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On January 5th, 1979, we lost a Jazz Great: sideman, bandleader, bassist, composer, arranger, producer, and record label owner-Charles Mingus Jr. Mingus was born on an US Army base in Nogales, Arizona. However, he was raised in Watts (Black community in Los Angeles, California) primarily by his mother who only allowed religious music in the home. He became interested in spiritual, as well as secular music, specifically Duke Ellington as an early inspiration. He started off playing the trombone, and then gravitated to cello-even though it wasn’t considered a jazz instrument at the time; and very few, if any Black classical musicians existed. Despite all of these factors, he stuck with the cello, making it his primary instrument from the late 1920s thru the mid 1930s. Even when he started on bass, under the tutelage of Red Callender in the late 30s, he continued to play the cello.
Mingus was similar to the great Jazz pianist Erroll Garner in that he could play, but couldn’t read music quickly (Garner couldn’t read it at all). As a result, he was excluded from the classical music world even more (see ‘Nina Simone and classical piano’). His ethnicity and inability to read music efficiently, helped steer him towards Jazz, and the themes of racism and injustices that would serve as the foundations for his music. Mingus himself said that he wouldn’t have became a jazz bassist if Buddy Collette didn’t ask him to be the bassist for his big band. He transferred his cello skills to the double bass, and started composing songs during his late teens in the early 1940s. Most of his compositions were a mix between classical and jazz music-with blues, soul, and some spiritual tinges thrown in. Mingus’ influence on Jazz can’t be denied. He was 56 when he passed away.
On January 5th, 2010, we lost one of the founders of the Southern Funk & Soul Sound, producer extraordinaire, songwriter, Royal Studio's primary engineer, trumpeter, bandleader, sideman, producer, arranger, and recording artist-Willie Mitchell (William Lawrence Mitchell). He passed away in his adopted hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Mitchell is the man known as "Papa Willie," the guy that brought us Al Green, Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, and Syl Johnson. The Ashland, Mississippi native got his start playing trumpet when he was eight years old, and joined local bands & scholastic-related musical groups during his school years. He eventually formed his own band in the late 1940s. He first did production work for Home Of The Blues Records in Memphis, and then moved to Hi Records in 1970 (taking over as producer and remaining on their roster as a recording artist).
He had a pretty decent resume for the job-considering he’d recorded over 10 LPs between 1963 and 1969 (an average of two albums per year). He brought this experience into the studio and crafted a funky, bluesy-yet soulful sound, that was backed by hard-hitting drums, original guitar licks, unique basslines, and plenty of good organ. Al Green’s recordings alone showcase the musical talents of Mitchell. He also operated Royal Recording Studio in Memphis-which is the birthplace for most of the hits on the Hi Records label. Mitchell started his own label, Waylo Records, in the 1980s. He recorded Al Green, Billy Always, Solomon Burke, and Lynn White on this label, along with several others. S.O. to Mitchell for the Love & Happiness we all have for his music. He was 81 years old when he died.
On January 5th, 1975, the Super Soul Musical ‘Wonderful Wizard Of Oz’ premiered on Broadway in NYC at The Majestic Theatre. The play depicted the classic re-telling of L. Frank Baum’s novel-The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (published May 17th, 1900, in Chicago, Ill.). The Wiz, however, told the story from the American Black Experience point of view. Instead of Kansas cornfields, it took place in the Urban areas inhabited by people of color, primarily Blacks. Backdrop: The play was written by William F. Brown, with music from Charlie Smalls. It debuted in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21st, 1974, at The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre.
Some of the original cast members included: Charles Valentino as the Scarecrow, Ken Prymus as the Lion, Renee Harris as Dorothy, Ben Harney as The Tin Man, and Butterfly McQueen as The Queen Of The Field Mice. The Broadway cast starred a young Stephanie Mills as Dorothy. Other notables include Phylicia Rashad as a Munchkin; singer Dee Dee Bridgewater as The Good Witch Glinda, Mabel King as Evillene, and Tasha Thomas as Aunt Em. The show got mixed reviews on its debut; but eventually took off in popularity which spawned the pressing of an LP. It also blossomed into a 1978 film and soundtrack produced by Quincy Jones; and starring Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson & Diana Ross.
On January 5th, 1949, one of the funky drummers from the Fusion Jazz Era, musician, and original member of Kool & The Gang, George Brown was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. Everyone from A Tribe Called Quest, to Pete Rock, to DJ Premier have sampled the drum breaks laid by Brown-who remained with the band for the majority of their discography. He was high school classmates with the original Kool & The Gang lineup of Robert 'Kool' Bell (bass), Ronald Bell (keys), D.T. Thomas (sax), Charles Smith (guitar), Robert Mickens (trumpet), and Ricky West (keys). When they started in 1964, they were much different in purpose and sound than that of the songs they became known for in the early 80s-after adding lead vocalist James 'J.T.' Taylor on songs like Celebration, Joanna, and Get Down On It.
They originally formed as an instrumental jazz-based funk and soul outfit called The Jazziacs (1964). The Bell Brothers lived in the same building as their godfather Thelonious Monk. Miles Davis would occasionally drop by to train with their father who was a boxer. I believe that contact with both musicians influenced their music. ‘Brown & The Gang’ gigged with Jazz notables like McCoy Tyner, Leon Thomas, & Pharoah Sanders in their early backing band days of the 1960s. In the late 60s, they changed their name to Kool & The Gang and released their self-titled debut on De-Lite Records (1969). Brown is the featured drummer on over 20 LPs, over a 40 year span. He turns 70 years old today.
On January 5th, 1941, singer, songwriter, and original member of The Parliaments, Grady Thomas was born in Newark, New Jersey. The history of Thomas during his childhood is ambiguous to non-existent. I do know that he worked in the Barbershop with George Clinton, during the mid 1950s-the height of Doo Wop. Thomas and Clinton, along with Fuzzy Haskins used to give the neighborhood guys conks (chemically straighten their hair with lye-AKA perm). They would sing songs before, during, and after work. They all eventually became a ‘barbershop quintet’ or Doo Wop group: Haskins, Clinton, Thomas, Calvin Simon and Ray Davis. Thomas sang tenor and bass mostly with Ray ‘Sting Ray’ Davis (bass).
During the late 1950s, they eagerly sought a record deal and sang in local venues. In the early 1960s, they started releasing singles on a variety of small labels. Thomas (inset-c, above-r) and The Parliaments secured a minor hit with I Wanna Testify on Revilot Records in 1967. Their sound had changed significantly from Doo Wop to a hard Soul & Funk edge. As the late 60s raged on, their sound changed even more, into a Psychedelic Funk outfit with a Hard Rock foundation. They also changed their name to Parliament and their backing band was called The Funkadelics. As the 1970s came around, their prominence and fame grew. Thomas is a featured vocalist on several recordings from the P-Funk camp. The Hall of Fame singer is 78 today…and still Funkin!’
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 5th, 1932 Gospel, Soul, and Jazz singer/songwriter Johnny Adams (Laten John Adams) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Adams came from a big family, being the oldest of his nine siblings. He started singing as a child in the church, and when he reached his teens, he started singing Gospel with The Soul Revivers-before going secular in the late 1950s. He had a few hits in the early 1960s, and worked closely with Eddie Bo and songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie (his neighbor). He was 66 when he passed away in 1998.
On January 5th, in 1934, violinist, sound engineer, composer, arranger, songwriter, music executive, and seminal producer, Phil Ramone (Phillip Rabinowitz) was born in South Africa. He immigrated to Brooklyn, NY, and in the late 1940s, he studied violin at Juilliard. In the early 1950s, he opened his own recording studio-A&R Recording. He produced music and did sound engineering for Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Sheena Easton, B.B. King, Madonna, and Heatwave to name a few. He was 79 when he died in 2013.
On January 5th, 1998, singer, actor, producer, songwriter, the 16th Mayor Of Palm Springs (1988-1992), and The US Representative for the 44th District Of California (1995-1998), Sonny Bono (Salvatore Phillip Bono) was killed in a skiing accident. He was skiing at Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side of The Heavenly Ski Resort. Once he got off the ski lift, he decided to venture off the beaten path and do some tree skiing. He wound up smacking into one, and killed himself from his self-inflicted injuries. He was 62 years old when he died.
On January 5th, 2016, melodica player, saxophonist, keyboardist, singer, songwriter, and co-founding member of Steely Dan, Donald Jay Fagen (l) was in a bit of hot water with the local law. As the story goes, Fagen and his wife Libby Titus were arguing at their apartment in Manhattan. He pushed her into a marble window frame, causing her to fall to the ground. He was arrested by the NYPD, and charged with misdemeanor assault & harassment. He was 67 years old when he happened.
For more information on any musician or event reviewed in posts, or for additional information on the Wandering Eyes Blog overall, use the search bar and search the artist or event using keywords. It’s like a Google search for the site. A myriad of information, covering several topics exists on this site going back to 2013 when it was created. PEACE