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Dr. John 6/2019

June 6, 2019 – Dr. John was born Malcolm John Rebennack in New Orleans on November 20, 1941, and early on got the nickname “Mac.”

When he was about 13 years old, Rebennack met blues pianist Professor Longhair (Roy Byrd) and soon began performing with him. At age 16, Rebennack quit high school to focus on playing music. He performed with several local New Orleans bands including Mac Rebennack and the Skyliners, Frankie Ford and the Thunderbirds, and Jerry Byrne and the Loafers. He had a regional hit with a Bo Diddley-influenced instrumental called “Storm Warning” on Rex Records in 1959.

Rebennack became involved in illegal activities in New Orleans in the early sixties, using and selling narcotics and running a brothel. He was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to two years in a federal prison at Fort Worth, Texas. When his sentence ended in 1965, he moved to Los Angeles, adopted the stage name of Dr. John, and collaborated with other New Orleans transplants. He became a “Wrecking Crew” session piano player appearing on works for a variety of artists including Sonny & Cher, Canned Heat on their albums Living the Blues (1968) and Future Blues (1970), and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on Freak Out! (1966).

Dr. John solo recordings include his debut LP, Gris-Gris (1968), Babylon (1969), Remedies (1970) and The Sun, Moon, and Herbs (1971) and Gumbo (1972). His 1973 release, In the Right Place, produced by Allen Toussaint, included his Top Ten hit “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

For the next three decades, Mac, as friends called him, collaborated with about everyone in rock and blues. Jagger and Richards, Springsteen, John Fogerty, Doc Pomus, Jason Isbell, Irma Thomas and so many more.

In the Movies, Dr. John appears in the Band’s opus, The Last Waltz and the sequel Blues Brothers 2000. Dr. John appears as himself in the second season of NCIS: New Orleans, playing his hit “Right Place, Wrong Time”.

He was the inspiration for Jim Henson’s Muppet character, Dr. Teeth and won 6 Grammy Awards and became a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Dr. John, legendary New Orleans musician, died from a heart attack on June 6, 2019 at age 77.




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Toots Thielemans 8/2016

Jean-Baptiste “Toots” Thielemans was born April 29, 1922, in the still-gritty, working-class Brussels neighborhood known as the Marolles. His parents ran a cafe on the same street where painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder lived in the 16th century.

Self-taught on accordion as a child, Thielemans bought his first harmonica while he was a teenager in Brussels after watching an American movie in which a prisoner was playing the harmonica while awaiting the electric chair. “That’s nice,” he remembered thinking, according to a 2011 interview with a Smithsonian jazz project. “I’m going to buy one.”

A guitar, he told the jazz magazine DownBeat, was acquired by chance when he was 21, during the German occupation of Belgium. Thielemans was home in bed with a lung infection, and a musician friend stopped by with a black-market guitar, expressing frustration with his inability to perfect a certain jazz lick.

“We were listening to Fats Waller records like ‘Hold Tight’ — there’s the quintessence of the jazz scale and everything you need in the blues in that song,” he explained. “I knew the song, but I’d never touched a guitar. I said that if he’d give me five minutes, I’d play ‘Hold Tight’ on one string. I played it, and he gave me the guitar.”

Thielemans had been enrolled as a math major at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, but playing music became increasingly important, and he never graduated.

When the war ended, Thielemans played jazz at the many officer’s clubs that sprung up in Belgium after the liberation. Records called “V” or “Victory” discs were widely available as well, and Thielemans was able to listen to recordings by American jazz stars such as Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum.

Thielemans also started studying the work of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker, and took his nickname, according to one version of the story, from sax player Toots Mondello and trumpeter Toots Camarata. “Toots,” he liked to quip, “sounds a lot more hip than Jean-Baptiste.”

In 1947, when he was 25 years old, Thielemans went to visit his uncle in Miami, and at a jam session there, met Bill Gottlieb, whose seminal jazz photos of the 1940s put him on a first-name basis with the music world’s biggest stars.

When Thielemans arrived in New York, Gottlieb took him to a nightclub on 52nd Street and introduced him to the members of a group fronted by Howard McGhee, a trumpeter and composer who was at the forefront of modern jazz. By then, he had already played with Parker at a Paris jazz festival in 1949 and also jammed with him in Sweden.

As Thielemans recalled in a 2006 DownBeat magazine interview, he took out his harmonica and began playing. “In those days, the big identity, the key to the bebop door, was the third and the fourth bar of ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ ” he said. “I played it and the whole band fell on the floor. I was in after two measures.”

From there, Toots became a member of the Shearing Quintet — “the only permanent job I ever had” — he has said, before embarking on a successful freelance career as a guitarist, and, increasingly, a chromatic harmonica player.

In addition to his ample studio session work, he also recorded or toured with Quincy Jones, Dinah Washington, Paul Simon and a bevy of other singers and musicians. Furthermore, the lyrics of Mr. Thielemans’s composition “Bluesette” were penned by “Girl From Ipanema” lyricist Norman Gimbel, and it was recorded to great acclaim by Sarah Vaughan in 1964.

Thielemans became a US citizen in 1957, which, at the time, meant the mandatory loss of his Belgian citizenship. But it was regained in 2001, when Belgian King Albert II named the musician “Baron for Life”.

Thielemans’s first wife, Netty de Greef, died of cancer in 1977. A few years later, he married Huguette Tuytschaever, a Belgian artist.

Toots Thielemans made his final recording in 2012 during his 90th birthday tour and gave his last performance in 2014, when he played at the Jazz Middelheim festival in Antwerp, Belgium.

“It’s hard, it’s almost a crazy instrument to want to play,” Thielemans once told an interviewer about the chromatic harmonica. Preeminently a jazz musician who left his mark on many a rock song; it was the notes, not the instrument, that counted — his harmonica, he liked to say, “could be a broomstick or a tuba.”

Unlike the smaller, diatonic harmonica favored by blues musicians, Thielemans performed on the slightly larger chromatic harmonica, which has a spring-loaded slide that allows the performer to play every note in every key — sharps and flats included — on a three-octave scale.

His sound was at once wistful and wiry, full of complicated runs and languid tones. It was a sound, he often said, that was “in that little space between a smile and a tear.”

Jean-Baptiste “Toots” Thielemans, whose unrivaled mastery of the harmonica led to collaborations with jazz luminaries such as pianist Oscar Peterson and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and whose mellifluous sound graced soundtracks as varied as “Midnight Cowboy” (1969) and the television show “Sesame Street,”

Thielemans was also an accomplished guitarist and a first-rate jazz whistler — he often played his most famous composition, “Bluesette,” on the guitar while whistling the melody one octave higher. John Lennon reportedly switched to a solid-body Rickenbacker 325 guitar after seeing Thielemans play the instrument during a tour of Germany with the George Shearing Quintet, then one of the hottest jazz groups in the United States, with which he played from 1952 to 1959.

Yet it was Thielemans’s inimitable technique and distinctive sound on the chromatic harmonica, an instrument that he single-handedly proved could hold its own in the jazz repertory, for which he will be remembered.

“He has a level of virtuosity that you don’t have to make excuses for, you don’t have to put an asterisk on Toots. . . . You don’t have to say, ‘He’s great — for a harmonica player,’ ” said jazz critic Gary Giddins, who spoke as part of a 2006 New York University jazz master class with Thielemans. “He can sit up there with Dizzy and doesn’t have to take an apology because of the instrument. That’s the genius of the whole thing.”-

Indeed, it was Thielemans’s then-novel arrangement of “Stardust,” the 1927 jazz standard by Hoagy Carmichael, cut on an acetate disc in a garage studio in his home town of Brussels, that caught the attention of American bandleader Benny Goodman. Thielemans played guitar in Goodman’s sextet for a European tour in 1950, but he also persuaded the leader to allow him at least one number on harmonica each night. Not long after, he settled permanently in the United States.

Although Thielemans never shied away from commercial work — for TV, film and commercials, such as his whistling jingle in televised Old Spice deodorant ads — he was revered by many musicians for his unerring sense of harmony and his quicksilver runs, cementing his jazz harmonica reputation with a 1979 duo album, “Affinity,” with pianist Bill Evans.

Two years later, after having a stroke just shy of his 60th birthday, Mr. Thielemans lost most of the strength in his left hand, which cut his guitar playing down to just one or two numbers per show but also brought a new profundity to his phrasing.
“I can’t play bebop now,” he later told Dutch journalist René Steenhorst. But, he added, “All those fast notes didn’t make me that popular anyway. It’s much better now. I actually play the main line of a tune now. I say more with less.”

Toots Thieleman’s story here on earth ended on 22 August 2016 at the age of 94.

Besides being a one of a kind musician, Thielemans was well liked for his modesty and kind demeanor in his native Belgium, and was known for describing himself as a Brussels “ket”, which means “street kid” in old Brussels slang.

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Hoagy Carmichael 12/1981

Hoagy CarmichaelDecember 27, 1981 – Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, 1899. If for nothing else, his song “Georgia on my Mind” would have landed him in the Annals of Superstardom.

He was named Hoagland after a circus troupe “The Hoaglands” who stayed at the Carmichael house during his mother’s pregnancy. His dad Howard was a horse-drawn taxi driver and electrician, and mom Lida a versatile pianist who played accompaniment at silent movies and for parties. The family moved frequently, as Howard sought better employment for his growing family.

At six, Carmichael started to sing and play the piano, easily absorbing his mother’s keyboard skills; he never had formal piano lessons. By high school, the piano was the focus of his after-school life, and for inspiration he would listen to ragtime pianists Hank Wells and Hube Hanna. At eighteen, the small, wiry, pale Carmichael was living in Indianapolis, trying to help his family’s income working in manual jobs in construction, a bicycle chain factory, and a slaughterhouse. The bleak time was partly spelled by four-handed piano duets with his mother and by his strong friendship with Reg DuValle, a black bandleader and pianist known as “the elder statesman of Indiana jazz” and “the Rhythm King”, who taught him piano jazz improvisation.

The death of his three-year-old sister in 1918 affected him deeply, and he wrote “My sister Joanne—the victim of poverty. We couldn’t afford a good doctor or good attention, and that’s when I vowed I would never be broke again in my lifetime.”

Carmichael attended Indiana University and the Indiana University School of Law, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1925 and a law degree in 1926. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and played the piano all around the state with his “Collegians” to support his studies. He met, befriended, and played with Bix Beiderbecke, the cornetist, sometime pianist and fellow mid-westerner. On a visit to Chicago, Carmichael was introduced by Beiderbecke to Louis Armstrong, who was then playing with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and with whom he would collaborate later.

In October 1929 the stock market crashed and Carmichael’s hard-earned savings declined substantially. Fortunately, Louis Armstrong then recorded “Rockin’ Chair” at Okeh studios, giving Carmichael a badly-needed financial boost. He had begun to work at an investment house and was considering a switch in career when he composed “Georgia on My Mind” with lyrics by Stuart Gorrell, perhaps most famously turned into an evergreen by the Ray Charles rendition recorded many years later(1960).

Hoagy kept writing what sounded ‘right’ and in 1930 made recordings of “Georgia On My Mind,” “Rockin’ Chair,” and “Lazy River.” Other artists heard the new songs and within a year Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and the Dorsey brothers had recorded their own versions and were performing them on the new hot medium, radio. Hoagy Carmichael himself was still barely known to the public, but they were hearing and singing his songs, and in 1936 Hoagy went to Hollywood where “the rainbow hits the ground for composers.”

During the next decade, Hoagy moved from backstage into the spotlight. He worked with lyricists Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and Mitchell Parish. He became a star performer on records, radio and stage with a signature style, and began appearing in movies, most memorably in “To Have and Have Not” and “The Best Years of Our Lives”. He got married and fathered two sons. In one year, 1946, he had three of the top four songs on the Hit Parade, and in 1951 he and Mercer won an Oscar for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.” He hosted his own television show, “The Saturday Night Review.”

‘Hoagy’ was no longer a peculiar name, he was a star, even an American icon. He was also someone you knew, a guy you wished you could have a drink and share a laugh with. He had the same joys and desires, disappointments and fears you had, and some of his songs–“Lazy River,” “Heart and Soul”– became so familiar they sounded as if no one had written them, they’d just always been there.

Despite Hoagy’s folksiness, humor and accessibility, there was also something emotionally deep and complex in him. Perhaps it was because he never got that house back in Bloomington, even if he got one in Hollywood instead. Or maybe it was because behind that knowing look and wryly cocked eyebrow there were a whole lot of things that baffled him too. Like how you could want more than anything “the solid, warm, endearing things of life” and also be a “jazz maniac” whose judgment was “thrown out of kilter” by hearing a horn. These were the twin passions which wove through Hoagy’s life in strands, and one night when he was alone at the piano, they combined in a song.

Hoagy described his surprise the first time he heard a recording of “Stardust”: “And then it happened–that queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me. Maybe I hadn’t written it at all. The recollection of how, when and where it all happened became vague as the lingering strains hung in the rafters of the studio. I wanted to shout back at it, ‘maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you.'”

Hoagy found a lot of songs during his storybook life, and maybe his personal journey began the night a hungry young kid heard Louis Jordan’s band and went crazy for jazz. In The Stardust Road, Hoagy describes what he said to himself the next day mowing his Grandmother’s lawn: “No, gramma, I don’t think I’ll ever be president of anything. I know Mother named me after a railroad man, but it’s too late now, I’m afraid. Much, much too late.

He appeared as an actor in a total of 14 motion pictures died from a heart attack on Dec 27, 1981 at the age of 82.