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Count Basie, c. 1946-1948. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0047 DLC).

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Basie, Count (21 August 1904–26 April 1984), jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born William Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of African-American parents Harvey Lee Basie, an estate groundskeeper, and Lillian Ann Chiles, a laundress. Basie was first exposed to music through his mother’s piano playing. He took piano lessons, played the drums, and acted in school skits. An indifferent student, he left school after junior high and began performing. He organized bands with friends and played various jobs in Red Bank, among them working as a movie theater pianist. In his late teens he pursued work in nearby Asbury Park, but he met with little success. Then, in the early 1920s, he moved to Harlem, where he learned from the leading pianists of the New York “stride” style, ...

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Brubeck, Dave (06 December 1920–05 December 2012), jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born David Warren Brubeck in Concord, California, the youngest son of Howard Peter Brubeck, a rancher, and Elizabeth Ivey, a pianist and music teacher. In the mid-1890s his grandfather bought a ranch at the northern foot of Mount Diablo in Clayton, California. His parents' home was in the adjacent town, Concord, where young Dave attended elementary school. His brilliance would eventually be obvious, but as a child he was placed in a slow learning group because he had difficulty with spelling and reading. Dave was born cross-eyed and later in life speculated that he may also have had an unidentified learning disability....

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Dave Brubeck. Portrait of Dave Brubeck, with sheet music as backdrop. Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1954. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103725).

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Dohnányi, Ernst von (27 July 1877–09 February 1960), composer, concert pianist, teacher, and conductor, also known as Ernó and baptized Dohnányi Erno Jeno Frigyes, was born in Pozsony, Hungary-later known as Pressberg, then Bratislava, Slovakia. (The population of Pozsony was approximately half Hungarian and half German, so Dohnányi was comfortable with the language and heritage of both.) He was the son of Frederick von Dohnányi (Dohnányi Frigyes), professor of mathematics and physics at the Royal Catholic Chief Gymnasium (Királyi Katolikus Fögimnásium) and an accomplished cellist and composer. Dohnányi's mother, Ottilia Szlabey, was tiny; she was sometimes referred to as fiercely determined and willing to sacrifice her comfort for others. Dohnányi embodied these characteristics as an adult helping family and friends survive the vicissitudes of wartime Europe. His sister, Mitzi, was a year younger. A brother died in infancy. When traveling outside of Hungary, he called himself Ernst von Dohnányi....

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Duke Ellington. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115052).

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Ellington, Duke (29 April 1899–24 May 1974), jazz musician and composer, was born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C., the son of James Edward Ellington, a butler, waiter, and later printmaker, and Daisy Kennedy. The Ellingtons were middle-class people who struggled at times to make ends meet. Ellington grew up surrounded by a large, concerned family. His mother was particularly attached to him; in her eyes he could do no wrong. They belonged to Washington’s black elite, who put much stock in racial pride. Ellington developed a strong sense of his own worth and a belief in his destiny, which at times shaded over into egocentricity. Because of this attitude, and his almost royal bearing, his schoolmates early named him “Duke.”...

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Gabrilowitsch, Ossip (07 February 1878–14 September 1936), pianist and conductor, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of Salomon Gabrilowitsch, a successful member of the bar, and Rosa Segal, who was German-Russian. (According to modern conventions of transliteration from the Cyrillic, the surname would be rendered Gabrilovich.) When Gabrilowitsch was four, his oldest brother, George, gave him piano lessons for a short time, but soon a professional teacher, Olga Theodorowitsch, took over the lessons. She also arranged for Anton Rubinstein to hear the ten-year-old Ossip play. Rubinstein was very impressed and insisted that the boy enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Rubinstein oversaw Gabrilowitsch’s music education, which consisted of piano lessons with Victor Tolstoff and composition with Glazunov, Liadov, and Navratil....

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Goldkette, Jean (18 May 1893–24 March 1962), dance bandleader, businessman, and classical pianist, was born in Patras, Greece, the son of Angelina Goldkette, an actress. It is not known who Jean's father was. The Goldkette family was a troupe of entertainers that traveled throughout Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Angelina met and married John Poliakoff, a journalist, in Moscow in 1903. Raised in Greece and Russia, Jean studied classical piano from an early age, and he attended the Moscow Conservatory of Music. He moved to Chicago in 1910, when he was 17, to live with George Goldkette, an uncle. His mother and stepfather moved to the United States in 1919....

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Jean Goldkette. With his orchestra. Courtesy of the Red Hot Jazz Archive.

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Guaraldi, Vince (17 July 1928–06 February 1976), pianist, bandleader, and composer, was born Vincent Anthony Guaraldi in San Francisco, California, of parents whose names are unknown. Guaraldi began his professional career in the newspaper business with the San Francisco Daily News in 1949, until he nearly lost a finger in an industrial accident. After this mishap, and helped by relatives Muzzy and Joseph Marcellino, who had strong ties in both music and television in San Francisco, he returned to his first (and apparently safer) love and talent, the piano. He played with local groups, most significantly with the Bill Harris-Chubby Jackson Sextette and later with the Georgie Auld Band (1953) and ...

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Henderson, Fletcher (18 December 1897–29 December 1952), musician, was born Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. in Cuthbert, Georgia, the son of Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Sr., a Latin and mathematics teacher, and Ozie Lena Chapman, a pianist. His middle-class family disapproved of jazz and blues, and Henderson studied piano with his classically trained mother. He graduated from Atlanta University in 1920 with a chemistry degree and then moved to New York City to pursue postgraduate studies. For a short time he was a laboratory assistant in a chemical firm, but with few opportunities for black chemists he became a part-time song demonstrator for the Pace-Handy Music Company. He subsequently worked as house pianist and recording manager for Black Swan Records, where his duties included accompanying ...

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Henderson, Horace W. (22 November 1904–29 August 1988), jazz and popular arranger, bandleader, and pianist, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, the son of Fletcher H. Henderson, Sr., a teacher, and Ozie Lena Chapman. He studied piano formally from about age fourteen to seventeen, when he left home to finish high school at the preparatory school of Wilberforce University in Ohio and then attend the university. In 1924 he visited his older brother, bandleader ...

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Earl Hines © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0415 DLC).

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Hines, Earl “Fatha” (28 December 1905–22 April 1983), jazz pianist and bandleader, was born Earl Kenneth Hines in Duquesne (later absorbed into Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, the son of Joseph Hines, a foreman on the coal docks. His mother, whose name is unknown, died when he was an infant. From the age of three he was raised by his stepmother, Mary (maiden name unknown), an organist. His father played cornet and led the local Eureka Brass Band, an uncle was an accomplished brass player, and an aunt sang light opera. Thus immersed in musical influences, Hines commenced classical piano studies in 1914. He possessed an immense natural talent. While making rapid progress through the classics he also began playing organ in the Baptist church and covertly entertaining at parties, this last activity a consequence of his ability to learn popular songs by ear. His life, like his music, moved fluidly between middle-class proprieties and wild pleasures....

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Hopkins, Claude (24 August 1903–19 February 1984), jazz bandleader and pianist, was born Claude Driskett Hopkins in Alexandria, Virginia, the son of Albert W. Hopkins and Gertrude D. (maiden name unknown), supervisors of a school for orphaned boys in Blue Plains, Virginia. Around 1913 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where his father became postmaster at Howard University and his mother became matron of a Howard dormitory. After public schooling, Hopkins enrolled at Howard, where he excelled in athletics and scholarship. Concentrating on music theory and classical piano while beginning preparations for medical study, he earned a B.A. in music. Despite his parents’ preference he chose to become a musician, having already worked casually in nightclubs and theaters during his college years....

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Hughes, Revella Eudosia (02 July 1895–24 October 1987), musician, singer, and educator, was born in Huntington, West Virginia, the daughter of George W. Hughes, a postman, and Annie B. (maiden name unknown), a piano teacher and seamstress. At age five Hughes began studying piano with her mother and, at eight or nine, violin with a musician friend of her father’s. She attended Huntington’s segregated public schools. Disturbed when Hughes was racially harassed, her parents sent her to Hartshorn Memorial College (later part of Virginia Union University) in Richmond, which she attended from 1909 to 1911, graduating with a degree in music and elementary studies. She attended Oberlin High and Conservatory, graduating in 1915. In 1917 she earned a bachelor of music in piano from Howard’s Conservatory of Music, where she studied piano with LeRoy Tibbs and voice with conservatory director ...

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Humiston, William Henry (27 April 1869–05 December 1923), organist, conductor, and composer, was born in Marietta, Ohio, the son of Henry Humiston and Margaret Voris. As a child, Humiston moved to Chicago with his family, where he completed high school in 1886. He continued his education at Lake Forest College, graduating in 1891 with a B.A. During these years and even later, he studied piano and harmony with ...

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José Iturbi Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103667).

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Iturbi, José (28 November 1895–28 June 1980), pianist and conductor, was born in Valencia, Spain, the son of Ricardo Iturbi, a gas company employee who supplemented his income tuning pianos, and Teresa Baguena, an opera singer. His musical talent became apparent at an early age. Iturbi entered the Escuela de Musica de Maria Jordan when he was five and by age seven was earning money by giving lessons himself and performing in silent movie theaters, at balls, and at recitals. He entered the Conservatorio de Musica in Valencia and also studied privately under Joaquin Malats. Citizens of his hometown raised donations to send the young Iturbi to the Conservatoire de Musique in Paris to complete his studies, where he worked under the tutelage of Staub. After graduating with first honors, Iturbi moved to Zurich and earned money playing in a fashionable café. There he attracted the notice of the director of the Geneva Conservatory, who immediately hired Iturbi to be head of the conservatory’s piano department. In June 1916 Iturbi was married to Maria Giner, who died soon after the birth of their daughter, Maria....