Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30: Jazz clarinetist and bandleaderArtie Shaw died on this date in 2004…

… he was 94 years-old when he passed away.

Born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York City, Shaw grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. Shaw began learning the saxophone when he was 13 years old, and by the age of 16, he switched to the clarinet and left home to tour with a band.

Returning to New York, he became a session musician through the early 1930s. From 1925 until 1936, Shaw performed with many bands and orchestras, including those of Johnny Caverello and Austin Wylie. In 1929 and 1930 he played with Irving Aaronson's Commanders, where he was exposed to symphonic music, which he would later incorporate in his arrangements.

Shaw first gained critical acclaim with his "Interlude in B-flat" at a swing concert at the Imperial Theater in New York in 1935.

During the swing era, his big band was popular with hits like "Begin the Beguine," "Stardus," "Back Bay Shuffle,” "Moonglow,” "Rosalie" and "Frenesi.” He was an innovator in the big band idiom, using unusual instrumentation; "Interlude in B-flat,” where he was backed with only a rhythm section and a string quartet, was one of the earliest examples of what would be later dubbed third stream.

In addition to hiring Buddy Rich, he signed Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the segregated Southern US. However, after recording "Any Old Time" she left the band due to hostility from audiences in the South, as well as from music company executives who wanted a more "mainstream" singer.

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The Essential Artie Shaw

His band became enormously successful, and his playing was eventually recognized as equal to that of Benny Goodman: longtime Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard cited Shaw as his favorite clarinet player. In response to Goodman's nickname, the "King of Swing,” Shaw's fans dubbed him the "King of the Clarinet."

Shaw prized innovation and exploration in music more highly than popular success and formulaic dance music, despite a string of hits which sold more than 100 million records. He fused jazz with classical music by adding strings to his arrangements, experimented with bebop, and formed "chamber jazz" groups that utilized such novel sounds as harpsichords or Afro-Cuban music.

The long series of musical groups Shaw formed included such talents as vocalists Billie Holiday, Helen Forrest and, Mel Tormé; drummers Buddy Rich and Dave Tough, guitarists Barney Kessel, Jimmy Raney, and Tal Farlow and trombonist-arranger Ray Conniff, among countless others.

He composed the morose "Nightmare,” with its Hassidic nuances, for his personal theme, rather than more approachable songs. In a televised interview of the 1970s, Shaw derided the often "asinine" songs that bands were compelled to play night after night. In 1994, he told Frank Prial of The New York Times, "I thought that because I was Artie Shaw I could do what I wanted, but all they wanted was 'Begin the Beguine.' "

Artie Shaw & Lana Turner

A self-proclaimed "very difficult man," Shaw was married eight times. Two of his wives were Lana Turner and Ava Gardner.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Dec. 26: Teena Marie, The Ivory Queen of Soul" died on this date...

... She was 54-years-old when she passed away.

Born Mary Christine Brockert, Teena Marie was a protege' of  R&B and "funk" legend Rick James, and was one of the most successful white performers of R&B. She played rhythm guitar, keyboards and congas. She also wrote, produced, sang and arranged virtually all of her songs since her 1980 release, Irons in the Fire, which she said was her favorite album.

She had a daughter, Alia Rose, who, as of 2009, sang under the name Rose Le Beau. Marie died on Sunday, December 26, 2010, at home.

A four-time Grammy nominee, Marie had a strong African-American influence from her godmother. Blessed with the gift of music at a young age, the Santa Monica, California, native grew up in the historically African-American enclave of Oakwood, California in westside Los Angeles. Raised on Motown music and singing Harry Belafonte music by age 2, Marie’s self-professed “Gift from God” would become fine-tuned as the years progressed.

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Teena Marie: Ultimate Collection


As a child, she had an acting role on The Beverly Hillbillies, credited as Tina Marie Brockert. She also sang at the wedding of actor Jerry Lewis' son when she was 10 years old.

While attending Venice High School, she joined the Summer Dance Production, and also had a role in the school's production of The Music Man.

Marie signed with Motown Records in 1976, having gained an introduction to staff producer Hal Davis (best known for his work with Brenda Holloway and the Jackson 5, and then auditioned, with her band, for label boss Berry Gordy. She recorded unreleased material with a number of different producers, including Kerner and Wise, but was then spotted by Rick James, and guitarist Paul C Saenz, who became her mentors.

Her debut album release, Wild and Peaceful, was originally targeted as a project to be produced by James for Diana Ross, but James preferred to work with Marie. It scored Marie's first top-ten R&B hit, "I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love" which was a duet with James.

Neither the album sleeve nor other packaging showed a picture of Marie, apparently on the theory that black audiences might be reluctant to buy an album by a white artist. In fact, many radio programmers wrongly assumed Marie was African American during the earliest months of her career. This myth was disproved when Marie performed her debut hit with James on Soul Train in 1979. In 1980, her second album, Lady T, sported a picture of her on the cover.

Lady T included production from Richard Rudolph (husband of R&B singer Minnie Riperton, and father of Maya Rudolph from Saturday Night Live.) Marie had asked Berry Gordy to contact Rudolph and secure his input as Rick James was unavailable and she felt unprepared to be sole producer of her own material. Rudolph intended for the song he penned, "Now That I Have You,"  to be sung by his wife, but it was later given to Marie.

Rudolph also co-composed the single "Behind The Groove,"  which reached number 21 on the black singles chart and the top ten on the U.K. singles chart. The song was also included on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Fever 105 station. Another notable track, "Too Many Colors," featured Rudolph and Riperton's then 7-year-old daughter, Maya Rudolph, who became Teena Marie's god-daughter.

Also in 1980, Marie released her third LP, Irons in The Fire, in which she handled all writing and production herself, including the horn and rhythm arrangements of her band and all backing vocals. The single "I Need Your Lovin'" brought Teena her first top 40 hit. That same year, Teena Marie appeared on James' hugely successful album, Street Songs, with the steamy duet "Fire and Desire."  The two would perform the single at the 2004 BET Awards, which would be their last TV appearance with one another as Rick James died later that year.

Marie continued her success with Motown in 1981, with the release of It Must Be Magic, her first gold record, which included her then biggest hit on R&B, "Square Biz." Other notable tracks include "Portuguese Love," the title track "It Must be Magic," and "Yes Indeed,"  which Marie has cited as a personal favorite.

In 1982, Marie got into a heated legal battle with Motown records over her contract and disagreements about releasing her new material. The scuffle resulted in "The Brockert Initiative,"  which makes it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing new material for that artist. In such instances, artists are able to sign and release with another label instead of being held back by an unsupportive one.

After leaving Motown in 1982, Marie signed with Epic Records in 1983 and released the concept album Robbery, which featured the hit "Fix It", as well as "Shadow Boxing" and "Casanova Brown." The latter was one of a number of tracks Marie would write over the years about her real-life romance with one-time mentor Rick James. The relationship had ended by that point, but the two would continue a sometimes tempestuous friendship, until James's death in August 2004. In 1984, Marie released her biggest-selling album, Starchild. It yielded the hit single "Lovergirl in March 1985.
In 1986, Marie released a rock music-influenced concept album titled Emerald City. It was controversial with her established fan base and not as successful as its predecessors. She also recorded another rock-influenced track, "Lead Me On,"  for the soundtrack of the box office hit film, Top Gun.

In 1988, she returned to her R&B and funk roots, releasing the critically-acclaimed album Naked to the World. That album contained the hit "Ooo La La La,"  which reached the top of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and remains her only #1 single on that chart to date. During her 1988 Naked to the World concert tour, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized for six months.

In 2010, Marie continued to be a headliner on the Las Vegas Strip, appearing regularly at the Las Vegas Hilton and other venues until just before her death at age 54.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14: The "Queen of the Blues," Dinah Washington, died on this date in 1963...

... she was only 39 years old when she passed away.

In her very, very short life, Dinah became one of the most influential vocalists of the twentieth century, credited with being a major influence on Aretha Franklin. Likewise, Dinah often gave credit to Bessie Smith - The Empress of Blues- as influencing her.

 She was born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in August 1924 (her exact birth date is uncertain). When she was three, her family moved to Chicago. Ruth received her first musical instruction at home, learning to sing and play the piano from her mother. By her teens, she was a well-known gospel singer at the St. Luke’s Baptist Church.

 After winning a talent contest, Jones started performing in local clubs when she was only 16 years old.  In 1940, she returned to religious music when gospel singer Sallie Martin hired her as her pianist.

With Lionel Hampton
Two years later, Jones went back to the nightclub circuit, playing piano at the Three Deuces, a Chicago jazz club where her idol Billie Holiday was performing. There, she was spotted by bandleader Lionel Hampton, who hired her as his vocalist. Hampton later claimed that he gave Jones the stage name Dinah Washington.

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The Fabulous Miss D: The Keynote, Decca, & Mercury Singles 1943-1953Back to Blues (Ain't Nothin But a Woman Cryin For)The Best of Dinah Washington - 20th Century Masters: Millennium CollectionSmoke Gets in Your Eyes

Dinah was quickly becoming known for her trademark voice and the emotion it evoked. While singing with Hampton’s band, Washington began recording blues songs.

In 1943, her “Evil Gal Blues” and “Salty Papa Blues” were hits with African-American audiences. Two years later, “Blowtop Blues”—the only song she recorded with Hampton—made her a star of rhythm and blues. After going solo in 1945, Washington was signed by Mercury Records, which would remain her label for 15 years.

While a Mercury artist, she recorded more than 400 songs for the burgeoning urban blues market. With records such as “Long John Blues” (1947) and “Trouble in Mind” (1952), she was considered by many to be the successor of blues great and one of her idols, Bessie Smith.

Washington, however, was able to sing almost any type of song; she even had great success with covers of Broadway show tunes and even had a country hit with a cover of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart” (1952).

Capitalizing on her talent and "can do" spirit, Washington also developed a reputation as a jazz artist. On songs such as “Lover, Come Back to Me,” she had a fruitful collaboration with pianist Wynton Kelly, which some compared to the working relationship between Holiday and Lester Young.

Washington frequently performed at jazz clubs and festivals. Her triumphant appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 was recorded in the concert film  Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959).  That same year, she won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance. With "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes."

For most of her recording career, Washington’s music was sold nearly exclusively to African Americans. In 1959, however, she broke into the larger mainstream market with “What a Diff ’rence a Day Makes.” In addition to hitting the top 10 on the R&B charts, the record won a Grammy Award. The next year, Washington had three crossover hits. With fellow Mercury artist Brook Benton, she sang the duets “Baby, You’ve Got What it Takes” and “A Rockin’ Good Way,” while on her own she had a number-one hit with the mournful love song, “This Bitter Earth.”

Jazz On A Summer's DayTwo of UsEndlessly--The Best Of Brook Benton

On- and offstage, she had a flamboyant style. She loved tight dresses and mink coats and enjoyed shocking people with her rough language.

Dinah was She was 5'2" tall and had fought weight problems for most of her life, and at the time of her death was trying to lose weight. Very early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Dinah's eighth husband, NFL player Dick "Night Train" Lane went to sleep with his wife and awoke later to find Dinah slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital mixed with alcohol which contributed to her untimely death at the age of 39.

In 1986 Dinah was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11: Sam Cooke "Cupid" "You Send Me," "Bring It on Home to Me" died on this date in 1964...

... he was 33 when he died from gunshot wounds.


"Sam Cooke was the only one that really influenced me.  Over a period of two years, that's all I listened to."  Rod Stewart Rolling Stone Magazine, June 8 , 1972.
Samuel Cook, born on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, was a gospel, R&B, soul, and pop singer and songwriter. Nicknamed The King of Soul, he is one of the pioneers and founders of soul music.

Cooke is remembered or his unique vocal abilities and impact and influence on the modern world of music. He is credited with paving the way for Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and James Brown.

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Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964Sam Cooke - Greatest HitsComplete Recordings of Sam Cooke with the Soul StirrersOne Night Stand: Live at the Harlem Square Club 63

Cooke had 29 top-40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1964. Major hits like "You Send Me," "A Change Is Gonna Come," "Chain Gang", "Wonderful World," and "Bring It on Home to Me" are some of his most popular songs.

Cooke was among the first African-American performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company.  

On December 11, 1964, Cooke was shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and the manager killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely in dispute.