009. Max Roach died on August 16, 2007.

TEDDY WILSON - JAZZ PIANIST

November 24, 1912 - July 31, 1986

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Theodore Shaw Wilson was born in Austin, Texas on November 24, 1912. His parents moved him and his brother to Alabama six years later and his parents secured employment at the Tuskegee Institute. Wilson learned piano in grade school, and in high school he played with a dance band and also learned the oboe, clarinet and violin. He received a year of classical music training at Talladega College in Alabama.

 

In 1929, 17-year-old Wilson left home to become a professional musician in Detroit. That same year Wilson heard 19-year-old Art Tatum who was filling in at a Detroit club. In an interview with Jazz Profiles, he said of Tatum “He was a phenomenon. He brought an almost unbelievable degree of intense concentration to the piano, and he had a keyboard command that I have heard with no other jazz pianist and with very few classical pianists….” 

 

After working in Speed Webb's band (with Louis Armstrong), Wilson joined Benny Carter's Chocolate Dandies in 1933 and the Benny Goodman Trio in 1935 making Wilson one of the first black musicians to be a prominent performer in a racially integrated group.  Wilson formed his own short-lived big band in 1939 then led a sextet at Café Society from 1940 to 1944. As a result of his support for left-wing causes, Wilson was dubbed “Marxist Mozart:” by Howard “Stretch” Johnson. Wilson also performed in benefit concerts for The New Masses journal and for Russian War Relief, and he chaired the Artists' Committee to elect Benjamin J. Davis, a New York City council member running on the Communist Party USA ballot.

 

A follower of Earl Hines' distinctive "trumpet-style" piano playing, Teddy Wilson was lauded as one of the swing era's finest pianists. From the influence of Hines, Art Tatum and Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson developed his own unique approach and was considered an orchestral pianist who engaged the complete range of the keyboard in a slightly restrained, wholly dignified manner.  Wilson’s sophisticated and elegant style led critic Scott Yanow to describe him as "the definitive swing pianist".

 

In 1936, Wilson became a part of the Benny Goodman trio, the first African- American musician to work with one of the first bandleaders to integrate a jazz band. Wilson later appeared as himself in the cinematic treatment of The Benny Goodman Story. After a long illness, Teddy Wilson died in New Britain, Connecticut, on July 31, 1986.  He was 73 years old.

Credits: NPR, Wikipedia, Modern Drummer, artblakey.com, marycolum.com, yipharburg.com, poemhunter.com, wusf.org, New York Times, Tampa Bay Times, ‘‘Mitchell & Ruff: An American Profile in Jazz’’, Encyclopedia Britannica, Playbill, National Endowments for the Arts, Jazz Profiles, Downbeat Magazine (January 22, 1959)