Billie Holiday was a true artist of her day and rose as a social phenomenon in the 1950s. Her soulful, unique singing voice and her ability to boldly turn any material that she confronted into her own music made her a superstar of her time. Today, Holiday is remembered for her masterpieces, creativity and vivacity, as many of Holiday’s songs are as well known today as they were decades ago. Holiday’s poignant voice is still considered to be one of the greatest jazz voices of all time.
Holiday began working with Lester Young in 1936, who pegged her with her now-famous nickname of “Lady Day.” When Holiday joined Count Basie in 1937 and then Artie Shaw in 1938, she became one of the very first black women to work with a white orchestra, an impressive accomplishment of her time. In the 1930s, when Holiday was working with Columbia Records, she was first introduced to the poem “Strange Fruit,” an emotional piece about the lynching of a black man. Though Columbia would not allow her to record the piece due to subject matter, Holiday went on to record the song with an alternate label, Commodore, and the song eventually became one of Holiday’s classics.
In tandem with his partner Leon Huff, producer and songwriter Kenny Gamble was the principal architect behind the lush and seductive Philly Soul sound, one of the most popular and influential musical developments of the 1970s.
Leon Huff started his musical career as a session pianist, and played on sessions for Phil Spector, the Ronettes, and Carole King in New York City before moving to Philadelphia. He formed the Locomotions, and did sessions for Cameo and Swan. Huff earned his first hit as a composer writing “Mixed-Up Shook-Up Girl” for Patty & the Emblems in 1964.
Native Philadelphian Kenny Gamble first teamed with Huff during the late ’50s while a member of the harmony group the Romeos, a unit which also included another aspiring area musician named Thom Bell, who would become crucial to Gamble’s later success. “The 81,” a 1964 single by the little-known Candy & the Kisses, was the inaugural Gamble-Huff co-production, and three years later the duo scored their first Top Five pop hit with the Soul Survivors’ “Expressway to Your Heart.” Soon recruiting Thom Bell as arranger, they subsequently scored with smashes including Archie Bell & the Drells’ “I Can’t Stop Dancing” and Jerry Butler’s “Only the Strong Survive,” gradually forging their own distinctive sound.
Philly Joe Jones, an innovator of modern jazz drum technique, was the drummer of choice for jazz giants Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Tadd Dameron, Gil Evans and others. Born Joseph Rudolph Jones, Philly Joe Jones was an exciting, explosive drummer and his influence on modern jazz is legendary.
Philly Joe was one of the first African American trolley car drivers in Philadelphia (Philly Joe is on the far left).
He left his hometown to hook into the New York jazz scene in 1952, where he worked with Tadd Dameron and then achieved critical and popular acclaim with the Miles Davis Quintet. He was prolific in his recordings, appearing as a leader on Blues for Dracula (1958), Drum Songs (1978), and others, and as a sideman with Miles Davis on Round Midnight (1955), Cookin’ (1956), Milestones (1958), and more.
The first jazz guitar virtuoso, Eddie Lang, born Salvator Massaro, was everywhere in the late ’20s; all of his fellow musicians knew that he was the best. A boyhood friend of Joe Venuti, Lang took violin lessons for 11 years but switched to guitar before he turned professional. In 1924 he debuted with the Mound City Blue Blowers and was soon in great demand for recording dates, both in the jazz world and in commercial settings.
Lang’s sophisticated chord patterns made him a superior accompanist who uplifted everyone else’s music, and Lang was also a fine single-note soloist. He often teamed up with violinist Venuti (including some classic duets) and played with Red Nichols’s Five Pennies, Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke (most memorably on “Singing the Blues”), the orchestras of Roger Wolfe Kahn, Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman (appearing on one short number with Venuti in Whiteman’s 1930 film The King of Jazz) and anyone else who could hire him.
The MFSB Orchestra was comprised of musicians handpicked by producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell to be the house band for their recordings. It was the band that recorded the music tracks for the likes of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, the Stylistics, the Spinners, Lou Rawls, Billy Paul and a host of others. A well-oiled machine with talent and enthusiasm so special that the group had to be given its own opportunity in the spotlight. Gamble & Huff did just that in 1973 by officially making the MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother) Orchestra recording artists in their own right. The MFSB Orchestra quickly became an exciting melodic hybrid of swing, classical, jazz and R&B that went on to Grammy winning gold and platinum success.
It’s not simply his abundant virtuosity that has made Christian McBride the most in-demand bassist of his generation. McBride consistently combines his deft musicianship with an innate ability to communicate his enthusiasm to an audience – a warm showmanship that transforms his own passion into infectious joy. It comes across whether he’s leading his own bands; sharing the stage with jazz legends like Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock or Pat Metheny; accompanying pop giants like James Brown, Sting or The Roots; or collaborating with classical masters like Kathleen Battle, Edgar Meyer or the Shanghai Quartet.
Any time that McBride steps into the studio or onto a stage he plays what could be called “people music,” but it’s a particularly apt title for the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet Inside Straight. Four years after Kind of Brown, the band’s acclaimed debut album, People Music delivers a more road-tested, “lived-in” Inside Straight, able to dig deep while projecting that ebullient vigor that has become McBride’s trademark.
“People Music is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title. “Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go.”
The most famous and probably greatest jazz baritonist of all time, Gerry Mulligan was a giant. A flexible soloist who was always ready to jam with anyone from Dixielanders to the most advanced boppers, Mulligan brought a somewhat revolutionary light sound to his potentially awkward and brutal horn and played with the speed and dexterity of an altoist.
Mulligan started on the piano before learning clarinet and the various saxophones. His initial reputation was as an arranger. In 1944 he wrote charts for Johnny Warrington’s radio band and soon was making contributions to the books of Tommy Tucker and George Paxton. He moved to New York in 1946 and joined Gene Krupa’s Orchestra as a staff arranger; his most notable chart was “Disc Jockey Jump.” The rare times he played with Krupa’s band was on alto and the same situation existed when he was with Claude Thornhill in 1948.