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Jazziversaries December 9th

Donald Byrd (trumpet) 1932 -2013 :: Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II  was an American jazz and rhythm and blues trumpeter. A sideman for many other jazz musicians of his generation, Byrd was best known as one of the only bebop jazz musicians who successfully pioneered the funk and soul genres while simultaneously remaining a jazz artist. As a bandleader, Byrd is also notable for his influential role in the early career of renowned keyboard player and composer Herbie Hancock.

While still at the Manhattan School, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as replacement for Clifford Brown. In 1955, he recorded with Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron. After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1956, he performed with many leading jazz musicians of the day, including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and later Herbie Hancock. Byrd’s first regular group was a quintet that he co-led from 1958-61 with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, an ensemble whose hard-driving performances are captured “live” on At the Half Note Cafe.

Byrd’s 1961 LP Royal Flush marked the Blue Note debut for Herbie Hancock, who came to wider attention with Byrd’s successful 1962 album Free Form, and these albums also featured the first recordings of Hancock’s original compositions. Hancock has credited Byrd as a key influence in his early career, recounting that he took the young pianist “under his wings” when he was a struggling musician newly arrived in New York, even letting him sleep on a hide-a-bed in his Bronx apartment for several years:

“He was the first person to let me be a permanent member of an internationally known band. He has always nurtured and encouraged young musicians. He’s a born educator, it seems to be in his blood, and he really tried to encourage the development of creativity.”

Hancock also recalled that Byrd helped him in many other ways: he encouraged Hancock to make his debut album for Blue Note, connected him with Mongo Santamaria, who turned Hancock’s tune “Watermelon Man” into a chart-topping hit, and that Byrd also later urged him to accept Miles Davis’ offer to join his quintet.

Hancock also credits Byrd with giving him one of the most important pieces of advice of his career - not to give away his publishing. When Blue Note offered Hancock the chance to record his first solo LP, label executives tried to convince him to relinquish his publishing in exchange for being able to record the album, but he stuck to Byrd’s advice and refused, so the meeting came to an impasse. At this point, he stood up to leave, but when it became clear that he was about to walk out, the executives relented and allowed him to retain his publishing. Thanks to Santamaria’s subsequent hit cover version of “Watermelon Man”, Hancock was soon receiving substantial royalties, and he used his first royalty check of $3000 to buy his first car, a 1963 Shelby Cobra (also recommended by Byrd) which Hancock still owns, and which is now the oldest production Cobra still in its original owner’s hands.

By 1969’s Fancy Free, Byrd was moving away from the hard-bop jazz idiom and began to record jazz fusion and rhythm and blues. He teamed up with the Mizell Brothers (producer-writers Larry and Fonce) for Black Byrd (1973) which was, for many years, Blue Note’s best-selling album. The title track climbed to No. 19 on Billboard′s R&B chart and reached the Hot 100 pop chart, peaking at No. 88. The Mizell brothers’ follow-up albums for Byrd, Street Lady, Places and Spaces and Stepping into Tomorrow, were also big sellers, and have subsequently provided a rich source of samples for acid jazz artists such as Us3.

Most of the material for the albums was written by Larry Mizell. In 1973, he helped to establish and co-produce The Blackbyrds, a fusion group consisting of then-student musicians from Howard University, where Byrd taught in the music department and earned his J.D. in 1976. They scored several major hits including “Happy Music” (No. 3 R&B, No. 19 pop), “Walking In Rhythm” (No. 4 R&B, No. 6 pop) and “Rock Creek Park”.

During his tenure at North Carolina Central University during the 1980s, he formed a group which included students from the college called the “125th St NYC Band”. They recorded the Love Byrd album, which featured Isaac Hayes on drums. “Love Has Come Around” became a disco hit in the UK and reached #41 on the charts.

Beginning in the 1960s, Byrd (who eventually took his Ph.D in music education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1982) taught at a variety of postsecondary institutions, including Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University.

Byrd returned to somewhat straight-ahead jazz later in his career, releasing three albums for Orrin Keepnews’ Landmark Records, and his final album Touchstone, a quintet.

Jimmy Owens (trumpet) 1943 :: Many happy returns Jimmy Owens. Jimmy Owens  is a jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, lecturer, and educator. He has played with Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Hank Crawford, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Herbie Mann, among many others. Since 1969, he has led his own group, Jimmy Owens Plus.

Owens began playing the trumpet at the age of fourteen under the tutelage of Donald Byrd and later studied music composition with Henry Brant. In the 1960s, he was a member of the hybrid classical and rock band Ars Nova. After Ars Nova ended, he was a member of the New York Jazz Sextet. Among the members of this group at various times were Sir Roland Hanna, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Benny Golson, Hubert Laws, and Tom McIntosh. In addition, he has led his own group, Jimmy Owens Plus, since the 1970s, touring and playing in festivals and concerts all over the world. His performances with his band have taken him to Asia, South and Central America, the Middle East and various parts of Europe. In 1969 he helped found Collective Black Artist, a non-profit jazz education and performing organization in 1969.

At the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival, Owens was one of the youngest trumpet players present to participate in a tribute that was played in the honor Louis Armstrong. That same year, Owens released his first album, No Escaping It (1970), on which he seamlessly demonstrated his musical edge while maintaining a warm tone, along with decisive notation.

In 1990, the Jazz Musicians’ Emergency Fund was founded to help individual musicians with medical, financial, and housing assistance after Jamil Nasser and Jimmy Owens presented this idea to the board. Both Nasser and Owens felt it was very important to help individual jazz musicians rather than organizations. This program not only provided financial assistance, but it also offered counseling in career development as well as substance abuse. In that same year, Owens took a part-time position as an instructor at the New School Jazz and Contemporary Music Program, where he taught private lessons, the business aspects of the music industry and various ensemble classes.

Owens is an active member of the jazz education community. He also sits on the board of the Jazz Foundation of America, which was founded in 1989. He is an innovative and highly skilled jazz artist whose eclecticism incorporates every aspect of jazz music and artistry. His accomplishments are momentous and noteworthy. Not only does his professional musicianship merit acknowledgement and respect, but his role of being an outspoken advocate concerning the welfare of musicians and the jazz culture of America reflects his generosity towards others.

 Junior Wells (harmonica) 1934-1998  :: Junior Wells , born Amos Wells Blakemore Jr. was an American Chicago blues vocalist, harmonica player, and recording artist. Wells, who was best known for his performances and recordings with Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker, and Buddy Guy, also performed with Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones, and Van Morrison.

Initially taught by his cousin, Junior Parker, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, Wells learned how to play the harmonica by the age of seven with surprising skill. He moved to Chicago in 1948 with his mother after her divorce and began sitting in with local musicians at house parties and taverns. Wild and rebellious but needing an outlet for his talents, he began performing with The Aces (guitarist brothers Dave and Louis Myers and drummer Fred Below) and developed a more modern amplified harmonica style influenced by Little Walter. In 1952, he made his first recordings, when he replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters’ band and appeared on one of Muddy’s sessions for Chess Records in 1952. His first recordings as a band leader were made in the following year for States Records. In the later 1950s and early 1960s he also recorded singles for Chief Records and its Profile Records subsidiary, including “Messin’ with the Kid”, “Come on in This House”, and “It Hurts Me Too”, which would remain in his repertoire throughout his career. His 1960 Profile single “Little by Little” (written by Chief owner and producer Mel London) reached #23 in the Billboard R&B chart, making it the first of two Wells’ singles to enter the chart.

Junior Wells worked with guitarist Buddy Guy in the 1960s, and featured Guy on guitar when he recorded his first album, Hoodoo Man Blues for Delmark Records. Wells and Guy supported the Rolling Stones on numerous occasions in the 1970s. Although his albums South Side Blues Jam (1971) and On Tap (1975) proved he had not lost his aptitude for Chicago blues, his 1980s and 1990s discs were inconsistent. However, 1996’s Come On in This House was an intriguing set of classic blues songs with a rotating cast of slide guitarists, among them Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks. Wells made an appearance in the film Blues Brothers 2000, the sequel to The Blues Brothers, which was released in 1998.


“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image

Open (1970)


Holy Crap, Charlie actually smiles at the :55 & 2:19 marks!