I have yet to introduce myself musically, but I plan to do so in the near future. I am primarily a jazz-lover so I will initially do a blog on jazz. I will begin buy introducing a short-list of who I feel are the greatest jazz pioneers. I will follow with a detailed write-up on each of them.


Note: The first ten I have selected I have chosen simply on the basis of influence, innovation and historical significance.  These ten artists propelled jazz music into a new sphere, either stylistically, conceptually or in terms of the role and perception of the jazz musician.


1. Dizzy Gillespie







 John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was a whirlwind in the front of jazz. He played the trumpet with the explosiveness and uninhibited style of Louis Armstrong but carried the art form a step further. He pioneered be-bop which utilized tighter harmonies and rhythms that broke away from the early Chicago syncopation. Many performances featured soloists, such as himself and Charlie Parker, who totally re-wrote melodies with elaborate high speed solos, sometimes in a dialogue format, and other times as a duet, somehow managing to interweave a palatable discourse without playing similarly. On top of that, Gillespie was a showman, who led his orchestra with enthusiasm and on-stage highjinks. A brilliant sense of humour always coloured his style. Songs such as "You Stole My Wife...You Horsethief'" exemplified this. His dynamic style helped sell a new musical style that was not easily accepted by ears used to hearing swing bands. As he evolved he brought along with him a new breed of musician which led to much experimentation and new forms of jazz, much coming from the west coast as well as more eclectic sounds coming from New York. It could be considered the "Romanticism" of jazz, which was followed by artists like Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, Jerry Mulligan and the legendary Miles Davis. These artists used the the new form, but more stoically. 


2. Miles Davis






Miles Davis was one of the greatest visionaries and most important figures in jazz history.  He was born in a well-to-do family in East St. Louis.  He became a local phenom and toured locally with Billy Eckstine's band while he was in high school.  He moved to New York under the guise of attending the Julliard School of Music.  However, his real intentions were to hook up with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.  He quickly climbed up the ranks while learning from Bird and Diz and became the trumpet player for Charlie Parker's group for nearly 3 years.  His first attempt at leading a group came in 1949 and was the first of many occurrences in which he would take jazz in a new direction.  Along with arranger Gil Evans, he created a nonet (9 members) that used non-traditional instruments in a jazz setting, such as French horn and Tuba.  He invented a more subtle, yet still challenging style that became known as "cool jazz."  This style influenced a large group of musicians who played primarily on the west coast and further explored this style.  The recordings of the nonet were packaged by Capitol records and released under the name The Birth of the Cool.   The group featured Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, and Max Roach, among others. This was one of the first instances in which Miles demonstrated a recurring move that angered some:  he brought in musicians regardless of race. He once said he'd give a guy with green skin and "polka-dotted breath" a job, as long as they could play sax as well as Lee Konitz.  After spending 4 years fighting a heroin addiction, he conquered it, inspired by the discipline of the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.

        After a triumphant performance of Thelonious Monk's classic 'Round Midnight at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival, Miles became a hot commodity.  He put together a permanent quintet that featured John Coltrane, Red Garland, "Philly Joe" Jones, and Paul Chambers.  Miles had a gift for hearing the music in his head, and putting together a band of incredible musicians whose contrasting styles could result in meeting the end result he was looking for.  He later added a 6th member, Cannonball Adderly and replaced Jones and Garland with Jimmy Cobb and Bill Evans.  In the late 50s, his groups popularized modal jazz and changed the direction of jazz again.  He made 2 more classics with the Sextet during this time, Milestones and Kind of Blue.  After this time, most of his group left to form their own groups.  This was a constant during Miles' career--he brought in the best up-and-coming musicians and after playing in his band and getting established, they formed their own groups.  Among the bandleaders to have come from Miles band include:  John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Red Garland, "Philly" Jo Jones, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, (Shorter and Zawinul would go on to form the fusion group Weather Report) Keith Jarrett, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, John McGlaughlinChick Corea, John Scofield, Kenny Garrett, Mike Stern, and Bob Berg.

         During this time, Miles and Gil Evans collaborated again and made another unique record, Sketches of Spain, in which Miles plays Spanish Flamenco music backed by an orchestra.  His tone is so beautiful and clear, it almost sounds like his trumpet is singing.  After experimenting with different groups for 3 years, Miles, who was in his late 30s (old by jazz standards), fused his group with young players in order to bring in fresh ideas.  In 1963, he put together his 2nd legendary quintet:  Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and 16 year old drumming protege Tony Williams.  For 5 years, this group pushed the limits of freedom and made some fiery jazz!  In 1968, Miles brought in Joe Zawinul as a 2nd keyboardist and around this time, started experimenting with electric instruments.  He made the classic In a Silent Way and a year later, he added British guitarist John McGloughlin and replaced Tony Williams (who left to form his own band) with Jack DeJohnette, and he took jazz in yet a whole new direction with the record Bitches Brew, in which he fused Rock Music with jazz and went heavily into electric music.  This record fired the first shot in the fusion revolution which took jazz to a whole new level of popularity.

        In the early 1970s, Miles kept experimenting with the electric instruments and fusing more funk into his music.  In 1976, a combination of bad health, cocaine use, and lack of inspiration caused Miles to go into a 5-year retirement.  He conquered his cocaine habit, received new inspiration and returned in 1981 and made a series of records that I haven't heard.  He did keep pushing music, as he was not one to rest on his laurels and play his old music.  He started experimenting more with synthesizers and using studio techniques in his recordings.  He won a series of Grammy Awards during this decade and continued turning out sidemen, such as Garrett, Stern, and Berg, listed above.   Miles Davis died in 1991.

            While he didn't play as high and as fast as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles made his mark by using spacing (silent spaces) in his solos.  He used a more relaxed style and played in a lower register and played with a beautiful tone.  This established his style, and later on, he was "able to hear" the music in the higher register and played faster and higher.  Few trumpet players could match the quality of his tone and no one has changed jazz as many times or spawned as many jazz leaders as Miles Davis. 

        If you are interested in purchasing Miles Davis' music, here are some tips:    Unless you like funk, you might beware of Miles' later music.  His music from the 1940s and 50s is really safe to start with and up to the middle 60s is still pretty safe.  Some examples is the Miles Davis Quintet recordins, such as Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Workin' with... and Walkin' with...  Also, Milestones is excellent.  Birth of the Cool, andKind of Blue are both classics in anybody's book.   I think Kind of Blue is the best jazz recording I ever heard.  Some good 1960s recordings are Miles Smiles and Nefertiti.   If you like Spanish flaminco music, then you MUST check outSketches of Spain.   When you get into the late 1960s recordings, such as In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, his band really gets "out there" and starts playing 20 minute songs with electric guitars, electric keyboards, and wah wah peddles for the trumpet.  It's still very good music, but if you are new to jazz and want that "classic" jazz sound, I wouldn't recommend starting here.  In the 1970s, Miles incorporates more rock and funk and continues through the 1980s, incorporating elements of hip hop into his music.  Don't let this turn you off of all of Miles' music.  If so, you are depriving yourself.  Feel free to print this information as a resource, just make sure your ink cartridges are full before doing so.


3. Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong







Louis Armstrong was the greatest of all Jazz musicians. Armstrong defined what it was to play Jazz. His amazing technical abilities, the joy and spontaneity, and amazingly quick, inventive musical mind still dominate Jazz to this day. Only Charlie Parker comes close to having as much influence on the history of Jazz as Louis Armstrong did. Like almost all early Jazz musicians, Louis was from New Orleans. He was from a very poor family and was sent to reform school when he was twelve after firing a gun in the air on New Year's Eve. At the school he learned to play cornet. After being released at age fourteen, he worked selling papers, unloading boats, and selling coal from a cart. He didn't own an instrument at this time, but continued to listen to bands at clubs like the Funky Butt Hall. Joe "King" Oliver was his favorite and the older man acted as a father to Louis, even giving him his first real cornet, and instructing him on the instrument. By 1917 he played in anOliver inspired group at dive bars in New Orleans' Storyville section. In 1919 he left New Orleans for the first time to join Fate Marable's band in St. Louis. Marable led a band that played on the Strekfus Mississsippi river boat lines. When the boats left from New Orleans Armstrong also played regular gigs in Kid Ory's band. Louis stayed with Marable until 1921 when he returned to New Orleans and played in Zutty Singleton's. He also played in parades with the Allen Brass Band, and on the bandstand with Papa Celestin's Tuxedo Orchestra , and the Silver Leaf Band. WhenKing Oliver left the city in 1919 to go to Chicago, Louis took his place in Kid Ory'sband from time to time. In 1922 Louis received a telegram from his mentor Joe Oliver, asking him to join his Creole Jazz Band at Lincoln Gardens (459 East 31st Street) in Chicago. This was a dream come true for Armstrong and his amazing playing in the band soon made him a sensation among other musicians in Chicago. The New Orleans style of music took the town by storm and soon many other bands from down south made their way north to Chicago. While playing in Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Armstrong met Lillian Hardin, a piano player and arranger for the band. In February of 1924 they were married. Lil was a very intelligent and ambitious woman who felt that Louis was wasting himself playing in Oliver's band. By the end of 1924 she pressured Armstrong to reluctantly leave his mentor's band. He briefly worked with Ollie Powers' Harmony Syncopators before he moved to New York to play inFletcher Henderson's Orchestra for 13 months. During that time he also did dozens of recording sessions with numerous Blues singers, including Bessie Smith's 1925 classic recording of "St. Louis Blues". He also recorded with Clarence Williams and the Red Onion Jazz Babies. In 1925 Armstrong moved back to Chicago and joined his wife's band at the Dreamland Cafe (3520 South State Street). He also played in Erskine Tate's Vendome Orchestra and then with Carrol Dickenson's Orchestra at the Sunset Cafe (313-17 East 35th Street at the corner of Calmet Street). Armstrong recorded his first Hot Five records that same year. This was the first time that Armstrong had made records under his own name. The records made by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven are considered to be absolute jazz classics and speak of Armstrong's creative powers. The band never played live, but continued recording until 1928. While working at the Sunset, Louis met his future manager, Joe Glaser. Glaser managed the Sunset at that time. Armstrong continued to play in Carrol Dickenson's Orchestra until 1929. He also led his own band on the same venue under the name of Louis Armstrong and his Stompers. For the next two years Armstrong played with Carroll Dickerson's Savoy Orchestra and with Clarence Jones' Orchestra in Chicago. By 1929 Louis was becoming a very big star. He toured with the show "Hot Chocolates" and appeared occasionally with the Luis Russell Orchestra, with Dave Peyton, and with Fletcher Henderson. Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 where he fronted a band calledLouis Armstrong and his Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra. In 1931 he returned to Chicago and assembled his own band for touring purposes. In June of that year he returned to New Orleans for the first time since he left in 1922 to join King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong was greeted as a hero, but racism marred his return when a White radio announcer refused to mention Armstrong on the air and a free concert that Louis was going to give to the cities' African-American population was cancelled at the last minute. Louis and Lil also separated in 1931. In 1932 he returned to California, before leaving for England where he was a great success. For the next three years Armstrong was almost always on the road. He crisscrossed the U.S. dozens of times and returned to Europe playing in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and England. In 1935 he returned to the U.S. and hired Joe Glaser to be his manager. He had known Glaser when he was the manager of the Sunset Cafe in Chicago in the 1920s. Glaser was allegedly connected to the Al Capone mob, but proved to be a great manager and friend for Louis. Glaser remained Armstrong's manager until his death in 1969. Glaser took care of the business end of things, leaving Armstrong free to concentrate on his music. He also hired the Luis Russell Orchestra as Louis' backup band with Russell as the musical director. This was like going home for Armstrong, because Russell's Orchestra was made up of predominantly New Orleans musicians, many of whom had also played with King Oliver. The band was renamed Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra and was one of the most popular acts of the Swing era. Glaser put the band to work and they toured constantly for the next ten years. During this period Armstrong became one of the most famous men in America. In 1938 Lil and Louis finally got a divorce. Louis then married Alpha, his third wife. The endless touring was hard on their marriage and they were divorced four years later, but Armstrong quickly remarried Lucille and they remained married for the rest of his life. For the next nine years the Louis Armstrong Orchestra continued to tour and release records, but as the 1940s drew to a close the public's taste in Jazz began to shift away from the commercial sounds of the Swing era and big band Jazz. The so-called Dixieland Jazz revival was just beginning and Be Bop was also starting to challenge the status quo in the Jazz world. The Louis Armstrong Orchestra was beginning to look tired and concert and record sales were declining. Critics complained that Armstrong was becoming too commercial. So, in 1947 Glaser fired the orchestra and replaced them with a small group that became one of the greatest and most popular bands in Jazz history. The group was called the Louis Armstrong Allstars and over the years featured exceptional musicians like Barney BigardJack Teagarden, Sidney ‘Big Sid’ Catlett , vocalist Vilma Middleton, and Earl Hines. The band went through a number of personnel changes over the years but remained extremely popular worldwide. They toured extensively travelling to Africa, Asia, Europe and South America for the next twenty years until Louis' failing health caused them to disband. Armstrong became known as America's Ambassador. In 1963 Armstrong scored a huge international hit with his version of "Hello Dolly". This number one single even knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts. In 1968 he recorded another number one hit with the touchingly optimistic "What A Wonderful World". Armstrong's health began to fail him and he was hospitalized several times over the remaining three years of his life, but he continued playing and recording. On July 6th 1971 the world's greatest Jazz musician died in his sleep at his home in Queens, New York.  


4.   Charlie Parker  ("Bird")










 The only child of Charles and Addie Parker, Charlie Parker was one of the most important and influential saxophonists and jazz players of the 1940’s.

When Parker was still a child, his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where jazz, blues and gospel music were flourishing. His first contact with music came from school, where he played baritone horn with the school’s band. When he was 15, he showed a great interest in music and a love for the alto saxophone. Soon, Parker was playing with local bands until 1935, when he left school to pursue a music career.

From 1935 to 1939, Parker worked in Kansas City with several local jazz and blues bands from which he developed his art. In 1939, Parker visited New York for the first time, and he stayed for nearly a year working as a professional musician and often participating in jam sessions. The New York atmosphere greatly influenced Parker's musical style.

In 1938, Parker joined the band of pianist Jay McShann, with whom he toured around Southwest Chicago and New York. A year later, Parker traveled to Chicago and was a regular performer at a club on 55th street. Parker soon moved to New York. He washed dishes at a local food place where he met guitarist Biddy Fleet, the man who taught him about instrumental harmony. Shortly afterwards, Parker returned to Kansas City to attend his father’s funeral. Once there, he joined Harlan Leonard’s Rockets and stayed for five months. In 1939, Yardbird rejoined McShann and was placed in charge of the reed section. Then, in 1940, Parker made his first recording with the McShann orchestra.

During the four years that Parker stayed with McShann's band, he got the opportunity to perform solo in several of their recordings, such as Hootie Blues, Sepian Bounce, and the 1941 hit Confessing the Blues. In 1942, while on tour with McShann, Parker performed in jam sessions at Monroe’s and Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. There he caught the attention of up-and-coming jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. Later that year, Parker broke with McShann and joined Earl Hines for eight months.

The year 1945 was extremely important for Parker. During that time he led his own group in New York and also worked with Gillespie in several ensembles. In December, Parker and Gillespie took their music to Hollywood on a six-week nightclub tour. Parker continued to perform in Los Angeles until June 1946, when he suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined at a state hospital. After his release in January 1947, Parker returned to New York and formed a quintet that performed some of his most famous tunes.

From 1947 to 1951, Parker worked in a number of nightclubs, radio studios, and other venues performing solo or with the accompaniment of other musicians. During this time, he visited Europe where he was cheered by devoted fans and did numerous recordings. March 5, 1955, was Parker’s last public engagement at Birdland, a nightclub in New York that was named in his honor. He died a week later in a friend’s apartment.

Charles “Yardbird” Parker was an amazing saxophonist who gained wide recognition for his brilliant solos and innovative improvisations. He was, without a doubt, one of the most influential and talented musicians in jazz history.


5. Billie "Lady Day" Holiday








Billie Holiday had the kind of voice you never forget. No singer has ever distilled despair into such tones. She was a great natural born actress who drew on her own feelings and conveyed them with an honesty that cuts right to the quick. But like so many of her musical contemporaries of the era, she suffered from that incurable disease, being born black in America.

Early in her career while she was on the road with Count Basie, Billie was forced to blacken her face to play at the fashionable Fox Theatre in Detroit because the management felt she was too high a yellow to sing with his black band. Billie made the gig, but later acknowledged that "I had to be darkened so the show could go on in dynamic-asset Detroit. There's no damn business like show business. You have to smile to keep from throwing up."
Yet against the backdrop of an all too brief lifetime of hardship (she died at 44), Billie defined style and personality and with no technique training, created sophisticated music with such soulful diction and dramatically intense phrasing that her sound is instantly recognizable and beloved worldwide.
Some of her most inspired legacy is found on the 49 sides she made with Lester Young. Theirs was surely a musical marriage conceived in Eden. She dubbed him "Pres," he named her "Lady Day" and together, they created masterpieces like "Foolin' Myself," and "Easy Living." Pres' personal favorite was "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" in which voice and sax are truly one, perhaps the greatest recorded example of the interplay between a vocal line and an instrumental obbligato.
Their last recorded performance was the Sound Of Jazz broadcast in December of '57 where Billie, Pres, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Vic Dickenson, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge did her song, "Fine and Mellow." Thankfully, this remarkable documentation of singular instrumental and improvisational individuality and inventiveness is available on video. But no matter what the medium, Billie Holiday produced a series of indelible musical images guaranteed to survive the ages. Her tragic final years were a pathetic struggle against heroin addiction, which eventually killed her, and police harassment. In New York City, because of her legal entanglements, she was unable to secure the necessary cabaret card that would enable her to sing at clubs. Yet later recordings show that, although her voice was devastated, her technique remained supreme.
For this tribute to our greatest Jazz singer, we spoke with her contemporaries and present day admirers.

Diana Krall

When I was really getting into her I was studying with Jimmy Rowles in L.A., he was her accompanist. Jimmy would tell these stories about them playing together. It wasn't an instant connection at first because I was listening to Ella and Nat but Jimmy gave me Lady in Satin, which I still have, and which is one of my desert island records. He told me they had to hold her up to do the date.
For me, she's an example of a musician's singer...her phrasing, her emotion, all the things we know and love about Billie Holiday, the vulnerability in her work. She might not have an instrument, a voice like Sarah or Ella, but it was her musicianship, her artistry which was so important.
And there's a lot of emotion involved. I know how it makes me feel when I listen to her, everything from groove to heart-wrenching ballads, she really makes you feel.

Dianne Reeves

I was very young when I first heard her, I think I was in the tenth grade when my uncle gave me a record of hers. I didn't understand her so I didn't listen to her, I didn't like her. It wasn't until I left home and got out there on my own and started living that I started listening to her again and I just loved her because I realized that at the time, she sang her life, her experiences from life to song.
Then people would talk about her and say she was a victim of this and a victim of that, and I would think, no, this person is incredibly strong. Maybe she was victimized by society but I never looked at her and saw Billie looking at herself as a victim...
The more I've listened to her, the more I've grown to love her spirit and her strength. A lot of the things that she sang and the way that she sang them were like telling stories through songs with an incredible understanding of what she was singing.
People like Billie and Sarah, they had their unique way of singing a song. They were very in touch with their own voices, which is a very important thing. You listen to them and you get inspired by them, but you can never be them...


6. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald was orphaned in early childhood and moved to New York to attend an orphanage school in Yonkers. In 1934, she was discovered in an amateur contest sponsored by the Apollo Theatre in New York City. This led to an engagement with Chick Webb's band, and she soon became a celebrity of the swing era with performances such as A-tisket, A-tasket(1938) and Undecided (1939). When Webb died in 1939, Fitzgerald took over the direction of the band, which she led for three years. She then embarked on a solo career, issuing commercial and jazz recordings, and in 1946 began an association with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic, which eventually brought her a large international following. 

She also sang in a jazz group led by her husband, Ray Brown (1948-52). Early in 1956, Fitzgerald severed her longstanding connection with Decca to join Granz's newly founded Verve label. Among their first projects was a series of 11 songbooks dedicated to major American songwriters. The series made use of superior jazz-inflected arrangements by Nelson Riddle and others and succeeded in attracting an extremely large non-jazz audience, establishing Fitzgerald among the supreme interpreters of the popular-song repertory. Thereafter, her career was managed by Granz, and she became one of the best-known international jazz performers. She issued many recordings for Granz's labels and made frequent appearances at jazz festivals with Duke EllingtonCount Basie, Oscar Peterson, Tommy Flanagan, and Joe Pass. Among her many honors was a Grammy Award in 1980. Her collection of scores and photographs is now in the library of Boston University.

For decades Fitzgerald has been considered the quintessential female jazz singer and has drawn copious praise from admirers as diverse asCharlie Parker and the singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Her voice is small and somewhat girlish in timbre, but these disadvantages are offset by an extremely wide range (from d to C'), which she commands with a remarkable agility and an unfailing sense of swing. This enables her to give performances that rival those of the best jazz instrumentalists in their virtuosity, particularly in her improvised scat solos, for which she is justly famous. Unlike trained singers, she shows strain about the break in her voice (d' and beyond) which, however, she uses to expressive purpose in the building of climaxes. Fitzgerald also has a gift for mimicry that allows her to imitate other well-known singers (from Louis Armstrong to Aretha Franklin) and jazz instruments. As an interpreter of popular songs she is limited by a certain innate cheerfulness from handling drama and pathos convincingly, but is unrivaled in her rendition of light material and for her ease in slipping in and out of the jazz idiom. She influenced countless American popular singers of the post-swing period and also international performers such as the singer Miriam Makeba.







7. Thelonious Monk





Musician. Thelonious Monk was born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. When he was just four, his parents, Barbara and Thelonious, Sr., moved to New York City, where he would spend the next five decades of his life.

Monk began studying classical piano when he was eleven but had already shown some aptitude for the instrument. "I learned how to read before I took lessons," he later recalled. "You know, watching my sister practice her lessons over her shoulder." By the time Monk was thirteen, he had won the weekly amateur competition at the Apollo Theater so many times that the management banned him from re-entering the contest.

At age seventeen, Monk dropped out of the esteemed Stuyvesant High School to pursue his music career. He toured with the so-called "Texas Warhorse," an evangelist and faith healer, before assembling a quartet of his own. Although it was typical to play for a big band at this time, Monk preferred a more intimate work dynamic that would allow him to experiment with his sound.

In 1941, Monk began working at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, where he joined the house band and helped develop the school of jazz known as bebop. Alongside Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, he explored the fast, jarring, and often improvised styles that would later become synonymous with modern jazz.

Thelonious Monk's first known recording was made in 1944, when he worked as a member of Coleman Hawkins's quartet. Monk didn't record under his own name, however, until 1947, when he played as the leader of a sextet session for Blue Note.

Monk made a total of five Blue Note recordings between 1947 and 1952, including "Criss Cross" and "Evidence." These are generally regarded as the first works characteristic of Monk's unique jazz style, which embraced percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds. As Monk saw it, "The piano ain't got no wrong notes!" Though widespread recognition was still years away, Monk had already earned the regard of his peers as well as several important critics.

In 1947, Monk married Nellie Smith, his longtime sweetheart. They later had two children, whom they named after Monk's parents, Thelonious and Barbara. In 1952, Monk signed a contract with Prestige Records, which yielded pieces like "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and "Bags' Groove." The latter, which he recorded with Miles Davis in 1954, is sometimes said to be his finest piano solo ever.

Because Monk's work continued to be largely overlooked by jazz fans at large, Prestige sold his contract to Riverside Records in 1955. There, he attempted to make his first two recordings more

widely accessible, but this effort was poorly received by critics.

Not content to pander ineffectively to a nonexistent audience, Monk turned a page with his 1956 album, Brilliant Corners, which is usually considered to be his first true masterpiece. The album's title track made a splash with its innovative, technically demanding, and extremely complex sound, which had to be edited together from many separate takes. With the release of two more Riverside masterworks,

In 1957, the Thelonious Monk Quartet, which included John Coltrane, began performing regularly at the Five Spot in New York. Enjoying huge success, they went on to tour the United States and even make some appearances in Europe. By 1962, Monk was so popular that he was given a contract with Columbia Records, a decidedly more mainstream label than Riverside. In 1964, Monk became one of four jazz musicians ever to grace the cover of Time Magazine.Thelonious Himself and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, Monk finally received the acclaim he deserved.

The years that followed included several overseas tours, but by the early 1970s, Monk was ready to retire from the limelight; save for his 1971 recordings at Black Lion Records and the occasional appearance at the Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, Monk spent his final years living quietly in seclusion. After battling serious illness for several years, he passed away from a stroke in 1982. He has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry, and featured on a United States postage stamp.

As a pioneering performer who managed to slip almost invisibly through the jazz community during the first half of his career, Monk is exactly the type of figure who invites rumor and exaggeration. The image the public has been left with is that of a demanding, eccentric recluse with an inborn gift for piano. The real person was more complex. "People don't think of Thelonious as Mr. Mom," his son points out, recalling his father changing diapers, "but I clearly saw him do the Mr. Mom thing, big-time."

Whatever Thelonious was to the media, it's clear what his legacy will be to jazz music: that of a true originator. Monk probably said it best when he insisted that a "genius is one who is most like himself."

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8. Oscar Peterson






Oscar Peterson was born August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His parents were immigrants from the British West Indies and Virgin Islands. His father, Daniel Peterson, was boatswain on a merchant ship when he met Olivia John in Montreal, where she worked as a cook and housekeeper for an English family. Daniel gave up the sailing work and began working as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He and Olivia married and stayed in Montreal as their family grew.

Oscar was the fourth of five children. Their father insisted that they all learn a musical instrument, and Oscar began to study the trumpet. A childhood bout of tuberculosis forced a fortuitous switch to the piano, under the tutelage of his father and his older sister, Daisy. It soon became apparent that Oscar’s talent surpassed the capabilities of home teaching, and he was sent first to teacher Lou Hooper and then to the gifted Hungarian classical pianist, Paul deMarky. A warm and respectful musical friendship developed between the two, and with Mr. deMarky’s guidance Oscar’s mastery of the instrument grew, along with his dedication to and command of his talent.

The performance career of Oscar Peterson began while he was still a young teenager in high school, as pianist with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montreal. After a few years with the Orchestra, he formed his own trio, the first in a format he maintained throughout his lifelong career. With the trio, he quickly gained fame and popularity throughout Canada. His appearances at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal were broadcast live on the radio. In 1949 impresario Norman Granz heard one of those broadcasts, went to the Alberta Lounge and enticed Mr. Peterson into making a surprise guest appearance with Granz’ all-star “Jazz at the Philharmonic” at Carnegie Hall later that year. Leaving the audience awestruck, Oscar joined JATP in 1950 as a full-time touring member. He formed a piano-bass duo with Ray Brown as well, and began recording for Granz at the same time. He also added Barney Kessel as the first of the guitarists with whom he would create trios, returning to the group format he loved. 

He was voted Jazz Pianist of the Year in 1950 by the Downbeat Readers’ Poll, a title he garnered for an additional twelve years. He toured the globe extensively with Jazz at the Philharmonic as well as with his own trio. 

During the busy touring years in the early 1960s he founded a jazz school in Toronto called the Advanced School of Contemporary Music. This attracted students from all over the world. For a few months each year he and his trio, along with Phil Nimmons, a clarinetist from Toronto, would conduct classes at the school. The demands of his touring schedule forced closure of the school after a few years, but students still fondly recall their experiences there.

Oscar Peterson began composing while still a member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra, and as time progressed he devoted more and more time to composition, while still maintaining a vigorous performance schedule. His “Hymn To Freedom” became one of the crusade songs of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States. It is still performed frequently by choirs worldwide. He also composed a salute to his beloved Canada, “The Canadiana Suite,” in the early 1960s. He has composed music for motion pictures, including the Canadian film “Big North,” made for Ontario Place in Toronto, and the feature film “The Silent Partner,” for which he won the Genie Award (Canadian Oscar award) for best original film score in 1978. He composed work for the National Film Board of Canada. His collaboration with filmmaker Norman McLaren on the film “Begone Dull Care” won awards all over the world. He composed the soundtrack for the film “Fields of Endless Day,” about U.S. slaves using the Underground Railroad to escape to Canada. Other compositional projects include a jazz ballet, a suite called “Africa,” and the Easter Suite, commissioned by the BBC in London and broadcast live on Good Friday in 1984, with annual broadcasts after that. “A Salute to Bach” for the composer’s 300th birthday, premiered with trio and orchestra at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in 1985. He composed a suite for the Olympic Arts Festival of the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, and music for the opening ceremony of the Skydome in Toronto. In addition, Oscar Peterson composed more than 400 other pieces, many of which he performed and others continue to perform. Some of these compositions remain unpublished, but hopefully they will be published for future generations to hear.

Oscar Peterson has an extensive discography of his trio and quartet recordings, as well as his recordings with many of the other jazz greats. His varied albums include recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Joe Pass. His worldwide performances and his recordings, particularly those with his trios and quartets, brought him recognition from numerous places all around the world.

Mr. Peterson also made many television appearances during his lifetime. He hosted five different talk show series, and Oscar’s widespread appeal led to his interviewing a variety of guests. The unusual range of personalities to appear on these programs included the former Prime Minister of England, the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Heath, Twiggy, Anthony Burgess as well as many musicians. He also appeared in television commercials “Tears Are Not Enough,” a musical fundraiser for African famine relief. 

Preferring not to use his celebrity status to sway public opinions, Mr. Peterson nevertheless remained dedicated to the belief that his native Canada has a responsibility in leading the world in equality and justice. With this in mind, he took a firm stand to promote the cause of human rights fair treatment for Canada’s multicultural community. In recognition of this effort, Mr. Peterson was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor. He had been inducted as an Officer of the Order in 1972.

During his life and career Mr. Peterson received many awards and honors. These include the Praemium Imperiale (the Arts equivalent of the Nobel Prize, presented by the Japan Art Association), the UNESCO International Music Prize, 8 Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy), the 1993 Glenn Gould Prize, of which he was the third recipient, the first chosen by unanimous decision and the first ever non-classical musician, and many honorary degrees. 

Despite a stroke in 1993 that debilitated his left hand, Oscar Peterson was determined to continue performing, recording and composing. Within a year he had recovered and resumed his worldwide concert appearance schedule. 

Oscar Peterson lived in the quiet city of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. His hobbies included fishing, photography and astronomy. He was an avid audiophile and synthesist, as music was not only his profession but also his hobby. His home contained his own private recording studio, allowing him to work and still enjoy his family life. His passion for life, love and music remained strong for his entire life, and he continued to perform until shortly before his death. Oscar Peterson passed away at his home on the morning of December 23, 2007. His legacy lives on through his music.


9. Benny Goodman







Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was born in Chicago's toughest neighborhood, The Maxwell Street Ghetto.
His Jewish parents, David and Dora Goodman, left Russia to escape the pogroms (attacks on people of Jewish heritage). They immigrated to America to find a better life. David Goodman had a career as a tailor in Russia but had to do hard labor in Chicago's stockyards and slaughterhouses. Benny was the 9th of the Goodman's 12 children. They were an extremely poor family with hardly enough money to afford rent.

Life in the ghetto was tough.
In the ghetto, the streets were dirty and overcrowded. Street gangs battled each other and there was crime everywhere. His family moved from one apartment to another when rent got too high. Sometimes there was no heat, and food was hard to buy. Benny and his eleven brothers and sisters were often hungry and cold.

Playing music was a way to earn extra money for Benny's family.
David Goodman wanted his sons to help earn extra money for the family by playing music like some other neighborhood kids. He took Benny and his two brothers to join the local synagogue's band. Benny received his first training there. Soon he was able to outplay his brothers and the other students in the band. When the synagogue could no longer afford to sponsor the band, David Goodman took his children to the Hull House, a charity organization, to continue their musical training. His father saw Benny's unstoppable talent and he struggled to pay fifty cents a week so Benny could have private lessons with classical musician, Franz Schoepp. He also played duets with another of Schoepp's students, the black clarinetist Buster Bailey, who later played with Louis Armstrong. David Goodman wanted Benny to have a well-paid future as a musician. Music was a way for Benny to avoid a life of hard labor and poverty.

Benny practiced, practiced, practiced...
Benny practiced his clarinet three to four hours everyday. Self-improvement was a way for him to get out of the ghetto. Throughout his career, he maintained a strict practice schedule. Benny was a perfectionist - - he wanted his music to be flawless.

Then came jazz.
Chicago in the 1920s had an exciting jazz scene. Louis Armstrong performed there with other influential musicians. Their performances inspired Benny to play jazz. During the roaring twenties, if a musician could play jazz and improvise (make up music as he played along) it was easier to get jobs playing at parties and dance halls. Benny knew his instrument so well -- he was able to start playing jazz to earn money.

At 14, Benny began to play as a professional musician.
Benny used to imitate a comedian named Ted Lewis, who also played clarinet and had a very popular band. This led to jobs playing in dance bands. He started earning fifteen dollars a night -- more than his father earned in a week. The money helped Benny support his family. Tragically, Benny's father died just as Benny started to make a name for himself, and never knew of his son's great success.

Benny becomes the King of Swing.
At the age of sixteen, Benny joined Ben Pollack's orchestra and traveled with them to California. Later, he went with them to New York, where Benny eventually settled. He moved his whole family from Chicago and supported them during the Depression. After four years, he left Pollack to play on the radio and in recording studios with many different bands. Meanwhile, a new jazz style began to emerge as mainly African American bandleaders transformed the big band style of the 1920s into swing, a lively, uptempo jazz style. He formed his own swing band and went on tour.

Benny captures the attention of the nation.
In August of 1935, Benny and his orchestra began a series of performances at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. This was the turning point in Benny's career. Thousands of enthusiastic, teenage fans flocked to hear Benny and his orchestra perform. Never before had Benny or swing music received that kind of attention from audiences. The media nicknamed him "the King of Swing." In 1937, Benny went on to perform at the Paramount Theatre in New York where an audience of thousands of frenzied teenagers danced in the aisles and screamed wildly for the band. With Benny's influence, swing music had become a national obsession.

As a bandleader Benny wanted the best musicians, race didn't matter.
He did something very important when he hired pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton (both of whom had played with Louis Armstrong) to join his band. It was the first time black and white musicians played together in a famous group. In 1938, Benny's band played at Carnegie Hall with many great black musicians, and he continued to play music until his death in 1986.

10. Duke Ellington





Duke Ellington brought a level of style and sophistication to Jazz that it hadn't seen before. Although he was a gifted piano player, his orchestra was his principal instrument. Like Jelly Roll Morton before him, he considered himself to be a composer and arranger, rather than just a musician. Duke began playing music professionally in Washington, D.C. in 1917. His piano technique was influenced by stride piano players like James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith. He first visited New York in 1922 playing with Wilbur Sweatman, but the trip was unsuccessful. He returned to New York again in 1923, but this time with a group of friends from Washington D.C. They worked for a while with banjoist Elmer Snowden until there was a disagreement over missing money. Ellington then became the leader. This group was called The Washingtonians. This band worked at The Hollywood Club in Manhattan (which was later dubbed the Kentucky Club). During this time Sidney Bechet played briefly with the band (unfortunately he never recorded with them), but more significantly the trumpet player Bubber Miley joined the band, bringing with him his unique plunger mute style of playing. This sound came to be called the "Jungle Sound", and it was largely responsible for Ellington's early success. The song "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" is a good example of this style of playing. The group recorded their first record in 1924 ("Choo Choo (Gotta Hurry Home)" and "Rainy Nights (Rainy Days)", but the band didn't hit the big time until after Irving Mills became their manager and publisher in 1926. In 1927 the band re-recorded versions of "East St.Louis Toodle-Oo," debuted "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Creole Love Call", songs that would be associated with him the for rest of his career, but what really putEllington's Orchestra over the top was becoming the house band at the Cotton Club after King Oliver unwisely turned down the job. Radio broadcasts from the club made Ellington famous across America and also gave him the financial security to assemble a top notch band that he could write music specifically for. Musicians tended to stay with the band for long periods of time. For example, saxophone player Harry Carney would remain with Duke nonstop from 1927 to Ellington's death in 1974. In 1928 clarinetist Barney Bigard left King Oliver and joined the band. Ellington and Bigardwould later co-write one of the orchestra's signature pieces "Mood Indigo" in 1930. In 1929 Bubber Miley, was fired from the band because of his alcoholism and replaced with Cootie Williams. Ellington also appeared in his first film "Black and Tan" later that year. The Duke Ellington Orchestra left the Cotton Club in 1931 (although he would return on an occasional basis throughout the rest of the Thirties) and toured the U.S. and Europe. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Ellington Orchestrawas able to make the change from the Hot Jazz of the 1920s to the Swing music of the 1930s. The song "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" even came to define the era. This ability to adapt and grow with the times kept the Ellington Orchestra a major force in Jazz up until Duke's death in the 1970s. OnlyLouis Armstrong managed to sustain such a career, but Armstrong failed to be in the artistic vanguard after the 1930s . Throughout the Forties and Fifties Ellington's fame and influence continued to grow. The band continued to produce Jazz standards like "Take the 'A' Train", "Perdido", "The 'C' Jam Blues" and "Satin Doll". In the 1960s Duke wrote several religious pieces, and composed "The Far East Suite". He also collaborated with a very diverse group of musicians whose styles spanned the history of Jazz. He played in a trio with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, sat in with both theLouis Armstrong All-Stars and the John Coltrane Quartet, and he had a double big-band date with Count Basie. In the 1970s many of Ellington's long time band members had died, but the band continued to attract outstanding musicians even after Ellington's death from cancer in 1974, when his son Mercer took over the reins of the band.

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