by Scott Yanow
Steve Kuhn has had an interesting career. A talented jazz pianist, he has worked in many types of settings through the years. He began classical piano lessons when he was five, studied with Madame Chaloff, and accompanied her son, baritonist Serge Chaloff, on some gigs when the pianist was 14. He freelanced in Boston as a teenager, graduated from Harvard, and moved to New York where he worked with Kenny Dorham's group (1959-1960). Kuhn was the original pianist in John Coltrane's Quartet, playing for two months before McCoy Tyner succeeded him. He was with the bands of Stan Getz (1961-1963) and Art Farmer (1964-1966), lived in Europe (1967-1970), and then returned to the U.S. in 1971. Kuhn doubled on electric piano in the 1970s, recorded for ECM, and co-led a group with Sheila Jordan in the latter part of the decade. After a period playing commercial music, he formed an acoustic trio in the mid-'80s, which has been his main vehicle ever since. Steve Kuhn has recorded as a leader for Impulse (1966), Contact, MPS, BYG, Muse, ECM, Blackhawk, New World, Owl, Concord, and Postcards.
by John Bush
Mark Murphy often seemed to be the only true jazz singer of his generation. A young, hip post-bop vocalist, Murphy spent most of his career sticking to the standards — and often presented radically reworked versions of those standards while many submitted to the lure of the lounge singer — during the artistically fallow period of the 1970s and '80s. Marketed as a teen idol by Capitol during the mid-'50s, Murphy deserted the stolid world of commercial pop for a series of exciting dates on independent labels that featured the singer investigating his wide interests: Jack Kerouac, Brazilian music, songbook recordings, vocalese, and hard bop, among others.He grew up near Syracuse, NY, born into an intensely musical family (both parents sang). Mark began playing piano as a child, and studied both voice and theater while at college. He toured through Canada with a jazz trio for a time and spent awhile back home before he moved to New York in early 1954. A few television appearances gained him a contract for Decca Records, and he debuted with 1956's Meet Mark Murphy. He released one more LP for Decca before signing to Capitol in 1959. Though label executives often forced material (and an excessively clean-cut image) on the young singer, he managed to distinguish himself with good sets of standards, musical accompaniment furnished by West Coast jazz regulars, and a distinctive vocal style that often twisted lines and indulged in brief scatting to display his jazz credentials.He eventually released four LPs for Capitol, but never reached popular audiences the way the label intended. In 1961, Murphy recorded his first album for Riverside, a set of standards and bop vocals named Rah! that gave a first glimpse at his ambition. Though the twentysomething Murphy seemed a little young for a saloon-song chestnut like "Angel Eyes," he performed quite well on side two, styled after a Lambert, Hendricks & Ross LP with vocal covers of bop standards including "Milestones" and Annie Ross' "Twisted." It and its follow-up, the themed LP That's How I Love the Blues, included a top-notch backing group including jazz heroes such as Clark Terry, Snooky Young, Al Cohn, Bill Evans, and Blue Mitchell. The records also displayed Murphy's penchant for trawling the entirety of the 20th century popular/jazz repertory for songs ranging from the slightly overdone to the downright forgotten.By the mid-'60s, Murphy had begun to recognize his sizable European fan base. Along with scores of American expatriates, he spent many years in Europe and didn't even issue his LPs in America during the rest of the '60s. Instead, he recorded LPs for British labels including Fontana and Immediate (the latter run by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham). Murphy also collaborated with the Clarke-Boland Big Band for 1967's Midnight Mood. His frequent nightclub performances and intimate stage presence also earned rave reviews from jazz and vocal critics. By the time of his return to America in the early '70s, Murphy had become a major name in vocal jazz.With a contract from Muse in hand, Murphy began recording what would become close to two dozen albums for the label, ranging from earthy '70s dates with the Brecker brothers to Jack Kerouac tributes complete with spoken word readings to a two-volume Nat King Cole Songbook series. During that period, Murphy was one of the only straight jazz vocalists (other than old-guard names like Sinatra and Tormé) to actually make a living out of his craft. He toured relentlessly as well, and remained as hip a name to drop in 1999 as he was in 1959. Since the '90s, Murphy has released a handful of albums including Some Time Ago in 2000, Memories of You in 2003, and Love Is What Stays in 2007.
by Scott Yanow
A multi-talented musician, John Clayton deserves much more recognition. A brilliant bassist whose bowed solos are exquisite, Clayton is also a top-notch arranger and composer. A protégé of Ray Brown (whom he recorded with on a couple of occasions, including a late-'90s collaboration with fellow bassist Christian McBride), Clayton picked up important early experience playing with Count Basie's Orchestra for two years. He has co-led the Clayton Brothers with his younger brother, altoist Jeff, off and on since 1977, and in 1985 put together the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, along with Jeff Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Clayton's charts for the big band, which are sometimes a little reminiscent of Thad Jones, give it its own musical personality. John Clayton has also worked extensively as a freelance bassist and arranger.
Larry Grenadier (born February 6, 1966 in San Francisco, California) is a jazz double bassist.
His father, Albert, was a trumpet player, and his two brothers, Phil and Steve, would eventually play trumpet and guitar respectively. Grenadier too began on trumpet when he was 10 years old. His father taught him to read music and gave him his first lessons. A year afterward, when Larry Grenadier was eleven, he was given an electric bass guitar so that he and his brothers could play together as a band. He took a quick liking to the instrument, playing and practicing constantly. The three brothers performed current rock songs of the day at parties by learning the parts off of records. Larry’s older brother Phil began listening to jazz around this time, and slowly his listening habits filtered down to the younger brothers. Grenadier soon got hooked on jazz as well and began listening intently to jazz bassists like Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers and Oscar Pettiford.
Hearing legendary upright bassists inspired Grenadier to borrow an upright bass and try to emulate what he was hearing on records. By the time he was 12, Grenadier began formal study of the acoustic bass, studying with local jazz bass players Paul Breslin and Frank Tusa and later classical bassists Michael Burr and Steven Tromontozzi. At 16, Grenadier had a busy career playing in the San Francisco area with both local musicians and those traveling through town in need of a bass player. Some of these musicians included Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Larry Vuckovitch, Eddie Henderson, Bruce Forman, Eddie Marshall, Vince Lateano, George Cables and Donald Bailey. Other visiting musicians Grenadier played with at this time were Toots Thielmans, Johnny Griffin, Charles McPherson, Anita O'Day, and Frank Morgan. Grenadier went on to study at Stanford University and graduated in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. At Stanford, Grenadier got to know Stan Getz, who was the Artist in residence there at the time. He played with Getz often, as well as touring with Getz's band.
After high school graduation, Grenadier moved to Boston to play with Gary Burton. Grenadier toured all over the world with Burton and his band, which at that time included Wolfgang Muthspiel, and Marty Richards. In 1991, Grenadier moved to New York and began musical associations with a wide variety of musicians. Some of these included musicians Larry had met during his time in Boston and included talents such as Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jorge Rossy, Mark Turner, and Chris Cheek. Others he met for the first time in New York such as Kevin Hays, Bill Stewart, Renee Rosnes, Ralph Moore, Billy Drummond, Danilo Perez, David Sánchez, Tom Harrell and Billy Hart. Grenadier continued his association with Joe Henderson touring with his band which at times included Al Foster, Renee Rosnes and Larry Willis. Grenadier also spent a few months during his earlier years in New York playing in Betty Carter's band.
In the early 1990s, Grenadier first met and played with pianist Brad Mehldau. Mehldau's trio (including Grenadier and Jorge Rossy) went on to become one of the major groups of the time. This band allowed Larry the perfect environment in which to grow as a musician. The trio had come together out of mutual empathy and shared musical ideals. They toured constantly throughout the 1990s and recorded many albums together.
Also during this time Grenadier played in John Scofield's band and with Pat Metheny with whom he spent a few years touring. Guitarist Metheny, Grenadier, and completing the trio was drummer, Bill Stewart. Grenadier credits his experiences touring with Metheny's trio as a significant learning experience. Other musicians Grenadier played with included Charles Lloyd, Billy Higgins, Michael Brecker, and Paul Motian.
Currently, Grenadier focuses much of his touring time playing with Brad Mehldau's trio, which, since 2004, has included drummer Jeff Ballard. He is also a part of the collaborative trio FLY which includes drummer Ballard and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. They have recorded two critically acclaimed albums, the latest one being on the ECM label. Grenadier also tours and records with his wife, singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin, with whom he has found a rare personal and musical kinship.
Grenadier lives with Rebecca and their son Charlie James in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
by Scott Yanow
Joe La Barbera is best-known for being part of Bill Evans' last trio (1978-1980) along with bassist Marc Johnson but he has remained greatly in-demand up to the present time. The younger brother of tenor saxophonist Pat La Barbera and arranger-trumpeter John La Barbera, Joe was originally taught drums by his father Joseph La Barbera before studying with Alan Dawson during his period at Berklee (1966-1968). La Barbera toured with singer Frankie Randall, spent two years in the Army, toured with Woody Herman's Big Band and then was with Chuck Mangione's very popular band (1973-1977). After a period freelancing in New York, La Barbera toured the world with Bill Evans, making many recordings as part of one of the pianist's finest groups. The drummer's tasteful and stimulating playing inspired both Evans and Johnson. After the pianist's death, La Barbera toured with Tony Bennett and then settled in Los Angeles. During the '80s and 90s, he worked steadily in a countless number of situations, becoming a fixture in Los Angeles area clubs and occasionally leading his own quintet. Joe La Barbera has appeared on scores of recordings where his subtle yet swinging style uplifts every session.
by Ron Wynn
A premier jazz musician in Japan, Makoto Ozone has made a successful transition to America, where he became equally prominent in this nation's improvisational community. He began on organ at four, then took up piano as a teenager. He went to Berklee in 1980 and studied composing and arranging. He was noticed by Gary Burton and later recorded with him and was part of his band. Ozone's striking ability (especially on mid-tempo pieces) and impressive technique made him a big hit at the Kool Jazz Festival. His 1984 debut recording featured Burton and bassist Eddie Gomez. It was a stunning example of complete knowledge and mastery of the full jazz piano spectrum. Ozone later worked with European pianist Michel Petrucciani and spent extensive time studying classical music.
by Scott Yanow
A fine pianist, Bill Mays has often worked behind the scenes, leading to him being a somewhat overlooked jazz improviser. Mays worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician from the late '60s on, accompanying Sarah Vaughan (1972-1973) and Al Jarreau (1975), but mostly doing session work. In the early '80s, he began to record jazz as a sideman with Howard Roberts, Bud Shank, Bobby Shew, Road Work Ahead, and Mark Murphy. He recorded a duet date with Red Mitchell for ITI (1982) and led a quintet album for Trend (1983). In 1984, Mays moved to New York and since then he has worked with Murphy, Gerry Mulligan, Ron Carter, James Moody, Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper, and the Mel Lewis Orchestra, among others. In the late 80's Mays recorded for DMP (duet records with Ray Drummond) and in 1992 released several discs on Concord. These dates found Mays in a variety of settings, beginning with the unaccompanied Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 26 (Bill Mays at Maybeck), followed by a trio date An Ellington Affair, a duet with guitarist Ed Bickett Concord Duo, Vol. 7: Bill Mays and Ed Bickert and finallly backed by a full band on Mays in Manhattan. In 2001 the pianist recorded his 11th album as a leader and his first for the Palmetto label, Summer Sketches, followed two years later by Going Home.
by Scott Yanow
An excellent pianist who plays in a style influenced by McCoy Tyner, Mulgrew Miller has been quite consistent throughout his career. He was with Mercer Ellington's big band in the late '70s and had important stints with Betty Carter (1980), Woody Shaw (1981-1983), and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1983-1986). For a long period, he was a member of the Tony Williams Quintet (1986-1994). In addition, Mulgrew Miller has led his own sessions for Landmark (starting in 1985), Novus and MaxJazz.
by Scott Yanow
One of the most consistently creative of all jazz singers, Sheila Jordan has a relatively small voice, but has done the maximum with her instrument. She is one of the few vocalists who can improvise logical lyrics (which often rhyme), she is a superb scat singer, and is also an emotional interpreter of ballads. Yet despite her talents, Jordan spent much of the 1960s and '70s working at a conventional day job. She studied piano when she was 11 and early on, sang vocalese in a vocal group. Jordan moved to New York in the 1950s, was married to Duke Jordan (1952-62), studied with Lennie Tristano, and worked in New York clubs. George Russell used her on an unusual recording of "You Are My Sunshine" and she became one of the few singers to lead her own Blue Note album (1962). However, it would be a decade before she appeared on records again, working with Carla Bley, Roswell Rudd, and co-leading a group with Steve Kuhn in the late '70s. Jordan recorded a memorable duet album with bassist Arild Andersen for SteepleChase in 1977, and has since teamed up with bassist Harvie Swartz on many occasions. By the 1980s, Sheila Jordan was finally performing jazz on a full-time basis and gaining the recognition she deserved 20 years earlier. She recorded as a leader (in addition to the Blue Note session) for East Wind, Grapevine, SteepleChase, Palo Alto, Blackhawk, and Muse, resurfacing in 1999 with Jazz Child.
by Alex Henderson
The younger brother of Nat King Cole and uncle of Natalie Cole, singer/pianist Freddy Cole sounds a great deal like his celebrated sibling, yet has a personality of his own. Cole, whose vocals tend to be a bit darker and slightly rougher, began playing piano at five or six. He was interested in playing football professionally, but decided to pursue a career in music after a hand injury ended his career as an athlete. Cole debuted on vinyl in 1952, when he recorded the single "The Joke's on Me" for the obscure Chicago-based Topper Records. His next single, "Whispering Grass" on Columbia's OKeh label, was a moderate hit in 1953. In the '60s and '70s, he developed a small following recording for various small labels. Cole founded his First Shot label in the '80s and went on to record for Sunnyside and LaserLight in the early '90s. A few years later, he signed with Fantasy and enjoyed greater visibility with Grand Freddy. By 2000, Cole had signed with Telarc and released his first disc for the label, Merry-Go-Round, followed by Rio de Janeiro Blue in 2001. In the Name of Love appeared two years later featuring Cole's approach to soft pop hits made famous by Smokey Robinson, Bonnie Raitt, and Van Morrison among others. In 2004 GRP reissued Cole's 1964 recording Waiter, Ask the Man to Play the Blues. It was followed in 2005 by This Love of Mine, in 2006 by Because of You, and in 2010 by Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, all on the Highnote label.