Harlem Speaks Features Pianist Junior Mance September 6th 6:30PM-8:30PM


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The National Jazz Museum in Harlem
104 East 126th Street
New York, NY 10035
212 348-8300

Junior Mance, Piano September 6, 2007
at the Harlem School of the Arts
(645 St. Nicholas Avenue
For reservations: 212-348-8300

This series is free and open to the public

The first guest of Harlem Speaks in September 2007, JUNIOR MANCE, was born Julian Clifford Mance, Jr. on October 10, 1928. He's a jazz pianist, composer, author of “HOW TO PLAY BLUES PIANO", and a recording artist of thirty plus albums as a leader and numerous recordings as a sideman. He began playing the piano at the age of five, and began formal training at the age of eight.

In 1947 Mance left Roosevelt College to join Gene Ammons' band and began his recording career with Ammons. He joined Lester Young in 1949 for almost two years, and rejoined Ammons several months in 1951 before being drafted into the U. S. Army. He served in the 36th Army Band at Fort Knox, Kentucky along with Julian “Cannonball" Adderley.

After his discharge from the Army in 1953, Mance became part of the house rhythm section at the Bee Hive Jazz Club in Chicago for a year, and accompanied jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Stitt, and many others.

In 1954 Mance joined and toured with Dinah Washington. In 1956 he reunited with Cannonball Adderley, becoming a member of Cannonball's first organized working band. The band did a series of recordings on Mercury Records.

Junior joined Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1958, a period Mance considers one of the highlights of his career. Besides the joy and fun of playing with Dizzy, he remembers this period as a great learning experience in musicianship, showmanship, and just about everything related to the business of music.

In 1961 Junior decided to form his own trio, following the release of his first recording as a leader. ("JUNIOR", Verve Records) In between gigs with his trio he played and recorded with the Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis/Johnny Griffin Quintet. With his trio he also accompanied singer Joe Williams in l963/64.

In 1988 Junior became a member of the faculty of the JAZZ AND CONTEMPORARY MUSIC PROGRAM at the New School University in New York City. He teaches classes in Blues, Blues Ensembles, and private individual lessons and instruction on piano and helping students in the development of their career in playing jazz.

On November 21, 1997, at Tampa Florida, Junior was inducted into THE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ HALL OF FAME, an honor Junior is extremely proud of, being in the elite company of many of his heroes, both past and present.

Junior Mance made his solo piano debut at Lincoln Center at the Kaplan Penthouse on October 5th - 7th of 2000. If you haven't attended Harlem Speaks, yet know the power, majesty, grits and grace of jazz, or want to learn more about this profound musical art form, don't miss this jazz legend's discussion with museum executive director Loren Schoenberg.

Earl May, born in Bellevue hospital on September 17, 1927 to Vernon and Monica May, spent several hours in discussion with Loren Schoenberg about his storied career of 60+ years. May's grand career began in 1949 in New York City, when he began honing his craft in places like Minton's Playhouse, where he sat in on bass for Chocolate Williams (a bassist who played and recorded with Art Tatum and Herbie Nichols), and recalled meeting vibes legend Milt Jackson and Hot Lips Page there. He also performed at Minton's with Carmen McRae, and was deeply impressed by “the way she read a lyric, telling a story." (He spoke of previous Harlem Speaks guest Gloria Lynne in the same light.)

His extended family lived in Jamaica, Long Island: “I was raised by everyone in my family," he told us. This is where he discovered that he wanted to play music, after hearing the guitar playing on “China Boy" on the Victrola. His father, raised in Cuba and who worked for the Swift Meat Co., studied classical voice. He would take May to rehearsals. He also recalled his father and his dad's brother singing duets together.

He also spent part of his youth in Harlem and the Bronx. After living at 112th St. between St. Nicholas and Lenox avenues, he and his mom moved to 165th St. in the Bronx. He attended a variety of schools, including Ben Franklin, where he decided to take up drums. But the class was too full, so he was sent to the bass class, where he met Walter Bishop!

When he was 14 his mom--"a sweetie pie"--bought him an acoustic bass for $15. During these days he was enthralled with Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, who later became like a guru to May. “Every place I went with him, everyone would call him 'Maestro'. No matter whose bass he'd play, he sounded like himself. He was an American Indian, a sweetheart who came from a large family where everyone played music."

Of Slam Stewart: “He was a very basic bass player who knew that the function of the bass was to put the bottom in the band. When I played with Dizzy, he'd say 'Play the lowest notes possible'."

May had his first professional gig in the Bronx at the 845 Club, with an ensemble playing opposite bassist John Kirby's band. He was so young that some had their doubts, but Kirby told them: “Let him play his bass!" Later at the club, Louis Armstrong told him to “Keep it up, you're doing fine."

May certainly did keep it up, getting so good that drummer Connie Kay tapped him for a gig at the Audubon Ballroom with Lester “Pres" Young. While playing with Pres, May met Dr. Billy Taylor, with whom he also performed with Mercer Ellington's small band. Taylor invited him to join his trio in 1951. May then gave up his day insurance job to play professionally full-time. The Billy Taylor Trio played regularly in such clubs as the Hickory House, Birdland and the Downbeat Club.

May's memory of Harlem in those days: “We didn't live in fear; you could leave your door unlocked or even sleep in the roof." In addition to also living on 127th and Lenox early in his life, he also lived at 157th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, near drummer Rudy Lawless and the peerless “father of the tenor saxophone" Coleman Hawkins. Lawless, a previous Harlem Speaks guest, was in attendance and guffawed at May's memory of their early days, when May would take inner tubes from car tires, stretch it out on flower pots, and play them like a drum!

As mentioned above, May loved Harlemite Gloria Lynne's style, and recalls playing in her band at the Copacabana lounge, and at the Apollo Theatre with artists the caliber of Nancy Wilson, Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross and the headliner, Ahmad Jamal, being on the bill. He also recalled times at the Apollo with Pigmeat Markham and Mom Mabley, with whom he made a trio record.

Of Coleman Hawkins, May remembers riding in taxis: “He was wonderful, and would tolerate me. Billy Taylor and I played with Hawk in Cleveland, Ohio and stayed at the Sheraton Hotel. We took a cab to the outskirts of town to a Chinese restaurant, where this dignified man proceeded to order a Chinese bowl of chitlins!"

While playing with Dr. Billy Taylor in the early '50s, May wasn't yet satisfied with his playing (I still gripped the top of the bass like older bassists"), so Taylor told him: “I think you need study with Charles Mingus."

May: “Mingus was a genial man of good humor. And he was a great teacher. He taught me how to break up one hour of practice into quarters. First, finger exercises for 15 minutes. Then scales for fifteen, then reading. Lastly, learn a tune or play with records or write out a solo. Once, when I played with Bags [Milt Jackson] and Dizzy in the South of France, Mingus was standing in the wings looking on with pride. He told them, 'He's my student!'"

May discussed several bands he played in during the 50s and 60s, and musicians he admires: “I was in Cat Anderson's big band for a while. He heard me play with Connie Kay at the Baby Grand on 125th Street, and he said, “You gotta play with me!" On Christian McBride: “If I had to pattern myself after a bassist of today, it would be Christian McBride. He well-schooled and can do it all, soulfully." Of Charlie Smith, little-remembered drummer on the one surviving film of Charlie Parker: “He was phenomenal. Every person he played with, he made sound great." Of Kenny Clarke: “When I played with him, I was in heaven." He had similar sentiments about playing with drummers Connie Kay and Max Roach. Of playing in Small's: “On any given night you'd see anyone, Redd Foxx, for example." Of Gene Ramey: “He told me, 'When you're dissatisfied with your playing, it's okay, because that means you're going up another notch."

Interviewer Loren Schoenberg, executive director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, leavened the discussion by playing examples of May's great artistry. He played “For the Fat Man" from a 1951 date that May recorded with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt; “You're Mine," with the Billy Taylor Trio with Jackie Paris singing and trumpeter Charlie Shavers swingin' lyrical riffs; Monk's “Straight, No Chaser" with the Buddy Rich Big Band; “Trane's Slo Blues" from John Coltrane's Lush Life; and the great opening bass line to “Comin' Home Baby" from Herbie Mann's classic recording, Herbie Mann Live at the Village Gate.

Rudy Lawless was just one of several previous Harlem Speaks guests in attendance. Recent honoree Norman Simmons: “Earl May has ham and bacon in his sound. No wonder everyone called him! After Joe Williams died, May established me on the New York scene."

Barry Harris: “I remember hearing him, this left-handed bassist, at the Hickory House. Now I'm playing with him. And since he sometimes has trouble getting to the gig on time, I call him early may, Earl may show up on time!" Lawless: “We were neighbors. He helped me through a lot of family problems. His playing is most magnificent."

And drummer Kenny Washington, who will host several Jazz for Curious Listeners sessions on the late, great drummer Max Roach for the jazz museum in September 2007, said: “I remember listening to you with Gloria Lynne on “Sweet Pumpkin," and Trane on “I Love You." I used to practice with records that you were on, turning down the treble, to see what it was supposed to be like. You guys messed me up! I thought that all bassists were supposed to play as well as you, but when I came out here, guys didn't know the tunes or the changes!"

Washington asked May about the historic sessions with John Coltrane. May said: “'Trane was a wonderful person. We went to Rudy Van Gelder's place, where he had the studio in his mother's living room. I was scared. And I like to lock in with drummers, but I was too far from Arthur Taylor."

But the recording came out wonderfully anyway, since May's bass walking, Taylor's riding cymbals, and John Coltrane's genius meshed together to create a classic. And that's one way to describe Earl May: a living classic! For proof of this claim, make sure to attend the very next Harlem Speaks, featuring Junior Mance: May played in his trio for many years.

~ Greg Thomas

The Harlem Speaks series, supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced by the Jazz Museum in Harlem's Directors Loren Schoenberg and Christian McBride, in addition to Greg Thomas, host and co-producer of the web's only jazz news and entertainment television series, Jazz it Up! Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm.

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz Publicity.
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