Freddie Slack, Piano, 1910, Westby, WI
Freddie's first job was with Johnny Tobin's group in Chicago, after which, in 1931, he moved to Los Angeles.. He performed and toured with Ben Pollack 's band during the mid '30s. During the latter part of the 1930s he worked with Will Bradley and Ray McKinley became popular for his boogie-woogie piano- playing on such recordings as "Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar", which became a big hit in 1940. Slack was also styleable to perform in a blues far removed from the boogie-woogie idiom. He formed his own band in the early '40s, and had a huge hit with "Cow-Cow-Boogie". He continued to work in clubs up and down the West Coast with his own groups during the '40s, and even did some work in the early '50s. Freddie Slack died in 1986.
George Van Eps, Guitar, 1913, Plainfield, NJ
George was reared in a very musical family. His mother was an accomplished pianist, and his father an internationally famous banjoist. George actually taught himself to play the banjo, and before he was in his teens he was performing professionally. It was when he heard Eddie Lang that he decided to take up the guitar, and by the time he was fifteen he was performing and teaching. During the 1930s he worked with Benny Goodman, Ray Noble and Freddy Martin. He then became active as a freelance studio musician in Hollywood, where he authored a definitive text on guitar playing, and designed a 7-string guitar, enabbling him to play his own bass line. During the late '50s George devoted his time to the television series, "Pete Kelly's Blues". Despite some health problems, George continued to perform at jazz festivals during the '60s and '70s. VanEps had three brothers, all professional musicians who played with prominent jazz orchestras.
Roland (Rahsaan) Kirk, Tenor Sax 1936, Columbus, OH
Roland lost his sight when he was about two years old. Before taking up the tenor sax he learned the trumpet, bugle,clarinet and the C-melody sax, and by the time he was 15 he was playing the tenor sax professionally in rhythm-and-blues bands. He discovered the manzello and the stritch, two rare instruments, to which he made some alterations with tape and rubber bands. By modifying the tenor sax's keys, and using false fingering techniques and drones, he was able to play all three instruments at one time, encompassing most of the tenor's range with one hand and using the other to finger the manzello or stritch. By the time he made his first rhythm-and-blues recordings in the mid '50s, Kirk had the technique down-pat. Later, he added a metal hunting horn to his arsenal and learned the technique of circular breathing. After working in Louisville Kirk moved to Chicago in the early '60s where he recorded his second album. In 1961 Roland made a tour of Europe and then spent three months with Charles Mingus, before forming a band of his own that lasted for about 18 months. The band was called The Vibration Society, touring and playing all styles of jazz and rhythm-and-blues. In the early '70s Roland became politically active and led a group of demonstrators who disrupted the production of several TV shows, protesting the lack of black music and black musicians in the recording studios. Although Kirk was often, and wrongfully, accused of using nonmusical gimmickry in his work, listeners eventually came to realize his talents as an improviser, and in the '70s he even achieved some moderate commercial success. He played many unusual instruments, and even developed his own invention he called the trumpophone, (a trumpet with a soprano sax mouthpiece). Kirk was partially paralized by a stroke in 1975, but with his ability to play several instruments at once, he was able to resume playing the next year. Early in 1977 he founded the Vibration School of Music, to teach saxophonists in what he called "black classical music". Roland Kirk died in 1977.