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L.A. Beat

Jazz legends gone, but their influence lives on

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 All of our modern music stems from those deep roots tracing back to the legends of jazz, blues and soul. These pioneers of the 30′s through 50′s created the standards of 4/4 time, the three and four note chords that we still hear today. Without their original melodies and harmonies, verse and chorus structures, boogie-woogie gospel rhythms and accentuated backbeats, we would have no Elvis, no Buddy Holly, no Chuck Berry and no Bono. We would have no Britney Spears, no Nickelback, no Lady Gaga and no Kanye West, were it not for these architects of musical history.

It crossed my mind the other night after reading a tribute to one fallen icon; that many of these pioneers have begun to disappear. The typical life expectancy in North America ranges from 77-87 years, meaning many of the notable musical heroes that were born in the Lena Horne.20′s and 30′s are now octogenarians.

This month we lost both Lena Horne (b. 1917) and Hank Jones (b. 1918). Horne began a renowned career in 1933, was an American singer, actor, civil rights activist and dancer, who was beloved around the world, though she retired in 1980. She was associated with Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr. and Billie Holliday, and recorded albums for seven decades for MGM, RCA Victor, United Artists and Blue Note.
Hank Jones was a pianist and leader in the Bebop and Jazz genres.

A musician, composer and bandleader who was active from 1944 until the day he died, performed with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Nancy Wilson and Charlie Haden, other legends for Verve, Savoy, Epic and Capitol.
In March, we lost Herb Ellis, an American jazz guitarist born in 1921.
In 2009 we also said goodbye to Al Martino (b. 1927), Les Paul (b.1915) and Koko Taylor (b.1928) – artists whose influence is still heard to this day.

Martino opened doors for modern crooners like Michael Buble and Jason Mraz.
Les Paul’s electric guitar sound gave rock and roll a jumpstart. Koko Taylor’s powerful female vocals and Chess blues stylings paved the way for Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and more.

In 2008 we saw the passing of Bo Diddley (b. 1928) a legend of the blues whose distinctive wit, howl and ‘pickin’ & slidin” style can still be heard nightly at pubs everywhere.
We lost crucial elements of the jazz world like Freddie Hubbard (b. 1938) and his trumpet, Johnny Griffin (b.1928) and his saxophone and Odetta Holmes (b.1930), the true voice of the civil rights movement who had a huge influence on the lyrical development of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Plus, 2008 also saw the loss of Eartha Kitt (b.1930) and Jerry Wexler (b. 1917). Kitt’s Santa Baby Christmas single stormed up the charts in 1953, while Wexler’s work behind production boards and development of major players like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and even Les Zeppelin made him one of the most highly regarded men in popular music history. Wexler coined the term “rhythm & blues” in 1948.
As well, 2007 was a devastating year in terms of the world’s loss of these influential figures.
We lost Alice Coltrane (b.1937), the wife of John Coltrane and an experimental jazz and soul diva who was the first person to incorporate harps into jazz music.
We lost Frankie Laine (b. 1913), an American singer whose nicknames ranged from America’s Number One Song Stylist to Mr. Rhythm and Old Leather Lungs.
We lost Stax Records’ legend Luther Ingram (b. 1937), who will always be remembered for his #1 R&B single, “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right. ”

Hawaiian legend Don Ho (b.1930) is gone as well, but the “Tiny Bubbles” he left behind will never truly pop.
This bittersweet year, which I hope is remembered, also claimed the lives Boots Randolph (b. 1927), Bill Pinkney (b. 1916), Tommy Makem (b. 1932), Lee Hazlewood (b.1929) , Porter Wagoner (b.1927) , Hank Thompson (b.1925), Ike Turner (b.1931) and Canada’s own beloved jazz giant, Oscar Peterson (b.1925.)
In 2006, we lost Lou Rawls (b. 1933) and Wilson Pickett (b. 1941), Desmond Dekker (b. 1941) and Maynard Ferguson (b. 1928), Freddy Fender 37, Anita O’Day (b.1919) and of course, the one and only master booty shaker, James Brown (b.1933) the Godfather of Soul.
I think the impression I am trying to make is clear. This column is not intended to be morbid, and I am not typically fascinated by death, nor do I peruse the obituary columns on a daily basis. Yet the clock ticks, people age, and death inevitably comes a’ knockin’.
I hope that these legends, who may now be gone but should never be forgotten, retain their status as forerunners of our modern music – heroes and icons that literally changed our world one note at a time.
The next time you hear a hip-hop song, a rock beat that gets your feet tapping or an electronic work that fills your head with imagination and wonder – give a little credit where it’s due. Without these artists, none of it would be possible.

L.A. Beat welcomes aboard local writer and radio personality  Chris Hibbard. He will be writing a regular column on his thoughts about music and whatnot. 

— By Chris Hibbard, Special to L.A. Beat
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