Birthdays 

Norman Connors: The Jazz-Funk Captain Turns 70 Today

Norman Connors. This name stands for so much. During the 50 years he has been active, especially since the late 1970-s, he should have been celebrated a lot more than he was, and he should have been more famous in Europe and Asia. “Captain Connors” is one of the last great Jazz-Funk and Soul pioneers alive. It all started 70 years ago today, on March 1st, 1947, in Philadelphia. Some years down the road, his interest in Jazz was big. So was his ambition as a young drummer. When Norman…

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Birthdays 

Anke Helfrich at 50: German Jazz Pianist Performing with “Dedication”

There are not many female Jazz pianists from Germany, who tour the world. I can think of two, but one of them is an organist. Let’s stick to the actual pianist, Anke Helfrich, who was born half a century ago today. From the small town of Horb, at the Neckar river, in Swabia, she would be taken to Namibia soon, where she stayed five years. Her mother was an anti-Apartheid activist, who collected donations for the movement. Little Anke would sing “We Shall Overcome” and dance with children in African townships, while…

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Birthdays 

Richard Bailey at 61: The Off-Beat Genius who Became an Athlete After All

Richard Bailey played his ass off every time the British Jazz-Funk group Incognito hit the stage during the gigs and tours I joined, as their regional booker. And not just that. He treated his snare, toms, hi-hat and other cymbals as if they were part of him. It gets better: They actually are. And he is part of them. Richard was born 61 years ago today, in Guyana, and moved to Trinidad & Tobago with his family early on, before arriving in London, some years later. His father was a runner,…

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Birthdays 

Arturo Sandoval at 67: The Most Energetic Trumpet Hero Ever

It was in 1979, when a young trumpet genius by the name of Arturo Sandoval hit the stage at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City, along with the other members of the Cuban group Irakere, which by now is music history, people looked at them in disbelief.  The performance delivered by the Cubans was nothing less than an explosion. The sounds hitting the stunned audience could be described as a hurricane of Afro-Cuban-Jazz-Rock of a kind nobody in the hall had ever heard before. It felt like a Cuban version of Earth, Wind…

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Birthdays 

Nick van Gelder at 52: Tight Groove Drummer & Multi-Instrumentalist

A tight groove specialist and multi-instrumentalist, who has played with several of Britain’s main “Acid Jazz” acts, including Jamiroquai, and who performs and records with his own projects, is celebrating a funky 52nd birthday today: Nick van Gelder. As a 6-year-old, he got a snare drum, which was pretty well equipped: “It had a cymbal arm”, van Gelder says. He had to wait another couple of years, until he was finally sitting behind his first complete drum set, on Christmas Eve of 1972, and another six years, until he had…

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Birthdays 

Tom Browne at 62: Jamaican Funk and Flying Packages

In the mid-1970s, a young trumpet player from Queens got a scholarship for the High School of Music & Performing Arts in New York. At that stage, nobody could have imagined he was going to provide one of the greatest Funk hits ever, or that he would come up with some of the most brilliant Jazz-Funk sounds ever recorded. Tom Browne learned from Freddie Hubbard and other fellow trumpet heroes. Downbeat Magazine used the expression “warm trumpet” very accurately, while describing his playing. Jimmy Boyd, who used to manage George Benson, Earl…

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Birthdays 

Dianne Reeves at 60: The Evolution of a Star

Note: The plural form of the word Grammy is part of this article. Reader discretion is advised. The minute she was born sixty years ago today, she was exposed to all of this great music. Her mother was a trumpeter, her father a vocalist. He is obviously the one she inherited her singing talent from. When, on top of all of this parental influence, which you inhale 24 hours a day, your cousin’s name is George Duke and your uncle is bassist Charles Burrell, you are supposed to be discovered…

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Birthdays 

Mark King at 58: Slapping the Shit out of that Bass

Mark King, who is celebrating his 58th birthday today, was a big Jazz-Funk hero. When the self-titled album of his band Level 42 was released in 1981, and tunes like “Love Games” or “43” came through powerful loudspeakers in the community room of a boarding school in southern Germany, everyone was stunned. There he was, the European version of Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson. That “right in the face” kind of Funk, the off-beats the group came up with, and the entire approach, including that record cover, were simply sensational. It…

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Birthdays 

Jennifer Holliday: One of the Most Powerful Soul Voices Turning 56

Jennifer Holliday is one of the most powerful Soul voices ever recorded, or ever seen on a Broadway stage. She is being celebrated and does have many fans, but it seems she would have deserved a lot more. “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God” was the first musical she took part in. When she was only 21, she got the biggest role of her career. On Broadway, she became Effie in “Dreamgirls”. Her more than brilliant performance, singing “And I Am Telling You”, was beyond great. Hardly ever…

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Birthdays 

Chuck Berry at 90: The Rhythm & Blues Pioneer

The 1950-s would never be the same again, after Chuck Berry started making huge crowds love his Rock’N’Roll. It was a revolution. And he was the messenger. When Chuck Berry was born, 90 years ago today, in 1926, Rock’N’Roll was unheard of. When he started fascinating the masses, with his first hit, in May of 1955, most other Rock’n’Roll greats were kids, and some of them not even conceived. We have to thank Chuck Berry for co-inventing Rock’N’Roll, and by doing so, contributing to the evolution of Rhythm & Blues…

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