Category: jazz

Jazz singer Sallie Blair (1934-1992) photographed by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE magazine, 1957.


Louis Armstron, Cab Calloway and Billy Daniels at a party for Billy in 1955.

Photos by David Sutton

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On this day in music history: December 9, 1965 – “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the tenth album by the Vince Guaraldi Trio is released. Produced by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson, it is recorded at Whitney Studios in Glendale, CA and Fantasy Recording Studios in San Francisco, CA in October 1964 and November 1965. Beginning modestly, in only nine newspapers around the US on October 2, 1950, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts” grows into a worldwide phenomenon. By the 1960’s, the strip hits its stride and expands beyond the news page. That expansion begins in 1960, when The Peanuts Gang appear in a series of print ads and commercials for the Ford Falcon automobile. In 1963, Schulz is approached about a documentary about Peanuts. Titled “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” it is never aired, but spins off an album titled “Jazz Impressions Of A Boy Named Charlie Brown” by San Francisco based jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi in 1964. TV comes calling again when executives from Coca Cola, ask Schulz and commercial producer Lee Mendelson to create a half hour animated Christmas special, after Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy appear on the cover of Time Magazine on April 9, 1965. Schulz agrees to the special, writing it over the course of a weekend. It immediately goes into production with Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez at the helm. Vince Guaraldi is hired to compose the music. Though Guaraldi is credited with musicians Colin Bailey (drums) and Monty Budwig (bass), other uncredited musicians including Jerry Granelli (drums) and Fred Marshall (bass), also perform on the tracks. A children’s chorus from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, CA, perform on three songs. The track “Christmas Time Is Here” features lyrics written by Lee Mendelson, when Guaraldi is unable to come up with any himself. The soundtrack is recorded over three sessions, and is completed shortly before the TV special is scheduled to air. When screened by executives at CBS, they initially hate it and Guaraldi’s jazzy score. Fate has other plans when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs on December 9, 1965. The special is a ratings blockbuster, coming in at #2 in the ratings for the week behind “Bonanza”. The music also becomes instantly iconic, turning into one of the best selling holiday albums of all time, as the special has become a Christmas staple. Reissued multiple times, Fantasy Records alters the original cover artwork in 1978, but is restored in the early 2000’s as it is remastered and reissued on CD, vinyl, DVD-A and SACD. It is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002, and is added to the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress in 2012. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” peaks at number twenty three on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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Born on this day: November 29, 1940 – Jazz musician Chuck Mangione (born Charles Frank Mangione in Rochester, NY). Happy 79th Birthday, Chuck!!!

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On this day in music history: November 26, 1971 – “Inner City Blues”, the debut album by Grover Washington, Jr. is released. Produced by Creed Taylor, it is recorded at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ in September 1971. Born in Buffalo, NY, Grover Washington, Jr. begins pursuing a music career after graduating high school at sixteen. Performing with The Four Clefs and the Mark III Trio, Washington finds his musical ambitions deferred for a time, when he’s drafted into the army. While in the service, Grover meets drummer Billy Cobham. After being discharged from the army, Washington reconnects with Cobham, who introduces him to the thriving jazz music scene in New York City. Working as a side man for various artists, Grover makes his recording debut, playing on organist Leon Spencer’s first two albums in 1970 and 1971. In the Fall of 1971, Washington gets his big break, when he’s booked to play a session with saxophonist Hank Crawford. When Crawford fails to show up for the scheduled session at engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, producer Creed Taylor has the young musician take the lead. Normally a tenor sax player, Washington hasn’t played an alto saxophone since his time in the army. Taylor has Grover overdub alto sax over the existing tracks. Completing the songs in short order, Creed Taylor signs Grover Washington, Jr. to his newly established Kudu Records, distributed by Motown Records. Featuring covers of Marvin Gaye’s recent hits “Inner City Blues” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and standards like “I Loves You Porgy” and “Georgia On My Mind”, it is only the third release for the fledlging Kudu Records, sister label to Taylor’s CTI Records (then distributed by CBS Records). Washington’s tasteful playing along with the funky jazz grooves, supported by players like Bob James, Richard Tee (keyboards), Ron Carter (double bass, electric bass), Eric Gale (guitar) and Idris Muhummad (drums), it quickly finds an enthusiastic and devoted audience. The album not only enters the jazz album charts, but also the R&B and pop charts. It establishes Grover Washington, Jr. as one of the leaders of the jazz-funk movement, and sets the pace for the major success he’ll enjoy throughout the 70’s and beyond. Reissued on Motown after the collapse of Kudu and CTI in 1978, “Inner City Blues” makes its CD debut in 1995, on Motown’s MoJazz imprint. It’s remastered and reissued in 2008, as part of Verve Records’ “Originals” series, in a digi-pak. “Inner City Blues” peaks at number four on the Billboard Jazz album chart, number eight on the R&B album chart, and number sixty two on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: November 19, 1971 – “Black Moses”, the fifth album by Isaac Hayes is released. Produced by Isaac Hayes, it is recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis, TX from March – October 1971. By early 1971, Isaac Hayes is firing on all creative cylinders. In less than two years, he’s released three albums including the landmark soundtrack for “Shaft”. The latter isn’t even in stores yet, before Hayes is back in the studio. Now well established with his own brand of “progressive soul”, the musician follows the credo of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. He is once again backed by The Bar-Kays and The Movement, along with arranger Johnny Allen. Nearly all of the fourteen songs included on the album, are extended reworkings of recent R&B and pop hits, given Ike’s special touch. The lone single released is a cover of The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” (#5 R&B, #22 Pop, #19 AC) in April of 1971. That single is backed by another cover, a version of Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”, but is not included the full length release. The album title “Black Moses” comes from Stax Records’ executive Dino Woodward’s nickname for Hayes. He compares the musicians’ charismatic hold on his audience to the biblical figure. Being a religious man, Isaac initially eschews the moniker, feeling that “it’s sacrilegious”. However, he has a change of heart when he also sees the term as “a symbol of black pride”. The title also extends to the double LP’s cover artwork. Designed by Larry Shaw and Ron Gordon, the gatefold sleeve features a photo of Isaac (taken by Joel Brodsky), dressed in a flowing robe like the biblical prophet. The sleeve unfolds to reveal the full image, as a giant cross. “Black Moses” hits #1 on the R&B album chart just two weeks after the “Shaft Soundtrack”, drops from the top spot. Some copies of “Moses” feature the standard sequence with sides one and two pressed on one LP, and three and four on the second. Others feature one and four, and two and three, for listeners using a turntable with an automatic changer. Over the years, it becomes a sampler’s favorite, when Portishead uses a portion of “Ike’s Rap II” for their song “Glory Box”, and by Tricky on “Hell Is Round The Corner”. It’s also sampled by Racionais MC’s, and Alessia Cara. Released on CD in 1989, it’s remastered and reissued in 2009. Out of print on vinyl for more over thirty years, it is reissued as a 2 LP 180 gram vinyl set in 2013 by 4 Men With Beards. It’s reissued again by Stax/UMe in 2017, and by Craft Recordings in 2018. The Craft vinyl LP set replicates the original fold out sleeve for the first time since its original release. “Black Moses” spends seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number two on the Jazz album chart, and number ten on the Top 200.

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Nina Simone performing on a TV show filmed at BBC Television Centre in London, 1968.

Photos by David Redfern