Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Kenny Wheeler, Grady Tate, Billy Butterfield and Bessie Smith

January 14

Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler is born in 1930 in Toronto, Canada. Although Wheeler had spent most the 1950s playing in various U.K.-based ensembles of varying styles, he got his first taste of acclaim while playing with British bandleader Johnny Dankworth at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival. Wheeler stayed with Dankworth, not venturing far beyond bebop. However, in 1965, Wheeler discovered free jazz. Wheeler was greatly enamored of its concepts, and he played with numerous adventurous groups, such as  drummer/trumpeter John Stevens‘s Spontaneous Music Ensemble from 1965 to 1969 and drummer Tony Oxley’s sextet from 1969 to 1972. While with Oxley, Wheeler hooked up with German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach‘s groundbreaking free jazz big band, the Globe Unity Orchestra. In the early 1970s, Wheeler collaborated with saxophonist Anthony Braxton, but by the decade’s mid-point he decided to began recording under his own name in earnest. In the 1980s Wheeler spent four years with the bassist Dave Holland’s quartet while also recording as a leader. He continued to record in the 1990s, including as leader of a drummer-less quartet. Choosing one or two tracks to represent this ceaselessly exploratory musician (who died in late 2014) is a near-futile exercise, but we’ll give it a shot:

and 2) Wheeler with Braxton on the latter’s composition, “Cut One Comp 23b” here:

Drummer/singer Grady Tate is born in 1932 in Durham, NC. Tate is a throwback to the days when it didn’t hurt a jazzman to possess a second or third talent besides blowing. In Tate’s case, it’s singing in a smooth baritone. Ironically, his vocalizing isn’t nearly as well known as his drumming, as in the latter category he has appeared on hundreds of recordings, including many of the most important LPs made by guitarist Wes Montgomery and organist Jimmy Smith in the 1960s. Tate also has recorded vocal LPs, as well as discs that showcased both of his talents. He also drove the Tonight show orchestra for six years. Listen to Tate sing Gary McFarlane’s touching tune, “Sack Full of Dreams,” from 1969, here:

Trumpeter Billy Butterfield, born in 1917 in Middleton, OH, gained fame playing with Bob Crosby’s neo-New Orleans band, the Bobcats, at the crest of their fame, from 1937 to 1940. Butterfield had a beautiful tone much admired by later generations of trumpeters such as Warren Vache. Two of Butterfield’s most acclaimed solos were on the Crosby band’s version of Bob Haggart’s tune, “What’s New?” (1937) and on Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five rendition of “Stardust.” (Butterfield had joined Shaw in 1940.) After leaving Shaw, Butterfield played with the orchestras of Benny Goodman and Les Brown before joining the Army. In the 1950s, Butterfield took on a lot of studio work, and made occasional performances with “Dixieland”-style groups such as the World’s Greatest Jazz Band. He died in 1988. Listen to Butterfield’s beautiful, just ever-so-slightly subdued tone on “What’s New?” here:

Bessie Smith records “St. Louis Blues” accompanied by Louis Armstrong, 1925. Listen here: