1995 32¢ Jazz Musicians
Issue Date: September 16, 1995
City: Monterey, CA
Printed By: Sterling Sommers for Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: 11.1 x 11
Ten of Jazz music's most influential performers, composers, and personalities are honored on these stamps. Jazz music is an American art form that evolved from a blend of African, Caribbean, Latin, and European rhythms.
When asked to define jazz, Louis Armstrong replied, “Baby, if you got to ask the question, you’re never going to know the answer.” And just as Armstrong, or “Satchmo,” as he is affectionately referred to, implied that it was impossible to define jazz, the same can be said about Armstrong’s inimitable talent. Many historians credit Armstrong for singlehandedly popularizing jazz throughout the world.
The trumpet was Armstrong’s instrument, and he is still regarded as one of the most brilliant soloists in jazz. But Armstrong also used his gruff, throaty voice, charm, and humor to thrill audiences. He popularized scat, a singing style that utilizes common sounds, but not words, in rhythmic patterns.
Prior to Armstrong, jazz music had been based on three instruments leading the band together. Usually these were the trumpet, clarinet, and trombone. But Armstrong’s talent could not be contained – and thus the era of the virtuoso jazz soloist was born.
Armstrong worked with the biggest names in music and Hollywood during his career. Among his many successes were the hit records “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mack the Knife,” and the motion pictures “New Orleans,” “High Society,” and “Hello, Dolly!”
James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson, one of America’s most noted jazz artists, was born February 1, 1894, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Studying music as a child, he went on to play in local bands, and eventually toured Europe with the group Plantation Days. An innovative figure in American music, he combined elements of ragtime, blues, dance rhythms, and classical music to create the distinctive jazz piano style known as Harlem stride piano. Characterized by great rhythmic and harmonic development, often involving 10-note chords, this style creates a full, powerful sound. As the “father of stride piano,” Johnson strongly influenced such jazz greats as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller.
Johnson’s ability to compose made him unique among his contemporaries. He wrote the scores for at least 16 musical shows during the 1920s. It was out of his 1923 Broadway production Runnin’ Wild that the tune and dance usually identified with the decade came – the Charleston. Many of his recordings have become jazz standards, including “If I Could Be With You,” “Snowy Morning Blues,” and “You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart.” Retiring to New York in the 1930s, he tackled his most ambitious goal, composing symphonic music based on African-American themes. Johnson died in 1955.
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe Morton in Gulfport, Louisiana on September 20, 1885. He began studying guitar at seven, and piano at nine. Within a few years he was playing piano professionally in brothels around New Orleans. Later Morton began traveling; he was heard in Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and California.
Morton made his first recording in 1923. From 1926 to 1930 he recorded his definitive works with Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. This band included Kid Ory, Johnny and Baby Dodds, Omer Simeon, and many other notable musicians. Morton enjoyed his greatest success as a performer during the late 1920s. But by 1937 his fame had declined. In 1939 he returned to recording and made a partial comeback.
Jelly Roll Morton’s career is very well documented – and controversial. Some of this debate was spawned by Morton’s own bragging. He once made the lofty claim to have “invented jazz in 1902.” Most authorities agree that Morton made important contributions to jazz as a composer, arranger, pianist, soloist, and bandleader. The songs “King Porter Stomp,” “Kansas City Stomp,” and “Dead Man Blues” are among the most popular of his more than 150 jazz classics.
Charles Parker Jr.
Charles Parker Jr. was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920. His mother bought him an alto saxophone when he was 11, and he played baritone horn in the school band. When he was only 15 years old, Parker quit school and became a full-time musician. He soon became involved in what would be a great source of tragedy throughout his life: narcotics addiction.
Parker developed his inimitable style while wandering in and out of various bands, including those of Jay McShann, Earl Hines, and Billy Eckstine. His incredible playing earned him many nicknames, including Charlie, Yardbird, and Bird. In 1941, while playing with McShann in New York City, he met trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. These two men were among the most prominent of a group of musicians credited with creating the “bebop” or “bop” style.
A contemporary of Parker once said, “If Charlie wanted to invoke plagiarism laws, he could sue almost anyone who’s made a record in the last ten years.” A true musical genius, Parker’s mastery of the saxophone, improvisational skill, and compositions elevated the status quo for all aspects of jazz music. His best known works include “Now’s The Time,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Confirmation,” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”
“Eubie” Blake was born James Hubert Blake in 1883 in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents had been slaves. As a child he studied music theory and organ. By the time he was in his teens, Blake was playing piano in cafés and brothels. In 1915 he met his partner – lyricist, vocalist, and band leader Noble Sissle. These two were among the first African-Americans to perform onstage without minstrel makeup.
In 1921 Blake and Sissle wrote the hit Broadway show Shuffle Along, which was among the first musicals to be written, produced, and directed by blacks. The play featured Blake’s most famous song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” Shuffle Along also introduced three new stars: Paul Robeson, Florence Mills, and Josephine Baker. Blake wrote the hit songs “Memories of You,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “Lovin’ You the Way I Do,” as well as the score for Chocolate Dandies, a play which broke new ground for black performers.
Although Blake retired at age 63 he released a recording in 1972. In 1978 a Broadway musical called Eubie (based on his songs) put him back in the spotlight, and he returned to the stage. He made his last performance one week before his 99th birthday. Eubie Blake was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1981.
An accomplished jazz composer, pianist, bassist and bandleader, Charles Mingus developed an innovative style and unmistakable identity, melding counter melodies with inner harmonies. Born on April 22, 1922, in Nogales, Arizona, Mingus wrote his first concert piece – Half-mast Inhibition – at 17.
Mingus integrated many forms of music into his compositions, including European classical, gospel, the blues, jazz, and folk songs. He was inspired by the orchestral structures of Duke Ellington and improvised melodic lines of Charlie Parker, as well as the compositions of Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy.
In the early 1940s, Mingus toured with such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Lionel Hampton. During the early ’50s, he established the Jazz Workshop for young composers, providing struggling musicians with a place to perform and record their works.
But his most lasting legacy is as a composer. His more than 300 works form the largest body of jazz composition after Duke Ellington. Original Mingus scores are housed in the Library of Congress along with the works of Beethoven and Mozart. His music is currently being carried on by The Mingus Big Band, The Mingus Dynasty and the “Epitaph” Orchestra.
Thelonious Sphere Monk’s family moved to New York City while he was still an infant. There he studied music privately as a youth. In the early 1940s he was part of the group of musicians who informally collaborated to produce the new jazz style called “bebop.” Dizzy Gilespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Kenny Clarke were among these great jazz innovators.
In the mid-1940s Monk did significant work solo and with small combos, but his popularity waned until the mid-1950s. In 1957 he was featured at the Five Spot Café in New York City with saxophonist John Coltrane as a sideman. He made an appearance on the CBS television show The Sound of Jazz in December 1957, and in 1959 he led an orchestra.
“Round Midnight,” “Ruby My Dear,” “Epistrophy,” “Well You Needn’t,” and “Straight No Chaser” are among Monk’s most popular songs. As with most music noted for its originality, Monk’s music was, and is, controversial. He is known for the use of dissonance (sounds which produce tension), jarring irregular rhythms, and complex harmonic development. Monk often used silence – he sometimes let the bass and drums alone accompany soloists. Thelonious Monk’s music influenced forever the flavor of modern jazz.
Although born in Hamlet, North Carolina in 1926, John William Coltrane grew up in Philadelphia. Studying E-flat alto horn, clarinet, and then saxophone in high school, he continued his studies at the Granoff Studios and Ornstein School of Music. Coltrane, the genius of the tenor and soprano saxophones, became the most influential musician and composer of his time.
Coltrane concertized with such greats as Eddie Vinson, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, and Johnny Hodges. But it is the music and recordings he made with trumpeter-composer Miles Davis from 1955 to 1960, and briefly with Thelonious Monk in 1957, that brought him great fame. In 1960 he formed a unique-sounding quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. Each of these musicians, especially in the cases of Tyner and Jones, became widely respected in their own right.
Credit is given to Coltrane for raising the tenor saxophone to new levels, and for saving the soprano saxophone from relative obscurity. His unique style was based upon exploring complex harmonics and extended improvisation. His most popular compositions include “A Love Supreme,” “Giant Steps,” “Naima,” “Moment’s Notice,” and “Equinox.”
Pianist and songwriter Erroll Garner was born June 15, 1921. Blessed with a natural talent, he began playing the piano by ear at age three. Although he never received any formal training, and was never able to read or write music, Garner was able to play any song – even if he had heard it only once!
Garner started performing with local bands in 1937. He moved to New York City at age 23 and began playing clubs on 52nd Street, including the Three Deuces and Tondelayo’s. His unique piano styling was featured on recordings by the Slam Stewart Trio before he recorded under his own name with a bassist and drummer. From 1945 to 1949, Garner made a number of records on a freelance basis before signing an exclusive contract with Columbia Records. In 1948 he performed at the Paris Jazz Festival.
Garner’s music appealed to non-jazz audiences, and he enjoyed great success in the late 1950s. He toured Europe in 1957 and ’58. His most famous song, “Misty,” was a big hit in 1959 and enjoyed a resurgence in 1971, when it became the theme song for the Clint Eastwood film “Play Misty For Me.” He is also remembered for the songs “It Gets Better Every Time,” “Dreamy,” “Nightwind,” and “La Petite Mambo.”t’s Notice,” and “Equinox.”