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Special Event

May 31, 2008

Panelists: Roxane Orgill, Benny Powell, moderated by Loren Schoenberg 

During the 1930s, the big band sounds of the great pianist and bandleader William "Count" Basie captivated New Yorkers. Roxane Orgill, author of Dream Lucky: When FDR Was in the White House, Count Basie Was on the Radio, and Everyone Wore a Hat (HarperCollins, 2008), will discuss the importance of this tumultuous period and Basie's rise to fame. She will then join in a panel discussion moderated by Loren Schoenberg, Executive Director of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, featuring the trombonist Benny Powell, who played with Basie. 

Benny Powell is a journeyman trombonist whose bold sound bridges bebop and swing. His work employs the vocal color of great swing trombonists and the technical fluidity of bop practitioners. Powell plays both tenor trombone and the bigger-bored bass trombone broadening the colors he brings to an ensemble. Known exclusively as a sideman, he's made valuable contributions to several notable bands, ranging from the rocking swing of Lionel Hampton to the roots-informed avant-garde of John Carter. A native of New Orleans, Powell started performing professionally at 14. By age 18, he had joined Lionel Hampton, and three years later he left to join the Count Basie Orchestra, just as Basie was re-establishing his band as one of the benchmarks of the field. Powell's horn plays the bridge on Basie's biggest hit "April in Paris." He stayed with Basie through 1963, making small band sessions with a number of leaders, most often fellow members of Basie's orchestra.

From 1963, he first worked as a session man in New York, notably with the band for the Merv Griffin Show. He moved to California with the show and continued to be in demand with rehearsal big bands in which studio players got a chance to exercise their jazz chops. Prominent among these was the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Powell recorded one session with the group taking the highly charged and characteristic solo on "Fingers." That swaggering solo style combined with a studio player's dependability landed him stints with Abdullah Ibrahim and John Carter (contributing to all five recordings that comprise Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music), and Randy Weston. Weston's big bands proved especially fitting showcases for the range of Powell's work. In 1991, Powell recorded his second session as a leader under his own name. The session features a number of his own compositions which draw on a variety of styles and prove apt vehicles for his expressive horn. Powell has also been active in teaching young people about jazz and the roots of African-American music, including work with the Jazzmobile in New York City.

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Panelists Roxane Orgill and Benny Powell

Audience included Mrs. Maxine (Dexter) Gordon and Mrs. Rigmor (Joe)

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