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.
Jaco Pastorius, the man who revolutionized how the bass guitar is played and who is, for many, the best and most influential bass guitarist ever, didn’t start his musical life on the instrument. Instead, the man who would be the master of the fretless electric bass was a drummer.
A drummer, just like his dad, Jack Pastorius, a big band player and singer. Jaco was the first of three children born to Jack and his wife, Stephanie. He arrived on Dec. 1, 1951 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. John Francis Anthony Pastorius III was quickly given a nickname by his parents – “Jocko,” which transformed into “Jaco” in the early 1970s when a French-born musician friend and neighbor, Alex Darqui, spelled it that way by mistake. Jaco liked the alternate spelling, and kept it.
When Jaco was almost eight years old, his family moved to Oakland Park, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. Jaco was a sweet, competitive kid, who loved to play games, including football. As the son of a musician, he was interested in music, too, and bought a small drum kit with money earned as a newspaper delivery boy. His two interests collided in 1964 during a youth league football practice in which Jaco’s wrist was badly injured, so much so that it eventually required corrective surgery. Jaco continued to play drums after that, but it was far more difficult that it had been prior to that hit in practice.
On December 1, 1934 in North Philadelphia, Paul Williams was born to sing. Becoming far better known as Billy Paul, at the age of twelve he was appearing on radio shows in his hometown. By age fifteen, Billy was sharing the stage with legends Charlie Parker and John Coltrane as a jazz vocalist. Briefly he served as a stand-in for one of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. More than twenty artful albums and a coveted Grammy award later, Billy Paul is still setting worldwide audiences afire, both live and on record.
Billy Paul has developed into a widely respected vocal virtuoso uniquely blending traces of jazz, R&B and pop. As a testament to his versatility, Billy’s talent has been internationally showcased on stages shared with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, James Brown and Gloria Estefan.
Also known as “BP with the GM,” (translation: “Bob Perkins with the Good Music”), Perkins has been in the broadcasting industry for more than four decades as an on-air host, and is now commonly referred to as a Philadelphia jazz radio legend.
BP broke into the radio business in 1964 when he landed an on-air job in Detroit. In 1969, his hometown of Philadelphia beckoned him back with a gig at rhythm-and-blues station WDAS, where he worked for the next 19 years. He joined WRTI in 1997. In addition to his job as jazz host, BP writes numerous columns and commentaries on jazz for local publications. He also hosts concerts at jazz clubs and at regional festivals.
BP was awarded the 2002 Mellon Jazz Community Award. In 2007, he was honored with a proclamation for his outstanding contributions to Philadelphia’s jazz community by Mayor John Street, Philadelphia City Council, and the House of Representatives in Harrisburg. Wait two seconds and you’ll hear about yet another award bestowed on “Ol’ BP,” as he calls himself.
Hear Perkins on Monday through Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 pm, and on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm on WRTI, 90.1 FM.