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Ayler, Albert (12 July 1936–05 November 1970), composer and musician, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Edward Ayler, a semiprofessional violinist and tenor saxophonist, and Myrtle Hunter. Albert and his brother Donald, who later became a professional jazz trumpet player, received musical training early in life from their father. In second grade Albert performed alto saxophone recitals in school. He performed duets with his father (who also played alto saxophone) in church. Together they listened to a great deal of swing and bebop music, both on recordings and at jazz concerts....

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Cohn, Al (24 November 1925–15 February 1988), jazz tenor saxophonist and arranger, was born Alvin Gilbert Cohn in New York City, the son of David Emanuel Cohn, a textile worker, and Gertrude (maiden name unknown). Gertrude Cohn played piano, and Al began taking piano lessons at age six. He switched to clarinet at age twelve and then to tenor saxophone after hearing ...

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John Coltrane Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108321).

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Coltrane, John (23 September 1926–17 July 1967), jazz saxophonist and composer, was born John William Coltrane in Hamlet, North Carolina, the son of John Robert Coltrane, a tailor, and Alice Blair. Coltrane grew up in the High Point, North Carolina, home of his maternal grandfather, the Rev. William Blair, a distinguished figure in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. Coltrane’s mother studied music in college, and his father was a country violinist; at age twelve Coltrane began to play the E-flat horn, then the clarinet in a community band, and he immersed himself in practice and study. In high school he discovered jazz and turned to the alto saxophone, influenced by the recorded work of ...

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Gryce, Gigi (28 November 1927–17 March 1983), jazz saxophonist, flutist, and composer, was born in Pensacola, Florida, and grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. Gryce was the product of a highly musical family: his brother and four sisters all were classically trained on a variety of instruments. In his youth, Gryce attended music school in Hartford, developing his skills on flute, alto saxophone, clarinet, and piano. In 1946 he began performing in and around Hartford, both as a sideman and as the leader of his own 23-piece group. In 1948 Gryce moved to Boston to attend the Boston Conservatory, where he studied composition and instrumentation with Daniel Pinkham and Alan Hovaness. In 1952 he won a Fulbright scholarship to study music in Paris, where he continued his instruction in composition with the famed composer Arthur Honegger....

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Hoschna, Karl L. (16 August 1877–23 December 1911), composer and oboist, was born in Kuschwarda, Bohemia. His parents’ names are not known. When he received a scholarship to the Vienna conservatory for his musical education, he was required to select a band instrument to study, and he chose the oboe. He did well enough in his studies to graduate with honors and upon completion of his studies was an oboist in the Austrian Army band for several years....

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Jenkins, Edmund Thornton (09 April 1894–12 September 1926), clarinetist, composer, and conductor, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Daniel Jenkins, a former slave, minister, and founder-director of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, and Lena James. Jenkins attended the Avery Institute in Charleston. As a child, he learned to play violin, clarinet, and piano. His first music teachers were his father and other instructors at the orphanage, which was founded in December 1891 and formally incorporated as the Orphan Aid Society in July 1892. By the time he was fourteen years old, Jenkins had learned to play all the instruments of his father’s brass band. In 1908 he entered Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) where he studied violin with Kemper Harreld. Jenkins participated in the symphony orchestra, glee club, and other musical activities. During vacations he performed, directed, and toured with the orphanage band. Jenkins left college during the summer of 1914 to travel with the band to London for the Anglo-American Exposition, organized by the Hungarian ...

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Johnson, Budd (14 December 1910–20 October 1984), jazz saxophonist and arranger, was born Albert J. Johnson in Dallas, Texas, the son of Albert Johnson, an automobile mechanic, cornetist, and church organist. His mother’s name is not known. His older brother Frederick H. “Keg” Johnson studied trombone with his father and also became a career professional. After having taught himself cornet by ear, at age eight Johnson started taking piano lessons, but he soon switched to drums, which he played in the Moonlight Melody Six, a band formed by his brother Keg, pianist Jesse Stone, and other school friends. In 1923 or 1924, when a better drummer joined the band, Johnson started teaching himself saxophone. Renaming their group the Blue Moon Chasers, in 1925 the boys traveled with the Gonzel White Show to Tulsa, but after becoming stranded they returned home. Around 1926 Budd and Keg Johnson joined William Holloway’s Music Makers (or Syncopators), in which traveling group Budd learned to read music from Holloway and saxman Ben Smith, who in 1927 became the group’s leader. In 1928 Johnson left Smith and joined Eugene Coy’s Happy Black Aces in Oklahoma, staying with them until early 1929, when he joined Terrence Holder’s Twelve Clouds of Joy in Dallas. It was while with Coy in Amarillo that Johnson chanced to give silent movie pianist ...

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Mobley, Hank (07 July 1930–30 May 1986), jazz musician and composer, was born Henry Mobley in Eastman, Georgia; his parents (names unknown) moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1932. His parents later separated, and Mobley’s father moved to Philadelphia, where he remarried. Hank lived with his mother in New Jersey. An uncle, Danny Mobley, a pianist and bandleader, helped to inspire his musical endeavors and provided him with early instruction in jazz. Mobley learned to play alto saxophone on his own at age sixteen and worked at a bowling alley to earn enough money to buy an instrument. According to noted jazz critic and historian John Litweiler, it was a shop teacher who encouraged Mobley to abandon machinist training and devote himself to music....

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Mulligan, Gerry (06 April 1927–20 January 1996), baritone saxophonist, composer, and arranger, nicknamed Jeru, was born Gerald Joseph Mulligan in Queens, New York City, the son of George Mulligan, a management engineer, and Louise Shannon Mulligan. The father's occupation required that the family move frequently up and down the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. Mulligan later claimed that his jazz career was spawned when he was in the third or fourth grade in Marion, Ohio, and saw ...

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Gerry Mulligan. © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-1621 DLC).

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Charlie Parker © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0688 DLC).

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Parker, Charlie (29 August 1920–12 March 1955), alto saxophonist and jazz composer, also nicknamed "Bird" and "Yardbird", alto saxophonist and jazz composer, also nicknamed “Bird” and “Yardbird,” was born Charles Christopher Parker in Kansas City, Kansas. His father, Charles Parker, Sr., toured black theaters as a singer on the TOBA circuit and later was a chef on the Pullman railroad line; his mother, Addie Boxley (surname uncertain), worked as a cleaning woman. Charles Sr. left the family sometime in the late 1920s, and Charlie saw him only a couple of times after that. In 1931, Parker moved with his mother to Kansas City, Missouri. Formerly a quiet, serious student, by the time he registered at Lincoln High School in 1932, he had become a chronic truant and uninterested in school. It was not for lack of love; his mother constantly doted on him....

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Redman, Don (29 July 1900–30 November 1964), composer, arranger, and alto saxophonist, was born Donald Matthew Redman in Piedmont, West Virginia; the names of his parents are unknown. It is known, however, that Redman came from a musical family and was a child prodigy. He learned to play several instruments as a youngster, and he wrote arrangements for a visiting road band while still in his teens; he even backed up the group with his own band on occasion....

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Shields, Larry (13 September 1893–21 November 1953), jazz clarinetist and composer, was born Lawrence James Shields in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of James Michael Shields, a house painter, and Emma Puneky. Shields came from a family of musicians: his brother Harry played the cornet and clarinet, his brother Eddie played the piano, and his brother Patrick (who died young) played several instruments, including the trombone, guitar, and bass. An older half-brother, James Ruth, played the mandolin and guitar....

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Willson, Meredith (18 May 1902–15 June 1984), lyricist/composer, conductor, and flutist, was born Robert Reiniger Meredith Willson in Mason City, Iowa, the son of John D. Willson, a lawyer and businessman, and Rosalie Reiniger, a teacher. Both of Willson’s grandfathers were considered early settlers by more recent immigrants, adding to the family’s local prominence. Meredith appeared in his mother’s Sunday school musicals as early as the age of four and at twelve sang a solo as Don (“a shepherd”) in the local production of his sister Dixie’s musical, ...