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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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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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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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Jordan, Joe (11 February 1882–11 September 1971), composer, conductor, jazz and ragtime pianist, and bandleader, was born Joseph Jordan in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father owned a pool hall; his parents' names are unknown. He was raised in Cincinnati and was educated at Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri. By 1900 he was playing piano in cafes in St. Louis, where he also played violin and drums in the Taborian Band....

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Lopez, Vincent (30 December 1895–20 September 1975), bandleader and jazz pianist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Antonio Lopez, a music teacher, and Virginia Gonsalves. Lopez’s father, a former naval bandmaster who was a strict disciplinarian, made young Lopez practice the piano for three hours each day during the school year and for six hours per day during vacations. In spite of this attention to music, Lopez’s father planned for his son to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood, and so the youngster was enrolled at age twelve in St. Mary’s Passionist Monastery in Dunkirk, New York. After three years, Lopez left St. Mary’s against his father’s wishes and returned to Brooklyn, where he completed a nine-month course of study at Kissick’s Business College. Lopez then accepted a clerical job for a local milk company, and he also began to play piano in the evenings at Clayton’s, a Brooklyn saloon. By 1916 Lopez had left the milk company and was working full time as a professional pianist in various beer halls and restaurants in New York City....

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Marable, Fate (02 December 1890–16 January 1947), musical director, pianist, and riverboat calliope player, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Elizabeth Lillian, who had taught music as a slave. His mother’s maiden name and details about his father are unknown. According to jazz musician Clark Terry, Marable’s real name was Marble....

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Montgomery, Little Brother (18 April 1906–06 September 1985), blues and jazz pianist, singer, and bandleader, was born Eurreal Wilford Montgomery in Kentwood, Louisiana, the son of Harper Montgomery and Dicy Burton. His father led mule and horse teams, set railroad times, hauled wood, farmed cucumbers, and had a log pond in which Montgomery himself assisted, riding logs to help chain them for the trip to the mill. Most significantly for Montgomery, his father also ran a barrelhouse—a southern saloon that often had a piano and a dance floor, where alcohol was served from barrels. Montgomery claimed that his father served no hard liquor, just food and soft drinks, and that patrons brought their own alcohol. In any event, there he had an opportunity to listen to many accomplished pianists, including the great ...

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Perez Prado, Damaso (11 December 1916–14 September 1989), pianist, composer, and bandleader, was born in Matanzas, Cuba. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a journalist. He studied classical piano during his youth and worked as a pianist in a charanga orchestra. By the early 1940s he was based in Matanzas and performing in various orchestras. During the mid-1940s he began to experiment with the mixture of jazz and Afro-Cuban musical genres. He became known by his double family name, Perez Prado, many having confused “Perez” as his first name. In 1948 he moved to Mexico City....