When a musician dies, I always think of how grateful I am to have seen that person perform, if I did. I only saw Bowie once, at an acoustic Neil Young Bridge Concert in 1996, but right now I’m clinging to that memory like it was a dog-eared old photograph.
I also feel sad for the young people who don’t know Bowie’s work. Of course, in an age of YouTube it’s easy to rediscover artists. And it’s always possible to discover an artist’s proteges who are still performing, to get a taste of their inspiration.
Which brings me to WordPress.
Being a huge jazz fan – and 10-year Vancouver Jazz Fest volunteer– one of the things I like best about WordPress is how they honor jazz artists by naming versions for them.
Not only does it give me faith that the younger generation of technorati is keeping this unique American art form alive, it also give me a chance to write about jazz on this blog.
WordPress is so much like jazz. Both are free-form, open-source mediums to maximize personal expression and encourage improvisation. Both are innovative extensions of previous modals. Both attract users and fans with a predilection toward pushing boundaries.
And, listening to jazz while blogging can make your posts more adventurous.
But when I see stats that say 46% of WordPress users are between the ages of 26-35, I wonder if they have any idea who these jazz artists are. Do they know what these musicians accomplished to make Matt Mullenweg choose to honor them?
So, to help WordPress users understand the jazz artists for which these versions are named, I’ve written bios of each of them, plus callouts of their claims to fame, signature songs, and most importantly, the living Adherents who are carrying their jazz DNA in their own works.
Dig now, the Jazz Roots of WordPress Versions.
WordPress 4.4 December, 2015
Unlike WordPress, it’s heartbreaking to think of what trumpeter Clifford Brown might have accomplished if his life had not been cut so tragically short in a car accident. At the age of 25, Brown was considered up there with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis in terms of technique, but he had none of the drug or alcohol habits his contemporaries embraced. He was a rare, cleaning-living jazz musician.
Life Details: Born in 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware, to a musical family. Died 1956 in Pennsylvania at age 26.
Claims to Fame: Provided a major link in the evolution from bop to hard bop in ’50s jazz.
Signature Songs: “Swingin’”, “The Blues Walk”, “Tiny Capers”, “Joy Spring,” “Sandu.”
Living Adherents: Randy Brecker, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Freddie Hubbard, Arturo Sandoval, Roy Hargrove.
Version 4.3 August, 2015
Singer Billie Holiday had lots of reasons to sing the blues having experienced vicious racism, sexism, and anti-drug fervor in her time. She was discovered by legendary record producer John Hammond, and later sang on a Benny Goodman (WordPress Version 4) record just as his star was rising. In 1935 she recorded the hits, “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You,” which led to her contract with Columbia. She teamed with the inimitable sax man and lifelong friend Lester Young who named her “Lady Day.” She called him “Prez.”
Her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues was published in 1956. It was followed by the album “Lady Sings the Blues”, which contained some of her biggest hits, “Too Marvelous for Words”, “Willow Weep for Me,” and “I Thought About You.” Diana Ross played her in the film version of Lady Sings the Blues.
Life Details: Born Eleanora Fagan Gough in 1915 in Philadelphia, abandoned by Father, raped by neighbor, prostituted by mother, and imprisoned by age 14, she died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1959 at age 44, broke.
Claims to Fame: Iconic jazz singer with an inimitable laconic style that made her a legend.
Signature Songs: Wrote “Don’t Explain,” “God Bless the Child,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Fine and Mellow,” and “Billies Blues,” but most remembered for “Strange Fruit” by teacher Abel Meeropol.
Living Adherents: Erykah Badu, Washington Cassandra Wilson, Macy Gray, Joan Armatrading, Norah Jones, Gray Rickie Lee Jones, Aretha Franklin, Madeleine Peyroux.
Version 4.2 April 2015
Bud Powell came up in the Harlem Renaissance playing piano with some of the giants of jazz including Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as well as his greatest influence, Art Tatum. Powell’s future was bright, if it weren’t for his mental illness which brought alcohol abuse, fights, and incarceration.
Life Details: Born in 1924 in Harlem, and died in 1966 in New York, NY
Claims to Fame: Famous for his percussive punctuation, as well as his need for speed.
Signature Songs: “Bouncing with Bud”, “John’s Abbey”, “Dexter Rides Again”, “Un Poco Loco”
Living Adherents: McCoy Tyner, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett, Eddie Palmieri
WordPress 4.1 December 2014
Early on, Dinah Washington fronted a band run by xylophonist Lionel Hampton, who suggested her name change. What made Washington unique, and controversial, was her comfort with a range of musical styles. From 1948 to 1955, Washington sang blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, even country like Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” In later years, she was accompanied by lush orchestrations in the style of Ray Charles.
Life Details: Born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, AL in 1924, she died in December 1963 in Detroit, MI of an accidental overdose.
Claims to Fame: Her versatile, distinctive voice was sharp and gritty, with perfect enunciation, which made her sound tough and strong.
Signature Songs: Not a songwriter, Washington’s biggest hits were “What a Difference a Day Makes,” and “Unforgettable.”
Living Adherents: Thornton Cassandra Wilson, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall.
Version 4.0 September 2014
Benny Goodman is considered the King of Swing for a reason. He practically invented the style that made old-time jazz danceable. Swing is the music that launched the famous Jitterbug and the ever-popular Swing dances.
Goodman not only ushered in the Swing Era, which dominated American music from 1935 to 1946, but he was also ahead of his time by integrating his band. He hired African Americans at a time when bands were either all white or all black, but they never mixed until Benny did it. Goodman brought along such swingers as Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Harry James, and featured singers Ella Fitzgerald (version) and Peggy Lee
Benny Goodman led the first jazz band to play Carnegie Hall, in 1938 where his biggest hit, Sing Sing Sing, was introduced and became a jazz anthem.
Life Details: Born 1909 in Chicago, IL and died in 1986 in New York, NY.
Claims to Fame: Being the Kind of Swing and integrating big bands.
Signature Songs: “Sing Sing Sing.”
Living Adherents: Don Byron, Buddy DeFranco, Paquito d’Rivera, Eddie Daniels.
Version 3.9 April 2014
Jimmy Smith took the mighty Hammond B-3 organ, made it a fixture on the jazz and blues scene, and inspired its incorporation into R&B, rock and reggae music. He also sold a lot of records and had numerous hits. The guy was a jazz pioneer.
Life Details: Born 1928 in Norristown, PA and died 2005 in Scottsdale, AZ
Claims to Fame: Pioneered the jazz organ
Signature Recordings: “Groovin At Small’s Paradise” and “Back At The Chicken Shack.”
Living Adherents: Steve Winwood, Barbara Dennerlein, John Mayall, and Lonnie Liston Smith
Version 3.8 December 2013
Saxaphonist Charlie Parker, aka Yardbird or just Bird, was one of the giants of jazz. Parker was a pioneer in the style known as Bebop – or, just Bop – characterized by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing, and intricate melodies. Bop provoked jazz styles such as Cool, West Coast, Modal, Free and Avant-Garde – all the music we love today. The famous Birdland club in New York is named for him.
Bird played with the biggest: Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Percy Heath, Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach among them. Unfortunately, Parker lived hard and excessively by using heroin and drinking heavily. He lost his New York cabaret license and twice attempted suicide before succumbing to lobar pneumonia, a bleeding ulcer, plus cirrhosis and a heart attack at age 35. Truly one of the saddest flame-outs in jazz history.
Life Details: Born August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, KS died March 12, 1955 in New York, NY
Claims to Fame: His style of playing Bop was a game changer in the world of jazz.
Signature Songs: “Ornithology”, “Parker’s Mood”, “Scrapple from the Apple.”
Living Adherents: Branford Marsalis, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Charles McPherson and Lee Konitz – who put on an interesting show last year in Vancouver.
Version 3.7 October 2013
Count Basie is jazz royalty right up there with Duke Ellington as an influential bandleader who came up in the time of big band swing. Billy Holiday sang with his band as did Jimmy Rushing, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and Franks Sinatra. Like Billie Holliday, he was given a break by record producer John Hammond in the 1930s. Count Basie had a less-is-more style of piano playing, considered “spare” and “economical.” He was a master of negative space, using the rests to create a rhythmic quality unique to the big band sound.
Life Details: Born William Basie in 1904 to a musical family in Red Bank, NJ and died of cancer in 1984 in Hollywood, FL.
Claims to Fame: Bandleader to the Count Basie Orchestra.
Signature Songs: Not a songwriter, Basie’s highest ranked recordings include “The Atomic Mr. Basie”, “April In Paris” and “Count Basie At Newport.”
Living Adherents: Terry Gibbs, Quincy Jones, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Version 3.6 August 2013
Oscar Peterson was the most famous jazzman to come out of Canada. With over 200 recordings and eight Grammy Awards in a 60-year career, he was one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. Possessing dazzling technique, the prodigiously recorded pianist always delivered in a powerfully swinging style. He had phenomenal technique and his speed, dexterity, and ability to swing at any tempo were amazing. In fact Peterson was criticized for playing so many notes!
Peterson appeared on dozens of all-star records, made five duet albums with top trumpeters – Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Clark Terry, and Jon Faddis – and teamed up with Count Basie on several two-piano dates, plus more.
To commemorate the 90th birthday of Oscar Peterson, Kelly Peterson has announced a world premiere recording of never-before heard original Oscar Peterson compositions by some of the most celebrated jazz artists in the world. Oscar, with Love will be available in spring 2016.
Life Details: Canadian beginning to end, he was born in 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, and died in 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario.
Claims to Fame: Phenomenal piano technique
Signature Songs: “Canadiana Suite”
Living Adherents: André Previn, Renee Rosnes, Monty Alexander
Version 3.5 December 2012
Drummer Elvin Jones came up in the fertile Detroit jazz scene in the early 1950s and worked in New York with the Bud Powell Trio, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins until he become an influential member of John Coltrane’s Quartet, and then joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra. By the 1990s, he formed the Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine and mentored young lions into jazz.
Life Details: Born to a jazzy family that included brothers Thad and Hank in 1927 in Pontiac, MI and died of heart failure in 2004 in Englewood, NJ.
Claims to Fame: Drummed the gap between advanced hard bop and the avant-garde.
Living Adherents: Ginger Baker, Ravi Coltrane, Stewart Copeland, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Mickey Hart, David Sanchez
Version 3.4 June 2012
A severely underrated player during his lifetime, Grant Green is one of the great unsung heroes of jazz guitar. He combined an extensive foundation in R&B with a mastery of bebop and simplicity that put expressiveness ahead of technical expertise. Green was a superb blues interpreter, and while his later material was predominantly blues and R&B, he was also a wondrous ballad and standards soloist whose phrasing often reflect the style of his influence, Charlie Parker.
In the 1960s Green collaborated with many organists, among them Brother Jack McDuff, Sam Lazar, and Baby Face Willette and in the 1970s with Stanley Turrentine, Yusef Lateef, Joe Henderson, Hank Mobley, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones (version—-
Life Details: Born in 1935 to a guitar playing father in St. Louis, MO. Died in 1979 in New York City.
Claims to Fame: While largely ignored, he was known for his musicality with standards and ballads.
Signature Songs: “Green With Envy”, “Iron City”, “Miss Ann’s Tempo.”
Living Adherents: George Benson, Leo Kottke, Charlie Hunter
Version 3.3 December 2011
Sonny Stitt’s tenor saxophone playing mirrored Charlie Parker’s style, a sound from which he sought to break free. He was featured in Tiny Bradshaw’s big band in the early 1940s, and in Billy Eckstine’s big band with future boppers Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons. He recorded with Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Miles Davis. He moved from swing to Bop to Hard Bop to Latin Jazz. Unfortunately, he was slowed by a heroin habit that showed him the inside of prison, as well as alcoholism.
Life Details: Born Edward Boatner, Jr. to a musical family in Boston, MA in February of 1924, adopted by the Stitts of Saginaw, MI, died of a heart attack in July 1982 in Washington DC.
Claims to Fame: One of the most recorded jazz artists with over 100 albums to his credit
Signature Recordings: “Sonny Side Up”, “Live at the Hi Hat.”
Living Adherents: Hank Crawford, Charles Earland.
Version 3.2.1 July 2011
While George Gershwin was more of an orchestrator than a jazz artist, his music incorporated jazz and his compositions have become standards of jazz. He and his lyricist brother Ira wrote the shows, Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928) as well as the opera, Porgy and Bess (1935) considered one of the most important American operas of the 20th century. His life was cut tragically short by a brain tumor at the age of 38.
Life Details: Born Jacob Gershwin in 1898 in Brooklyn, NY, died in July of 1937 in Los Angeles.
Claims to Fame: Top composer of popular and classical music in the 20th century
Signature Songs: “’S Wonderful”, “But Not for Me”, “Embraceable You”, “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”, “I Got Rhythm”, “Lady, Be Good!”, and Summertime”
Living Adherents: Stephen Sondheim, Randy Newman
Version 3.1 February 2011
Django Reinhardt is the only non-American with a WordPress version. He was a Romani Frenchman considered the father of jazz guitar who created a style that combined gypsy with jazz to create Hot Jazz. He and violinist Stéphane Grappelli, founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France. This, with only the use of his index and middle fingers on his left hand, paralyzed in a fire, which inspired the finger-challenged Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
Reinhardt’s music can be heard in countless films: The Matrix; Rhythm Futur, Daltry Calhoun, Metroland, Chocolat, The Aviator, Alex and the Gypsy, Kate and Leopold and Gattaca, Lacombe Lucien; L.A. Story; as well as numerous Woody Allen movies, including Stardust Memories. His life is spoofed in Woody Allen’s 1999 Sweet and Lowdown.
Life Details: Born January 1910 in Liberchies, Belgium and Died May 16, 1953 in Fontainebleau, France
Claims to Fame: Innovator of Hot Jazz
Signature Songs: “Minor Swing”, “Daphne”, “Belleville”, “Djangology”, “Swing ’42”, and “Nuages”.
Living Adherents: Woody Allen, Willie Nelson, Larry Coryall, Michel Legrand
Version 3.0 June 2010
Monk, one of the legendary geniuses of jazz, had a style so unique he had a difficult time gaining recognition. A child prodigy inspired by stride pianists of the Harlem Renaissance, he kicked around a while before becoming a Coleman Hawkins sideman. Because he left a lot of space in his rhythmic solos, many people thought that he was inferior and lazy. But in 1957 when he got together with John Coltrane his career really took off. Still, his mental illness hampered his playing and he retired in 1973, living in seclusion until his death.
Life Details: Born October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, NC
Died February 17, 1982 in Weehawken, NJ
Claims to Fame: Brilliant composer and pianist, and a founder of modern jazz
Signature Songs: “Round Midnight”, “Straight No Chaser,” “52nd Street Theme,” and “Blue Monk.” “Misterioso”, “Well, You Needn’t”
Living Adherents: McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Mose Allison, Cedar Walton, Wynton Marsalis, Joni Mitchell, Charlie Hunter, Tom Waits, Chick Corea
Version 2.9 December 2009
Carman McRae was a legendary jazz singer whose smokey timbre and nuanced interpretations of standards put her at the forefront of vocal jazz. She was also a pianist and composer. She sang for Benny Carter’s big band in the 40s, married and divorced Kenny Clarke, worked with Count Basie and Mercer Ellington. She was influenced by the style of Billie Holliday and bebop and rose to fame in the 1950s. She recorded with Dave Brubeck’s band, dueted with Betty Carter, and recorded tributes to Thelonius Monk and Sarah Vaughan. But since she refused to quite smoking she was forced to retire in 1991 due to her emphysema.
Life Details: Born in 1920 in Harlem, New York City, died of a stroke in 1994 in Beverly Hills.
Claims to Fame: The singer’s singer
Signature Songs: Composed “The Last Time For Love”, “Dream Of Life”, “Carmen’s Blues”
Living Adherents: Diana Krall, Michael Franks, Sade, Cassandra Willson, Roberta Flack, Jane Monheit.
Version 2.8 June 2009
Chet Baker’s story is the classic case of jazz musician undone by heroin. A California boy with chiseled movie start looks, his soft trumpet sound emulated Miles Davis. He got his start by playing in the Army Band, but eventually fell in with Stan Getz, Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan, and their drug habits. In 1954 he began singing in the album, “Chet Baker Sings” and made his acting debut in Hell’s Horizon in 1955. He toured Europe extensively and in 1960 a fictionalized biopic, All the Fine Young Cannibals, was released starring Robert Wagner.
But the 1960s sucked for Baker, with his drug habit causing arrests all over Europe and a beating in San Francisco that rearranged his teeth. He played and recorded erratically in the 70s and 80s. His unfinished autobiography, As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir, was published in 1997. Baker’s death mirrored his life: falling out of a window while high on heroin and cocaine.
Life Details: Born in 1929 in Yale, OK, and died in 1988 in Amsterdam.
Claims to Fame: A trumpeter with a Miles Davis sound who also sang.
Signature Songs: Played and sang My Funny Valentine
Living Adherents: Elvis Costello, Freddie Hubbard, Harry Connick, Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti, Van Morrison
Version 2.7 December 2008
John Coltrane is among the most influential jazz musicians of the late 20th Century. After playing alto sax in the late 40s, he switched to tenor and played in Jimmy Heath’s band. Then he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band during which time he became addicted to heroin. When he was hired by Miles Davis to play with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, his career broke open. He played on Miles monster series, Cookin’ (1957), Relaxin’ (1957), Workin’ (1958), and Steamin’ (1961) Milestones (1958) as well as the seminal Kind of Blue (1959). Coltrane’s drug habit caused Davis – himself a former addict – to fire Coltrane twice, which provoked him to kick the junk. In 1957, Coltrane released “Coltrane” his first recording as leader of a band of trumpeter Johnny Splawn, baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, pianists Mal Waldron and Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Al “Tootie” Heath.
Coltrane expanded his technique of long solos and playing multiple notes at a time in the Thelonius Monk Quartet. He had fun with his name, recording Blue Train (1957) Soul Trane (1958)Training in and The Last Trane (1965). Downbeat call his playing “angry tenor” and lauded his “sheets of sound.” In 1960, he took an Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from The Sound of Music and recorded his most famous song ever – “My Favorite Things.” Coltrane’s spiritual life was reflected in one of the greatest works in jazz, “A Love Supreme,” which earned two Grammy nominations. His wife, Alice Coltrane, was her own talent. Coltrane died suddenly of liver cancer in 1967, but his oeuvre continued, he was that prolific. If not for Coltrane’s paranoia for doctors, he would have lived to break more ground in jazz.
Life Details: Born in 1926 in Hamlet, NC and died 1967 in Huntington, NY.
Claims to Fame: Jazz pioneer and one of the best saxophonists ever
Signature Songs: Composed “A Love Supreme”, recorded “My Favorite Things”
Living Adherents: Stanley Clark, Carlos Santana, David Murray, Kenny Garrett, Joni Mitchell, Tom Scott
Version 2.6 July 2008
Pianist McCoy Tyner is the only living jazz musician honored with a WordPress-named version. Growing up in Philadelphia, he met Bud Powell and John Coltrane, and made his recording debut with the McCoy Tyner. He played with Sonny Rollins and Stephane Grappelli, and even worked with Ike and Tina Turner. Mostly, Tyner led his own band and has become a virtuoso and influential jazz pianist over his 50 years of playing. At age 77, he still tours, so catch him in February at the Blue Note in NYC or variously at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California.
Life Details: Born 1938 in Philadelphia, PA, he’s still alive!
Claims to Fame: Two-handed forays, extensive modal solos, and dashing phrases
Signature Recordings: “Enlightenment”, “The Real McCoy,” and “Sahara.”
Living Adherents: Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Renee Rosnes, Chick Corea, Geri Allen, Kenny Kirkland
Version 2.5 March 2008
Although Tenor Saxophonist Michael Brecker became a huge influence on tenor player of his generation, it took him a while come out as a jazz soloist. He start playing with a fusion group called Dream before joining Horace Silver and playing with Billy Cobham before teaming up with his brother, trumpeter Randy Brecker in the 1970s. Brecker joined Steps Ahead playing an EWI electronic wind instrument, and backing James Taylor, Yoko Ono, and Paul Simon. Brecker got jazzier in the late 1980s and 90s by playing more with Brecker Brothers, as well as McCoy Tyner. I was lucky to see the Brecker Brothers play at Sonoma State University in the early 2000s. Brecker died of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer of the blood marrow, the rare disease that killed my own sister.
Life Details: Born in 1949 in Philadelphia and died in 2007 in New York City.
Claims to Fame: Wide ranging from pop to fusion to mainstream jazz.
Signature Recordings: “Time Is Of The Essence.”
Living Adherents: Branford Marsalis, Eric Alexander, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter.
Version 2.3 September 2007
Dexter Gordon was a tenor sax giant who came from bop, but still knew how to swing. A Los Angeles boy, his life is the stuff of movies, having dived and come back three times. He started with Lionel Hampton’s band in the early 40s, alongside Illinois Jacquet, and first soloed in a recording with Nat King Cole. He worked with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and Louis Armstrong’s big band before moving to New York and joining Billy Eckstine’s Orchestra. He recorded with Dizzy Gillespie on “Blue N Boogie” before returning to LA and joining the Central Avenue scene where he fought many a tenor battle.
But drug and jail problems wasted most of Gordon’s 1950s, and after getting clean he moved to Europe, the site of his first comeback. He returned to the US in 1976 for his second comeback which only lasted until the early 80s due to health problems. In his third comeback, I will never forget his 1986 film debut in Round Midnight, the story of an alcoholic sax player in Paris befriended by a Frenchman who tries to save him from himself, a role for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist, for the soundtrack album The Other Side of Round Midnight.
Life Details: Born in 1923 in Los Angeles and died of kidney failure and cancer of the larynx in 1990 in Philadelphia.
Claims to Fame: Comeback king.
Signature Songs: Recorded “‘Round Midnight”, composed “Blow Mr. Dexter”,”Dexter Digs In.”
Living Adherents: Joshua Redman, Sonny Rollins, Yusef Lateef, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter.
Version 2.2 May 2007
Another all-time great tenor sax player was Stan Getz, who was known as “The Sound” for his unique musical tones. He started playing the style of Lester Young in big bands of Jack Teagardern, Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Woody Herman. He soloed with Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff on the original version of “Four Brothers”! But what Getz did was introduce North Americans to Bossa Nova when he teamed with Charlie Byrd on the album “Jazz Samba,” and with Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto on “The Girl from Ipanema” featuring Astrud on vocals. Man that shit was hot! Getz continued to stretch and returned to adventurous jazz and fusions and acoustic. Did I mention the drugs? Getz was into junk since his teen years, the result of which may be why Zoot Sims called him “a nice bunch of guys.”
Life Details: Born 1927 in Philadelphia, PA, died of liver cancer in 1991 in Malibu, CA.
Claims to Fame: Being “The Sound” and a Bossa Nova influencer.
Signature Songs: “Girl from Ipanema”, “Four Brothers.”
Living Adherents: Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Scott Hamilton.
Version 2.1 January 2007
Ella Fitzgerald was right up there with Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughn in jazz royalty, and is considered the “First Lady of Song.” She could swing and scat with perfect elocution, but was most known for recording the American songbook of jazz composers, with albums devoted to Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, the Gershwins and Harold Arlen. Like Holliday, Ella endured a hard childhood, but she managed to retain a sunny disposition. At 17, she began fronting the Chick Webb band and her first hit was “Tisket a Tasket” in 1938. She sang for the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, the Delta Rhythm Boys and Dizzy Gillespie. Her 1960 improvised version of “Mack the Knife” was a huge hit!
I had the pleasure of seeing Ella in San Francisco about 1991, when health issues required her to sit on stage. But she sat like the queen and sang without missing a beat and I cherish the memory.
Life Details: Born in Newport News, VA in 1917 and died 1996 in Beverly Hills, CA.
Claims to Fame: Mistress of scat, and the American Songbook.
Signature recordings: “Mack the Knife”, “Tisket a Tasket”, “Summertime.”
Living Adherents: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Rickie Lee Jones, Jane Monheit, Janis Ian Kurt Elling, Diane Schuur
Version 2.0.5 October 2006
Ronan Boren is someone’s child born in 2006. He’s not a jazz musician. Ha-ha, fooled ya!
Version 2.0 December 2005
Duke is the king of jazz. He was the top composer, bandleader, and arranger of the 20th century and with Billy Strayhorn, he wrote some of the most memorable jazz standards. Raised in Washington DC as the son of a White House butler, he was born with style. A high-school dropout he began composing in his teens. He started with the Washingtonians in the 20s, playing and recording before becoming band leader. They created Jungle-style jazz popular at the Cotton Club where they took up residence. In 1928, he broke out with two two-sided hits: “Black and Tan Fantasy”/”Creole Love Call” and “Doin’ the New Low Down”/”Diga Diga Doo.” In 1931, the Ellington Band began a 43-year tour.
When Duke met Billy Strayhorn it was hits at first write, starting with “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Ellington wrote stage musicals and movie soundtracks, and the 1959 film, Anatomy of a Murder, won him three Grammy Awards. He won Grammys for many suites: “Far East Suite”, “And His Mother Called Him Bill”, a tribute to Strayhorn, who died in 1967, “New Orleans Suite” in 1971, “Togo Brava Suite” in 1972, and the posthumous “The Ellington Suites” in 1976. Ellington performed until his death in 1974 of lung cancer and pneumonia. The orchestra was run by his son Mercer until his own death in 1996.
Life Details: Born in 1899 in Washington D.C. and died May 24, 1974 in New York, NY
Claims to Fame: Composer and bandleader extraordinaire.
Signature Songs: “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), “Sophisticated Lady”
Living Adherents: McCoy Tyner, Stevie Wonder, Wynton Marsalis, Abdullah Ibrahim.
Version 1.5 February 2005
Funny that WordPress would honor composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn ahead of the Duke. Ellington said, “Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” Strayhorn got music from his grandmother and studied music in his teens. He wrote the haunting “Lush Life” when he was only 16! Talk about “distingué traces.” After discovering jazz and meeting Ellington, he traveled to Harlem for a second meeting that inspired the song, Take the “A.” From then, the two were inseparable with Duke as the father figure and Strayhorn as the prodigy. Strayhorn was a civil rights activist, and was openly gay, which didn’t stop Lena Horne from falling in love with him. He died at the age of 51 of esophageal cancer.
Life Details: Born in 1915 in Dayton, Ohio and died in 1967 in New York City
Claims to Fame: jazz composer extraordinaire and the juice for the Ellington Orchestra
Signature Songs: “Lush Life”, Take the A Train”, “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”, “Satin Doll”
Version 1.2 May 2004
Composer, bandleader and upright bass virtuoso, Charles Mingus was an irascible genius who blazed his own trail through free jazz. He took inspiration from everything – gospel, blues, R&B, New Orleans jazz, swing, bop, Latin music, modern classical music, and avant-garde – to create some memorable works. And, you’d better not play out of time or he’d punch you!
Mingus grew up in pre-riot Watts in Los Angeles as a music prodigy and began composing as a teenager. In the early 40s he worked with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Red Norvo bands. In New York he played with Billy Taylor, Stan Getz and Art Tatum and was the bassist in the famous 1953 Massey Hall concert in Toronto with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Max Roach. He was the only musician Duke Ellington ever personally fired. He founded the Debut Records label and released a Miles Davis album. He was spiritual and political, and wrote songs such as, “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me” or “Remember Rockefeller at Attica,” “If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats” and extended works like “Meditations on Integration.”
Mingus quit playing between 1966-69 out of frustration and possibly mental illness. In 1971, his autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, was published, and he got his act back together. After being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1977 he was unable to play. His last album “Mingus” was a collaboration with Joni Mitchell, who wrote lyrics to some of his most famous tunes. Mitchell’s “Mingus” was the first jazz album I ever bought.
Life Details: Born in 1922 in Nogales, AZ and died in 1979 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Claims to Fame: Totally out there composer and genius upright bass player.
Signature Songs: “God Must Be a Boogie Man”, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, “Fables Of Faubus.”
Living Adherents: Dave Holland, Donald Fagen, Ray Drummond, Carla Bley.
Version 1.0.2 March 2004
Bandleader and drummer Art Blakey’s biggest contribution to jazz was founding the Jazz Messengers, a straight ahead incubator band that promoted such talents as Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Joanne Brackeen, Billy Harper, Valery Ponomarev, Branford Marsalis, James Williams, Keith Jarrett, and Chuck Mangione,
Blakey started on piano, but changed to drums in the seventh grade. In 1942, he toured with Chick Webb and Sid Catlett bands, played with pianist Mary Lou Williams and toured the South with Fletcher Henderson’s Big Band. But it was joining Billy Eckstine’s band in 1944 that turned him on to modern jazz. He formed a band with Horace Silver that explored more hard bop and after Silver left it became The Messengers. Blakey was an incredible drummer, but he stuck with what he knew, so he wasn’t exactly visionary.
Life Details: Born 1919 in Pittsburgh, PA. Died 1990 in New York City.
Claims to Fame: Leader of The Jazz Messengers.
Signature Recording: “Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.”
Living Adherents: Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter, Jeff “Tain” Watts.
Nothing could be more perfect than to name WordPress Version 1.0 for Miles Davis. He’s the #1.0 favorite jazz musician of all time and my personal fave. Ever changing, innovative and visionary, he moved through swing, bop, straight ahead, and fusion, and he single-handedly invented two new styles of jazz: modal and cool. Miles Davis was the epitome of cool.
Born in the upper middle class of East St. Louis, Davis was sent to Juilliard in New York in 1944, but he dropped out from boredom and started playing clubs. He fell in with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and began bopping. In 1948, he started a horn-heavy nonet and began a fruitful relationship with Gil Evans. When Miles kicked his heroin habit in the mid 50s his greatest work poured forth. He organized a quintet featuring saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones and in one year they produced, “Cookin'”, “Workin'”, “Relaxin'”, and “Steamin’”. During this time Davis developed the famously soft trumpet sound using a mute in his horn that was completely original and quickly imitated by Chet Baker.
He followed with “Birth of the Cool,” and with Gil Evans, released “Miles Ahead”. Off to Paris, Davis recorded an improvisational soundtrack to the film, L’Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud (Escalator to the Gallows) that will haunt you. Adding Cannonball Adderley to his sextet, he released the milestone “Milestones” in 1958 and introduced the model style of using modes instead of chord progressions as a harmonic framework. But Davis’ landmark, all time, must-listen album came out in 1959 – “Kind of Blue.” This is the kind masterpiece that has books written about it, including The Blue Moment by Richard Williams.
To start the ‘60s, Davis got back with Gil Evans and produced “Sketches of Spain”, with a swinging flamenco sound that won Grammys that year. In 1962, “Someday My Prince Will Come” made the pop charts. Back with a quintet, “Miles Davis in Person at the Blackhawk” came out that year as well as “Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall,” which earned a Grammy nomination. “Quiet Nights” was his last collaboration with Gil Evans, but was not issued until 1964.
“Seven Steps to Heaven” was followed by “Miles Davis in Europe” and “My Funny Valentine,” both successful. When saxophonist Wayne Shorter joined his band, he released “ESP”, “Miles Smiles”, “Sorcerer”, “Nefertiti”, “Miles in the Sky”, “Filles de Kilimanjaro.”
Davis’ next turning-point album, “Bitches Brew,” reached the Top 40s and won Grammies, and marked his transition to jazz-rock fusion. I never liked “Bitches Brew” when I was a teenager, but as a geezer I’ve come to love it.
After a couple more album releases, Davis was in a car accident in 1972, then hip surgery put him down. He came back with “The Man With the Horn” in 1980 and started touring again as an elder statesman of jazz. He released “We Want Miles”, “Star People”, “Decoy”, and my personal favorite, “You’re Under Arrest” – which I bought immediately – as well as “Tutu,” an early CD purchase. “Aura” won him his 5th Grammy in 1989.
I was lucky to catch Miles Davis at the Paramount in Oakland, California in 1990. He was good, but not great. Later at the stage door, I was literally waiting alongside Carlos Santana, chatting about the Earthquake Concert a few months before, when Davis burst out the door and jumped into his waiting car without a look or a word to anyone, not even Santana!
Within a year, Davis died of a combination of pneumonia, respiratory failure, and stroke at age 65, and an era was over. That cat packed a lot of music into his relatively short life.
Miles Davis was also a fashion icon, and he appeared in films such as Scrooged, but was better seen in Dingo.
Breaking: The biopic, Miles Ahead, acted and directed by Don Cheadle, has been released in film festivals and is due to hit theaters in April! Check out the Miles Ahead Trailer.
Life Details: Born 1926 in Alton, IL. Died 1991 in Santa Monica, CA
Claims to Fame: The biggest jazz motherf**ker in history
Signature Recordings: “Kind of Blue”, “Bitches Brew,” “Milestones.”
Living Adherents: Quite literally all of the above mentioned Adherents. There is probably no jazz musician alive who was not influenced somehow by Miles Davis.
One could say Miles Davis was the David Bowie of jazz.
Jazz roots of wordpress keeps growing
Writing this list, I kept thinking I’ll be getting to Dizzy Gillespie soon and then realized, Dizzy hasn’t got a version! Nor does Louis Armstrong!
If you want my suggestions for jazz-named WordPress Versions, here they are: Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, Nina Simone, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, and Dave Brubeck, in that order.
As the list of WordPress jazz names keeps growing, please come back for more backgrounders.