Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Mel Powell!

February 12

Wynton Marsalis is rightfully celebrated as the first Pulitzer prize recipient for a jazz composition, but many years before, Mel Powell was awarded the same coveted award for his electronic/classical music. It’s worth remembering today, on Powell’s 90th birthday anniversary that he first burst into the music world as an 18 year old jazz wunderkind with Benny Goodman’s band.

Gifted with a sparking technique and the ability to improvise with great alacrity in and around Goodman, Powell’s playing in solo and in accompaniment is something to marvel at.

Here he is recording his original composition, dedicated to Earl Hines, with Goodman just months after his 18th birthday:

There’s much of Powell on film, so this rare TV shot from 1957 with Goodman is worth a close look – notice his large, spidery hands:

After serving in WWII with Glenn Miller’s band, he combined steady jazz work with studies with Paul Hindemith at Yale, where Powell eventually became a professor. By 1960, he left jazz entirely, and pioneered in the use of electronic instruments in classical music. He was the the founding dean of the music department at the California Institute of the Arts, where he remained until his death in 1998.

It’s a joy to remember Mel Powell’s jazz work, long overdue for celebration and exposure.