Turkey Day has just passed and Christmas is just around the corner. It's that time of year again to remember and thank the important people in our lives! This year I want to shout-out some historical thanks to a few jazz and blues people who've helped to make my life pretty cool.
I want to thank:
Perry Bradford a black composer, publisher, agent and bandleader for hustling his ass off in spite of death threats to persuade the Okeh Phonograph Corporation to record a black singer named Mamie Smith in 1920. Mamie recorded one of Bradford's tunes called "Crazy Blues" which became an instant hit and opened the eyes of record companies to finally start recording black artists.
Joe and Iggy Termini owners of the old Five Spot Café in New York who in November of 1959 were smart enough to bring in Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden from California for a two and a half month engagement. Ornette's first Five Spot gig created such a stir that almost every musician and artist in New York showed up and turned the music scene completely upside down. His revolutionary style of improvisation pointed to a new way in music and went on to influence many great artists from John Coltrane to Sonny Rollins to Charles Mingus to Leonard Bernstein to Jackson Pollack.
Billy Strayhorn, Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster for joining Duke Ellington's band in 1939 and inspiring Duke with their genius to write some of his greatest compositions including Warm Valley, Jack the Bear, Ko-Ko, In a Mellotone, Cottontail, Harlem Airshaft, I Got It Bad and many others.
Charlie Patton and Son House two of the greatest blues singers and guitarists from the early 1900's who were the fathers of the Delta blues. They influenced so many musicians the list would go on for days including Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Stones …(They both recorded in the 1920's - House again in the 60's).
Lil Hardin powerful and assertive wife of Louis Armstrong who pushed Louis to get out from under the shadow of King Oliver and develop a name for himself by recording with his own band. Her encouragement helped to give us some of the greatest recordings in jazz, the Hot Fives and the Hot Sevens of 1925 - 1928, which have inspired every musician that's ever heard them.
Saxophonist Ike Quebec who in 1947 brought Thelonious Monk to the attention of Alfred Lion head of Blue Note Records. The incredible music that Monk recorded for Blue Note established him as one of the most important composers and unique improvisers in jazz. (He had the coolest clothes, hats and glasses too!)
Alan Lomax folk music researcher of the Library of Congress for discovering Muddy Waters in the Mississippi Delta driving a tractor and recording him and his guitar right there in the field. After hearing his own talents for the first time Muddy was inspired to move to Chicago where he became the Art Blakey of the blues - all the great blues players came through his band.
Mary Lou Williams the great pianist for having a 24 hour a day open door policy that allowed pianists like Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Phineas Newborn, Bud Powell, Elmo Hope, Billy Taylor, Thelonious Monk and countless others to meet, practice and compose on her piano in her Harlem apartment. Many incredible ideas were exchanged at her 'jazz salon' in the wee small hours of the morning. Can you imagine all these people in one room?
Composer George Russell for writing his "Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization" in 1953 which describes how to use modes for improvisation and composition. Russell began using modes as early as 1947 with a piece he arranged for Dizzy Gillespie entitled "Cubana Be". Russell's ideas were a great influence on brilliant pianist Bill Evans and of course it was Miles Davis who popularized the use of modes by using Russell's ideas for the famous "Kind of Blue" album in 1959, which used modes as its foundation.
Duke Ellington for being one of the first jazz musicians to start his own publishing company (Tempo Music - 1940) as well as his own record company (Mercer - 1950) to publish and record his own music unwanted by the big labels. He pointed the way for others like the Debut label of Charles Mingus and Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie's Dee Gee label and Lennie Tristano's Jazz Records label as well as for all of us trying to be independent creators of music in this world of conglomerate owned music.
The mothers of Bird, Miles and Trane of course!