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On April 6th, in 1926, jazz musician, classically trained pianist, composer, sideman, arranger, bandleader, fusion and African jazz pioneer-Randy Weston (Randolph Edward Weston) was born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York. Weston, like many of the jazz musicians from the hard bop school (50s-60s), had a strong sense of ethnic and cultural identity that he implemented into his music and stage show. He often toured Africa and infused their rhythms, instruments, style of dress, philosophies and language into his daily life. Several jazz musicians embraced their African heritage during this time (i.e., name changes, conversions to Islam/Buddhism, leaving America, composing socially conscious songs, speaking out through interviews and music).
However, Weston was unique in that he had these aspirations at a very young age. He grew up with a Garveyite, his Jamaican father, who taught him about his original culture and the reasons why Blacks in America should migrate back to Africa (Garveyite-person who practices Black nationalism under the teachings of Marcus Garvey & his Back to Africa movement: UNIA-ACL). Instead of Weston taking on the imagery and opinions of Africa that America wanted him to, he developed a rare affinity for the continent. He started recording in the early 50s, releasing over 50 LPs as a bandleader and several as a sideman. Weston’s music from the late 60s, and throughout the 70s is some of his best work. It highlights his merge of African rhythms with funk and fusion jazz. He was 92 when he passed (2018).
On April 6th, in 1927, jazz musician, pianist, sideman, clarinetist, composer, cool jazz pioneer, bandleader, producer, arranger, and saxophonist-Gerry Mulligan was born in Queens Village, Queens, New York. Mulligan was most known for his sax playing, which in its own right-can be considered legendary. However, he’s also an innovative and prolific composer, arranger and pianist. He’s the man behind Miles Davis’-Birth of the Cool, which is credited as being one of the first major cool jazz albums (Ahmad Jamal also is major innovator of cool jazz). Mulligan was one of the original member of the nine-piece band Miles Davis comprised in 1948 for a few live shows at NYC’s Clique Club & the Royal Roost. It was an all-star band that included: Miles Davis-trumpet/bandleader; Max Roach-drums; John Lewis-piano; Lee Konitz-alto sax; Bill Barber-tuba; Al McKibbon-bass; Junior Collins-French horn, Mike Zwerin-trombone and Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax.
They recorded 3 sessions from 1949 to 1950 that was released on Columbia in 1957 as-Birth of the Cool. There are 11 tracks on the album, six of which Mulligan arranged: Darn that Dream, Rocker, Godchild, Jeru, Deception and Venus de Milo. His musical ‘fingerprint’ is present on over half the album. He has a soulful and blues based sound that he credits to spending time at his nanny’s house-Ms. Lily Rose. She had a piano and a bed and breakfast where she’d rent rooms to touring musicians like Fatts Waller. Mulligan learned the basics from her and other musicians that stayed with Lily before moving to clarinet in his early teens. He started playing sax in his late teens. The cool jazz musician was 68 when he passed.
On April 6th, in 1937, singer, painter, film, TV and stage actor-Billy Dee Williams (William December Williams Jr.) was born in New York City, New York. I first saw him in the 1972 Motown produced film starring Diana Ross as Billie Holiday-Lady Sings the Blues. He played Billie’s husband-Louis McKay. He had a cool demeanor while Billie's behavior was varied and tumultuous. I never saw him lose his cool in the film, even when he was mad. I later caught him in the film-The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). It’s about ex-Negro baseball players that do shows around the south (co-starring James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor). Much like his demeanor in Lady Sings the Blues, Williams also remained cool in this film. Richard Pryor and Billy Dee also co-starred in a blaxploitation film from 1973-Hit!
It's about a drug dealer getting pushed out of the community. His filmography spans over 50 years (1959 to current date), with one reoccurring theme for all of his roles-he remains cool. The Harlem raised actor and singer got his start as a painter, before getting into acting. He performed in plays around the city and eventually landed a role on Broadway. After his popularity grew, he got a role in the 1959 film-The Last Angry Man. In the early 70s, he started appearing in several blaxpolitation films. He also co-starred in the 1971 film about Gayle Sayers & Brian Piccolo of the Chicago Bears-Brian’s Song. He’s most known internationally for his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars films-The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Williams continues to act and paint. He’s 82 today.
HONORABLE MENTION: On April 6th, in 2016, we lost a seminal country musician, singer, guitarist, songwriter, co-founder of the country band called the Strangers and Bakersfield sound innovator-Merle (Ronald) Haggard. Haggard was considered a bad boy for his checkered past, and for creating the Bakersfield sound that’s characterized as having sparse lyrics, a harder edge and more harmony between the guitar and steel guitar (more twang). Haggard lived the life that produced his ‘harder edged’ country sound. His story is one of true triumph, rising from the ashes of the Great Depression and several incarcerations, to forge a successful recording career. He was 79 when he passed.
On April 6th, in 2006, we lost a pioneering drummer, innovative percussionist, djembe drummer and world musician-Babatunde Olatunji. The Nigerian native grew up in Lagos, the hot bed of political unrest that produced artists like Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. The Morehouse College of Atlanta graduate started recording and performing professionally in the 50s. He’s one of the musicians that inspired a lot of the hard bop jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, to use African percussion like the djmebe drum in their compositions. He was 75 when he passed.
On April 6th, in 1968, just 48 hours after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered, the Black Panther Party’s first official member, Treasurer of the Black Panther Party and Black Power advocate-Bobby (Joe) Hutton was killed by Oakland Police. Hutton was present and got arrested for the infamous Black Panther Party act of entering the Sacramento state assembly to protest the Mulford Act-armed. He was also the youngest active member in the party, and one of the original few that helped shape what the 12-Point program looked like in practice, not just on paper. Several plays, writings, songs, poems, paintings and similar works of art have been dedicated to the fallen soldier. He was 17 when he passed.
On April 6th, in 1974, the hit TV show-Soul Train was in its 4th season, airing its 26th episode. It featured: The Impressions and Al Green. Al stole the show when he performed his then hit single-Here I am (Come and Take Me). His band played live for his set. In the early days of the show, most of the artists would lip sync, while the bands would play live, like Rufus, Sly Stone, James Brown, Barry White and the Isley Brothers. Al’s band and his singing were dope, but the cast he had on his arm and the sling to cover it?!...I’m pretty sure the rumors about Al getting beat down by females started in urban enclaves everywhere. After the hot grits episode and conversion to gospel?...It became official.
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