Big Mama Thornton (vocal) - 1926-1984 :: Big Mama Thornton was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record the hit song “Hound Dog” in 1952. The record was #1 on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953; the single sold almost two million copies. Its B-side was “They Call Me Big Mama.” Three years later, Elvis Presley recorded his even more broadly successful rendition of “Hound Dog,” based on a version performed by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. Similarly, Thornton wrote and recorded “Ball ‘n’ Chain”, which became a hit for her, yet Janis Joplin’s later recording of it made a bigger impact in the late 1960s.
Thornton began her recording career in Houston, signing a recording contract with Peacock Records in 1951. While working with another Peacock artist, Johnny Otis, she recorded “Hound Dog,” written by young songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as requested by Johnny Otis. Both songwriters were present at the recording with Leiber singing the song in the style they had envisioned.The record was produced by Johnny Otis, and went to number one on the R&B chart.Although the record made her a star, she saw little of the profits.She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 and performed with R&B package tours with Junior Parker and Esther Phillips.
In 1954, Thornton was one of the eyewitnesses to the accidental self-inflicted handgun death of blues singer Johnny Ace.Thornton’s account was that Johnny was sitting with girlfriend Olivia on his lap, waving his pistol around, pointing it at Willie Mae. “Don’t snap that on me,” she told him. Johnny grinned and put the gun to Olivia’s head. “Stop that, Johnny, you’ll git someone killed,” Willie Mae shouted at him. “Nothin’ to worry about,” Johnny replied, coolly, “ain’t but one bullet here and I know exactly where it is.” He turned the gun on himself, put it to his temple and pulled the trigger.
Her career began to fade in the late 1950s and early 1960s.She left Houston and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she mostly played local blues clubs.
In 1966, Thornton recorded Big Mama Thornton With The Muddy Waters Blues Band, with Muddy Waters (guitar), Sammy Lawhorn (guitar), James Cotton (harmonica), Otis Spann (piano), Luther Johnson (bass guitar), and Francis Clay (drums). Songs included “Everything Gonna Be Alright”, “Big Mama’s Blues”, “I’m Feeling Alright”, “Big Mama’s Bumble Bee Blues”, “Looking The World Over”, “Big Mama’s Shuffle”, and “Since I Fell For You”, amongst others.
Her Ball ‘n’ Chain album in 1968, included other artists: Lightnin’ Hopkins and Larry Williams. Big Mama’s portion included only the songs “Wade in the Water”, “My Love” and “Ball ‘n’ Chain”. Songs by Hopkins included “Money Taker” and “Prison Blues”.
One of Thornton’s last albums was Jail (1975) for Vanguard Records. It captured her performances during a couple of mid 1970s concerts at two northwestern prisons. She became the talented leader of a blues ensemble that featured sustained jams from George “Harmonica” Smith, as well as guitarists Doug Macleod, B. Huston and Steve Wachsman, drummer Todd Nelson, saxophonist Bill Potter, bassist Bruce Sieverson, and pianist J.D. Nicholson.
Thornton performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and 1968, and at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1979. In 1965 she performed with the American Folk Blues Festival package in Europe.While in England that year, she recorded Big Mama Thornton in Europe and followed it up the next year in San Francisco with Big Mama Thornton with the Chicago Blues Band. Both albums came out on the Arhoolie label. Thornton continued to record for Vanguard, Mercury, and other small labels in the 1970s and to work the blues festival circuit until her death in 1984, the same year she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
During her career, she appeared on stages from New York City’s Apollo Theater in 1952 to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980, and was nominated for the Blues Music Awards six times.In addition to “Ball ‘n’ Chain” and “They Call Me Big Mama,” Thornton wrote twenty other blues songs.
In the 1970s years of heavy drinking began to hurt Thornton’s health. She was in a serious auto accident but recovered to perform at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, a recording of which is called The Blues—A Real Summit Meeting on Buddha Records.
McCoy Tyner (piano) - 1938 :: Happy birthday to McCoy Tyner. McCoy is a jazz pianist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and a long solo career.
"The jazz is my life, my wife, my love."
Tyner’s first main exposure came with Benny Golson, being the first pianist in Golson’s and Art Farmer’s legendary Jazztet (1960).
After departing the Jazztet, Tyner joined Coltrane’s group in 1960 during its extended run at the Jazz Gallery replacing Steve Kuhn. (Coltrane had known Tyner for a while in Philadelphia, and featured one of the pianist’s compositions, “The Believer”, as early as 1958.) He appeared on the saxophonist’s popular recording of “My Favorite Things” for Atlantic Records.
The Coltrane Quartet, which consisted of Coltrane on tenor sax, Tyner, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums, toured almost non-stop between 1961 and 1965 and recorded a number of classic albums, including Live at the Village Vanguard, Ballads, Live at Birdland, Crescent, A Love Supreme, and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays …, on the Impulse! label.
Tyner has recorded a number of highly influential albums in his own right. While in Coltrane’s group, he recorded a series of important albums (primarily in the piano trio format) for Impulse! Records.The pianist also appeared as a sideman in many of the highly acclaimed Blue Note Records albums of the 1960s, although was often credited as “etc.” on the cover of these albums (when listing the sidemen on the album) in order to respect his contractual obligations at Impulse Records.
His involvement with John Coltrane came to an end in 1965. Coltrane’s music was becoming much more atonal and free; he had also augmented his quartet with percussion players who threatened to drown out both Tyner and Jones. This seemed to add to his drive and character about wanting to make music his own and unique. Tyner was somewhat bitter about the change in Coltrane’s direction: “I didn’t see myself making any contribution to that music… All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.”By 1966, Tyner was rehearsing with a new trio and would now fully embark on his career as a leader.
After leaving Coltrane’s group, Tyner produced a series of post-bop albums released on Blue Note Records from 1967 to 1970 which included The Real McCoy (1967), Tender Moments (1967), Time for Tyner (1968), Expansions (1968) and Extensions (1970).
Soon thereafter he moved to the Milestone label and recorded many influential albums, including Sahara (1972), Enlightenment (1973), and Fly with the Wind (1976), which featured flautist Hubert Laws, drummer Billy Cobham, and a string orchestra. His music for Blue Note and Milestone often took the Coltrane quartet’s music as a point of departure and also incorporated African and East Asian musical elements. On Sahara, for instance, Tyner plays koto, in addition to piano, flute, and percussion.
These albums are often cited as examples of vital, innovative jazz from the 1970s that was neither fusion nor free jazz. Trident (1975) is notable for featuring Tyner on harpsichord (rarely heard in jazz) and celeste, in addition to his primary instrument, piano.
Tyner still records and tours regularly and played from the 1980s through ’90s with a trio that included Avery Sharpe on bass and first Louis Hayes, then Aaron Scott, on drums. He made a trio of solo recordings for Blue Note, starting with Revelations (1988) and culminating with Soliloquy (1991).
Today Tyner records for the Telarc label and has been playing with different trios, one of which has included Charnett Moffett on bass and Al Foster on drums. In 2008, Tyner toured with his quartet, which featured saxophonist Gary Bartz with Gerald Cannon (bass) and Eric Kamau Gravatt (drums).
Perez Prado (composer/conductor/leader) - 1916-1989 :: Dámaso Pérez Pradowas a Cuban bandleader, musician (singer, organist and pianist), and composer. He is often referred to as the “King of the Mambo”. Pérez was actually his surname, so Dámaso Pérez, his true name, but he became known by the paternal and maternal surnames “Pérez Prado.”
His orchestra was the most popular in mambo.His son, Pérez Prado, Jr., continues to direct the Pérez Prado Orchestra in Mexico City to this day.
He studied classical piano in his early childhood, and later played organ and piano in local clubs. For a time, he was pianist and arranger for the Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s best-known musical group. He also worked with casino orchestras in Havana for most of the 1940s, and gained a reputation for being an imaginative (his solo playing style predated bebop by at least five years), loud player. He was nicknamed “El Cara de Foca" ("Seal Face") by his peers at the time.
In 1948 he moved to Mexico to form his own band and record for RCA Victor. He quickly specialized in mambos, an upbeat adaptation of the Cuban danzón. Perez’s mambos stood out among the competition, with their fiery brass riffs and strong saxophone counterpoints, and most of all, Pérez’s trademark grunts (he actually says “¡Dilo!”, or “Say it!”, in many of the perceived grunts). In 1950 arranger Sonny Burke heard “Que rico el mambo" while on vacation in Mexico and recorded it back in the United States as "Mambo Jambo". The single was a hit, which caused Perez to launch a US tour. His appearances in 1951 were sell-outs and he began recording US releases for RCA Victor.
Perez is the composer of such famous pieces as “Mambo No. 5” (later a UK chart-topper for both Lou Bega in 1999 and animated character Bob the Builder in 2001) and “Mambo No. 8”.
At the height of the mambo movement, in 1955, Perez hit the American charts at number one with a cha-cha version of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” (composed by French composer Louiguy). This arrangement, featuring trumpeter Billy Regis, held the spot for 10 consecutive weeks. The song also went to number one in the UK and in Germany. Perez had first covered this title for the movie Underwater! in 1954, where Jane Russell can be seen dancing to “Cherry Pink”.
In 1958 one of Perez’s own compositions, “Patricia”, became the last record to ascend to #1 on the Jockeys and Top 100 charts, both of which gave way the following week to the then newly-introduced Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also went to number one in Germany, and in the UK it reached number eight.
His popularity in the United States matched the peak of the first wave of interest in Latin music outside the Latino communities during the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.
With the end of the 1950s, his success waned, and the years gave way to new rhythms, like rock ‘n roll and then pop music. His association with RCA Victor ended in the 1960s, and his recorded output was mainly limited to smaller labels and recycled Latin-style anthologies.
Rafael Cortijo (composer/conductor/leader) - 1928-1982 :: was a Puerto Rican musician, orchestra leader, and composer.
As a child, Cortijo became interested in Caribbean music and enjoyed the works of some of the era’s most successful Plena music musicians. Throughout his life, he had a chance to meet and work with some of them, and learned how to make his own congas and pleneras, the handheld drums used in plena music.
Salsa composer and singer Ismael Rivera met Cortijo when both were youngsters, as they both grew up in the Villa Palmeras neighborhood of Santurce; they became lifelong friends. Rivera was impressed with Cortijo’s conga-playing skills and asked him to join his orchestra, which played at Fiestas patronales all over Puerto Rico.
After playing in Rivera’s orchestra, Cortijo wanted to have an orchestra of his own, and play the music he first loved: plena. So he left Rivera’s orchestra and formed his own, plena-only orchestra, complete with trumpet and saxophone players.
Rafael Cortijo became well known across Latin America. He attributed his success to the sound of his percussion and because, according to Cortijo himself, African music was known worldwide. Cortijo was also a member of the Conjunto Monterrey, based in Monterrey, Mexico.
Later on, Cortijo worked on radio, with renowned music artists such as Myrta Silva and Miguelito Valdés. Cortijo also toured with Daniel Santos’ orchestra.
By 1954, Cortijo was a member of “El Combo”. El Combo’s leader, Mario Roman, retired soon after. As a member of El Combo, Cortijo met lifelong friends Sammy Ayala and Rafael Ithier, who considered Cortijo one of his idols. Ismael Rivera, then the lead singer of Lito Peña’s Orquesta Panamericana, joined Cortijo’s orchestra in 1955. From there on and until 1960, Cortijo and his orchestra played live on Puerto Rican television shows (they were the house band at "La Taberna India").
The orchestra virtually disbanded in 1962 when Ismael Rivera was arrested for drug possession in Panama. According to later reports, various band members concealed illegal drug shipments regularly since they were rarely intervened with at Customs; in this particular occasion an inspection was indeed made, and Rivera willingly took the bulk of the rap for the entire group (including Cortijo, who was deeply affected by Rivera’s plea and regretted it through the rest of his life). Rafael Ithier and other bandmates went on to found Puerto Rico’s salsa group, “El Gran Combo”.
Later on, Cortijo created another orchestra, “El Bonche”, where he was joined by his adopted niece, Fe Cortijo. Fe then became a well known singer on her own. Marvin Santiago became part of Cortijo’s lineup around this time.
Cortijo became bankrupt after this; the problems that he and Rivera faced took a toll on Cortijo’s financial situation, and he and Rivera were not seen with good eyes by many Puerto Ricans due to their legal problems.
Cortijo and Rivera went on to live in New York. Cortijo, however, soon returned to Puerto Rico, where the composer, Tite Curet Alonso, forged a friendship with the impoverished star and helped Cortijo produce a comeback album.
In 1974, Coco Records reunited all the former members of the “Combo” orchestra for a one-time-only concert and a subsequent studio recording issued a few months afterwards.
Jack Purvis (trumpet) - 1906-1962 :: Purvis was best known as a trumpet player and the composer of Dismal Dan and Down Georgia Way He was one of the earliest trumpeters to incorporate the innovations pioneered by Louis Armstrong in the late 1920s He also played trombone and on occasion a number of other instruments professionally (including harp).
After high school he worked in his home state for a time then went to Lexington, Kentucky where he played with the Original Kentucky Night Hawks. Around this time he learned to fly planes. In 1926 he was with Bud Rice and toured New England. He then worked the remainder of 1926 and the beginning of 1927 with Whitey Kaufman’s Original Pennsylvanians.
For a short time he played trumpet with Arnold Johnson’s orchestra, and by July 1928 he traveled to France with George Carhart’s band. It is reported that he had an early brush with the law when he cheated a tourist out of his travelers checks and was forced to leave the band and flee France Ship’s passenger list information reports “Jacques F. Purvis” returning to New York, from Le Havre, France, on November 19. 1928.
In 1930, Purvis led a couple of racially mixed recording sessions including the likes of J.C. Higginbotham, and Adrian Rollini One of these sessions was organized by Adrian Rollini and OKeh A & R man, Bob Stephens.
After leaving Hal Kemp in 1930, allegedly because legal issues precluded his going with the band to Florida, Purvis found work with the California Ramblers. He also worked with the Dorsey Brothers and played fourth trumpet with Fletcher Henderson, although only in a rehearsal capacity.
Although he was a brilliant musician, capable of either a hot jazz solo or a difficult passage through the hardest of arrangements, he could not be counted on to arrive anywhere on time. This lack of accountability plagued him throughout his life, and can be traced to his earliest years.
From 1931 to 1932 he played with a few radio orchestras and worked with Fred Waring. In 1933 he toured the South with Charlie Barnet. He even talked his way into a job with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra playing The Carnival of Venice. During this time he also worked in Texas as a pilot perhaps smuggling illegal goods out of Mexico.
He moved to California and was successful with radio broadcasting work.In Los Angeles, Purvis worked for the George Stoll Orchestra as a writer and even worked for Warner Bros. Studios arranging. He composed Legends of Haiti for a one hundred and ten piece orchestra. Afterwards he found work in San Francisco as a chef.
At the end of 1935 he joined Frank Froeba’s Swing Band in New York.These 1935 recordings with Froeba were the end of Purvis’ recording career.He played a couple of weeks with Joe Haymes’ orchestra and then disappeared for a couple of years. There was a confirmed sighting of him working in a diner in the midwest around this time. It is also speculated that he worked as a ship’s cook on a freighter at the time.
He was arrested in Texas in June 1937, while working as a cook, for his involvement in a robbery in El Paso, Texas. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to jail time in Huntsville Prison.While in prison he directed the Rhythmic Swingsters, the prison band and also played piano with them. The band regularly broadcast on radio station WBAP in 1938.
In August 1940, Purvis was conditionally pardoned from prison, but he quickly broke his parole and was sent back to prison for six more years.Some sources claim he did this deliberately because he missed the prison band.
According to researcher Paul Larsen, Purvis gassed himself to death in San Francisco, California on March 30, 1962. Yet Purvis’ death certificate indicates the cause of death to be “fatty degeneration of the liver” rather than death by gas poisoning. Stories persist that a man who looked like (and introduced himself as) Jack Purvis showed up at a band date by cornetist Jim Goodwin and the two men had a long talk about his life on two occasions in 1968.
Another day packed with some awesome musicians. Hey all you December 11th Jazzlings have yourselfs a great day and an extra-special year ahead! may it lead you towards your dreams.
Thanks to AAJ & JBC for the guidance,
Respect to the YouTube Massive for the uploads,
Hi-5 Inspiration Crew, thanks for doing all your inspirational stuff and for following this blog.
and thanks to YOU for jus’ passin’ thru’
Be water, my freinds,