Vinnie Dean, Saxophone, 1929, Mt Vernon, NY
Vinnie's first major gig was with Shorty Sherock and Johnny Bothwell in New York in 1946. He later performed and made recordings with the bands of Charlie Spivak and Charlie Barnet. During the early '50s Vinnie worked with Elliot Lawrence and Stan Kenton. In this period he also recorded with Ralph Burns and was in a small group that was formed by the trombonist Eddie Bert. During the late '50s Dean became somewhat less active in music, however he continued to perform occasionally with Benny Goodman, Hal McKusick, RayMcKinley, Urbie Green and Sal Salvadore. An excellent sight-reader and strong soloist, Vinnie Dean was always in demand for recording sessions and performances.
Lucky Millinder, Bandleader, 1900, Anniston, AL
Although he was a popular bandleader of his era, Lucky never really played an instrument. He grew up in Chicago where he worked in cabarets on the South Side as a dancer and MC. He started leading a band in 1931 under the name Lucius Venable. He moved to New York in 1932, and the next year he took his band to France where they performed on the South Coast. He returned to New York in 1934, and for the next four years he led the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. Thereafter his career more-or-less faded until 1940 when he formed a new band that performed regularly at the Savoy Ballroom. In the mid '40s this orchestra was partly responsible for the popularization of rhythm-and-blues. This orchestra appeared in several films, and remained active well into the 1950s. Millinder composed many of the hit songs his band performed. He later pursued several lines of work, even performing for a while as a disc jockey. Although unable to read music, he was an exceptional conductor. Lucky Millinder died in 1966.
Jimmy Witherspoon, Singer, 1923, Gurdon, AR
Jimmy began as a singer in his local church choir, and was taken up with the blues singers he heard on the radio. In the early '40s, while traveling with the Merchant Marine, he performed in Calcutta with Ted Weatherford's band. Later, during the mid to late '40s, he performed with Jay McShann's group, recording under McShann's name and also his own. He soon became very popular and enjoyed great success on the rhythm-and-blues chart with his recording of "Ain't Nobody's Business". After the advent of rock-and-roll Jimmy's popularity faded. He also had poor financial managemnt, and in 1953 he declared bankrupt and worked infrequently until the late '50s. He later made a moderately successful come-back by recording with prominent jazz musicians and establishing himself as a major singer. In the early '60s Jimmy toured Europe with Buck Clayton and Japan with Count Basie and appeared frequently at jazz festivals and on television. Witherspoon was able to adapt his classic style of blues shouting to the sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic demands of modern jazz styles without sacrificing it's essential qualities. Despite a serious bout with throat cancer that was successfully treated in England, he was able to make further international tours in the 1980s and 1990s. Jimmy's rich baritone foreshadowed the work of Joe Williams. By the time Jimmy was making his mark, jazz-blues was already giving way to rhythm-and-blues. His importance derives from a great rapport with jazz players, and the flexibility of both his voice and his timing shows best in this context.
Benny Carter, Saxophone,/Composer, 1907, New York, NY
Benny's mother was his first music teacher along with several local teachers, but Benny was primarily self-taught. Before taking up the alto sax he learned the trumpet and the C-melody sax. During most of the 1920s he worked with the bands of June Clark and Earl Hines. He first became popular while playing and arranging for Fletcher Henderson's orchestra around 1932. After leaving Henderson he worked as music director of McKinney's Cotton Pickers for about a year in Detroit, then returned to New York where he founded his own highly respected orchestra. Some prominent players of the early swing era worked in this band; Bill Coleman, Dicky Wells, Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, and Sid Catlett. In 1934, for various reasons, he disbanded the orchestra and made his move to London where he worked as staff arranger for the BBC dance orchestra (1936-38). During these years he achieved resounding acclaim in this country and in Europe doing much to advance the cause of jazz. Carter returned to the U.S. in 1938 and formed a new orchestra which took up residency at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. In 1942 he decided to move permanently to the West Coast, settling in Los Angeles. He formed another band, this time employing a few modern players; Mile Davis, J.J. Johnson, and Max Roach, but otherwise turned increasingly to studio work. He composed music for several major motion pictures and later, for television. Carter was one of the first black musicians to gain acceptance in the Hollywood studios, and was instrumental in facilitating the entry of other talented black musicians. From the mid '40s Benny stopped working as an orchestra leader but occasionally worked with Jazz At The Philharmonic, and also recorded with others. During the '50s and '60s he wrote and arranged for singers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, and Louis Armstrong. In the 1970s Benny again became active as a performer, appearing at jazz festivals and in nightclubs. He also began a new career as an educator, spending several periods in residence at universities. Princeton University, where he was a frequent lecturer, awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1974. He was active until shortly before his death in 2003.
Urbie Green, Trombone, 1926, Mobile, AL
Urbie started trombone lessons at age twelve, and progressed with amazing speed. From the mid '40s until 1950 he played with Gene Krupa's band and then moved into Bill Harris's chair in the Woody Herman orchestra. While still in his formative years Urbie had the style of Jack Teagarden, but he was not an imitator. He played the instrument with the flawless technique of Teagarden, and added new ideas of his own. He had the ability to play high up in the trombone's upper register without effort (and never for effect), with an unbelievable speed of execution which was especially welcome in an era when most of the players were trying to sound like valve-trombonists. Green won the Down Beat New Star poll for 1954 ,and soon began a lengthy association with Benny Goodman. He appeared in the film "The Benny Goodman Story" (1955), and was the leader of Goodman's orchestra for a three-month tour in 1957. By then Urbie was a star and was working with musicians twenty years his senior (including Buck Clayton and Jimmy Rushing). He also recorded a string of albums of his own which have since turned into trombonists textbooks. During the 1960s he led the Tommy Dorsey orchestra and by the end of the decade was working with a rock-based group at New York's Riverboat, experimenting with electronic octave-deviders. By the 1970s Green was devoting most of his time to teaching (and farming) clinics and fronting small groups of his own when needed. By the mid 1990s his appearances on record were becoming more sparse, but he has continued to play regularly, including a visit to London to perform with a large trombone ensemble.