Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell (September 27, 1924 – July 31, 1966)[1] was an American jazz pianist and composer. A pioneer in the development of bebop, jazz critics have commented that his compositions and playing style "greatly extended the range of jazz harmony,"[2] and his application of complex bebop phrasing to the piano influenced both his contemporaries and later pianists including Walter Davis, Jr., Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Barry Harris.[3] Although a severe beating by police in 1945, followed by years of electroconvulsive therapy treatments and hospitalization, impacted his health during the latter half of his career, he continued to compose, record, and perform until shortly before his death in 1966. In the decades following his death, his career and life story became the inspiration for films and written works, including Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight.[4] Many Powell compositions, including "Un Poco Loco", "Bouncing with Bud", and "Parisian Thoroughfare", have become jazz standards.

Bud Powell
Powell, 1960
Powell, 1960
Background information
Birth nameEarl Rudolph Powell
Born(1924-09-27)September 27, 1924
Harlem, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 31, 1966(1966-07-31) (aged 41)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, bebop
Years active1935–1966
LabelsRoost, Blue Note, Mercury, Norgran, Clef, Verve
Audrey Hill
(m. 1953; dissolved 1953)
Partner(s)Altevia Edwards (1954–1962)

Life edit

Early life edit

Powell was born in Harlem, New York, United States.[1] The son of a stride pianist,[5] he began to take classical piano lessons at the age of five.[6] His teacher, hired by his father, was a West Indian man named Rawlins.[7] At 10 years of age, Powell showed interest in swing music, and he first appeared in public at a rent party,[8] where he mimicked Fats Waller's playing style.

The first jazz composition that he mastered was James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout". Powell's older brother, William, played trumpet and violin, and by the age of 15 Powell was playing in William's band.[9] Powell heard Art Tatum on the radio and tried to match his technique.

His younger brother by seven years, Richie Powell, also learned to play piano.[10]

1943–1945: Cootie Williams' band edit

In his youth Powell listened to the adventurous performances at Uptown House, a venue near his home. This was where Charlie Parker first appeared as a solo act when he briefly lived in New York.[11] Thelonious Monk played at Uptown House. When Monk met Powell[12] he introduced Powell to musicians who were starting to play bebop at Minton's Playhouse. Monk was a resident pianist, and he presented Powell as his protégé. Their mutual affection grew, and Monk became Powell's greatest mentor. Monk's composition "In Walked Bud" is a tribute to their time together in Harlem.[13]

Powell was engaged in a series of dance bands, his incubation culminating in becoming the pianist for the swing orchestra of Cootie Williams. In late 1943, he was offered the chance to appear at a nightclub with the quintet of Oscar Pettiford and Dizzy Gillespie, but Powell's mother decided he would continue with the more secure job with Williams.[14] Powell was the pianist on a handful of Williams's recording dates in 1944. The last included the first recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight".[15] His job with Williams was terminated in Philadelphia in January 1945.

1945–1948: Hospitalizations edit

Creedmoor State Hospital

After Williams' band finished for the night, Powell wandered near Broad Street Station and was apprehended, drunk, by the private railroad police. He was beaten by them and incarcerated briefly by the city police. Ten days after his release, his headaches persisted and he was hospitalized at Bellevue,[16] an observation ward, and then in a state psychiatric hospital sixty miles away. He remained there for two and a half months.[14]

Powell resumed playing in Manhattan after his release. In 1945–46 Powell recorded with Frank Socolow, Sarah Vaughan, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, and Kenny Clarke.[17] Powell became known for his sight-reading and his skill at fast tempos.[17] In an incident in 1945, Monk falsely confessed to using drugs Powell had used in order to protect his friend from losing his cabaret card.[18]

Charlie Parker chose Powell to be his pianist on a May 1947 quintet recording session with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach; this was the only studio session in which Parker and Powell played together.[19] The Parker session was the only appearance that Powell made in a studio in 1947 besides his Jan 10 recording date with Curly Russell and Max Roach for the album Bud Powell Trio. In November, he had an altercation with a customer at a bar in Harlem. In the ensuing fight, Powell was hit over his eye with a bottle. When the staff at Harlem Hospital found him incoherent and rambunctious, they sent him to Bellevue, which had a record of his previous confinements. He was sent to Creedmoor State Hospital, where he spent eleven months. Attempts to tell hospital staff he was a pianist who had "made records" led to his dismissal as a fantasist,[20] and in psychiatric interviews, he expressed feelings of persecution founded in racism.[21] From February to April 1948, he received electroconvulsive therapy after an outburst which may have been prompted by learning from his girlfriend that she was pregnant with their child. The electroconvulsive therapy was considered ineffective, so the doctors gave him a second series of treatments in May. He was released in October 1948.[14]

1949–1951: Jazz Giant edit

After a brief hospitalization in early 1949, Powell made several recordings over the next two and a half years, most of them for Blue Note,[22] Mercury, Norgran, and Clef.[23] He also recorded that summer for two independent producers, a session that resulted in eight masters; Max Roach and Curly Russell were his accompanists. The recordings were released in 1950, when Roost Records bought the masters and released them on a series of 78 rpm records.[24] Musicologist Guthrie Ramsey wrote of the session that "Powell proves himself the equal of any of the other beboppers in technique, versatility, and feeling."[25]

Navarro, who recorded with Powell for Blue Note

The first Blue Note session in August 1949 included trumpeter Fats Navarro, saxophone player Sonny Rollins, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, and it introduced Powell's compositions "Bouncing with Bud" and "Dance of the Infidels". He went to the studio again, this time for Prestige, in December, with alto saxophone player Sonny Stitt to record four sides for a quartet album.[17] Powell and Stitt did a concert together on Christmas Day at Carnegie Hall with Miles Davis on trumpet that was titled "Symphony Sid's Christmas Party." The event was announced and produced by Sid and Leonard Feather.[26]

In January 1950, Powell was back in the studio with Stitt to record more of their joint album, but it was Powell's trio recording the following month that contributed to his famous album Jazz Giant (1950).[17] Part of the album had been recorded with bassist Ray Brown on a daytime release from hospital in 1949, while the 1950 session was recorded with Curley Russell. Roach was present on drums for both sessions.[17] Tracks from the two sessions included his compositions "Tempus Fugit" and "Celia," an up-tempo version of the jazz standard "Cherokee," "Get Happy," and "All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm." The first session was described by critic John White as "feverish" while the later session was "restrained but moving."[27]

Powell joined Charlie Parker and Fats Navarro at Birdland for One Night at Birdland (1995), a live album performed shortly before Navarro's death from tuberculosis in July 1950. The live engagement was noted for "brilliant...all-star lineup [that] clearly inspired" the musicians in the quintet.[28] A trio recording with Buddy Rich on drums and a big band session with Sarah Vaughan and Norman Leyden's Orchestra concluded Powell's recording schedule in 1950.[17]

Powell was once again recorded at Birdland for the live album Summit Meeting at Birdland (1978) with Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and Parker on saxophone. The half of the album featuring Powell was described by critic Scott Yanow as "stirring" and was noted for its renditions of "Blue 'n Boogie" and "Anthropology."[29] A second Blue Note session attended by Powell in 1951 was a trio with Russell and Roach that included his originals "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Un Poco Loco".[17] The latter was selected by literary critic Harold Bloom for his short list of the greatest works of twentieth-century American art.[30]

1952–1955: Hospital release and guardianship edit

Powell was interrupted by another stay in a psychiatric facility from late 1951 to mid-1952 after being arrested for possession of heroin. He was transferred to Creedmoor Hospital in 1952 and was not permanently released until 1953.[14][31]

Powell in a publicity photo, 1953

In February 1953, Powell entered the guardianship and financial management of Oscar Goodstein, owner of the Birdland nightclub,[14][31] but saw his health and piano playing affected by Largactil, which he was taking as treatment for schizophrenia.[32] A 1953 trio session for Blue Note with bassist George Duvivier and drummer Art Taylor included Powell's composition "Glass Enclosure," a composition which critics have suggested was related to his near-imprisonment in Goodstein's apartment.[32]

Powell played at Massey Hall in Toronto with the Quintet, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach, on May 15, 1953. The performance was recorded and released by Debut Records as the album Jazz at Massey Hall[17] and was marketed as "the greatest jazz concert ever." While the concert is best-known for its first half performed by the full quintet, six of the tunes from the latter half of the performance where performed by the core trio of Powell, Mingus, and Roach and subsequently released on record.[33]

In 1954, Powell resumed sessions for Norgran and Verve, recording alongside Duvivier, Taylor, Roach, Percy Heath, Lloyd Trotman, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, and Osie Johnson, in a series of albums produced for the two labels.[17] Despite regular recording dates, the owners of Birdland continued to have complete control over Powell's performance schedule and provided him with his common-law wife, Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards.[34] In June 1954, he was charged for heroin possession in Philadelphia and was committed to a nursing home two months later. Returning to public life in early 1955, he was convicted but his sentence was suspended, with his criminal record subsequently restricting his ability to play in New York nightclubs.[14]

Powell's rivalry with Charlie Parker led to feuding and bitterness on the bandstand, likely caused at least in part by the pianist's worsening physical and mental health.[35][36] One of his few New York engagements during this time, with Parker and Kenny Dorham in March 1955 shortly before the former's death, ended early when Parker and Powell had an argument.[37]

Powell and his trio recorded an album, Piano Interpretations by Bud Powell, in April 1955 that included interpretations of jazz standards "Crazy Rhythm" and "Star Eyes" among a total of eight tunes produced by Norgran Records and re-released by Verve in 1957.[38][14]

1956–1958: Birdland All-Stars and return to Blue Note edit


In June 1956, Powell's younger brother Richie and trumpeter Clifford Brown were killed in a car crash.[39] Despite this setback, Powell was recognized as competent by the New York authorities following legal efforts from Goodstein and his attorney, Maxwell Cohen, and he was able to record for Granz once again in September. In November, he began a tour of Europe with the Birdland All-Stars in addition to Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Lester Young starring throughout the performances.[14][40]

In late 1957, Powell recorded volume 3 of his series The Amazing Bud Powell with Paul Chambers, Art Taylor, and trombonist Curtis Fuller for what jazz critic Scott Yanow described as an "inspiring" and "strong set."[41] Futher productive sessions with Blue Note yielded Time Waits and The Scene Changes, becoming volumes 4 and 5 of The Amazing Bud Powell, respectively.[42] Volumes 4 and 5 were notable for introducing new compositions to the pianist's repertoire including "Time Waits," "John's Abbey," and "Cleopatra's Dream."[43][44] Sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder remastered the entirety of The Amazing Bud Powell as a CD album series in the late 1990s and early 2000s as part of his RVG Edition.[45]

A November 1957 gig at a Paris nightclub with Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke was well-received, but upon Powell's return to New York, his nightclub ban due to the cabaret card system in the American city made finding work difficult. He experienced further hospital stays in the U.S. before being convinced by Edwards to move to France in the spring of 1959.[14][46]

1959–1964: Living in France edit

Powell moved to Paris in 1959 with Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards and her son, John.[47] The couple and child moved into the Hotel La Louisiane,[48] and she managed his finances and his medicine. The pianist received long-running club engagements upon arriving in Paris, and by fall 1959 he was recording for Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française with trumpeter Clark Terry and saxophone player Barney Wilen.[14] In December, Powell joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for a recorded concert released as Paris Jam Session (1961) and contributed two of his compositions, "Dance of the Infidels" and "Bouncing with Bud," to the performance. Critic Betsy Reed noted the pianist's "pungent bop solos" and the concert's atmosphere of "heated live-show informality."[49]

Bud Powell (right) with Hans Rossbach (left) and Kenny Clarke

In 1960, Powell was joined by Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke on a German tour including the Essen Jazz Festival.[50] The Essen concert, on which Coleman Hawkins was also featured on some tunes alongside the bebop pianist, was recorded live at the Grugahalle[51] and released as The Essen Jazz Festival Concert (1988) on CD. The album received high marks from jazz critic Scott Yanow as a "fine example" of his piano playing.[52] In July of that year, Powell joined Charles Mingus' band for a filmed concert at Antibes alongside Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin.[53]

In December 1961, Powell recorded two albums for Columbia Records while in France: and A Portrait of Thelonious (1965) and A Tribute to Cannonball (1979). The Tribute to Cannonball session, which was recorded first, featured Don Byas and Cannonball Adderley on tenor and alto saxophone respectively, while Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke were present on both sessions.[54]

In early 1962, Powell began a tour of Central Europe. After playing concerts in Geneva, he performed a seven-week opening gig at Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass.[14] A recording session in Copenhagen in 1962 produced another album, Bouncing with Bud, and the track "Hot House" from this album was listed as one of the "Five Essential Bud Powell Recordings" by NPR contributors Peter Pullman and Simon Rentner.[55] SteepleChase Records obtained a five-volume CD of the pianist's trio from a two-night April engagement at the Golden Circle, a nightclub in Stockholm.[56]

Following a summer touring Scandinavia, Powell returned to Paris in the fall of 1962 and was admitted to hospital for a week in December. Tenor saxophone player Johnny Griffin, who had himself moved to France, arranged a regular gig for him at the Blue Note Club in Paris following his release.[14] Powell made a series of record dates throughout spring and early summer 1963, including a trio recording with Gilbert Rovere and "Kansas" Fields in February and an album with Dexter Gordon on saxophone in May.[17] The latter became the album Our Man in Paris (1963) and received the highest possible ratings from The Penguin Guide to Jazz,[57] The Rolling Stone Album Guide,[58] and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.[59] In July Powell recorded with his Three Bosses Trio of Michelot and Clarke, plus Gillespie, on the album Dizzy Gillespie and the Double Six of Paris (1963),[17] but he subsequently became ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalized under the direction of Francis Paudras.[14] According to Paudras, Powell had been abused by his common-law wife Edwards during the couple's preceding years together; he noted in his biography that she had kept control over his finances and clothes and given Powell tranquilizers to make him dependent.[60]

Powell had recovered by March 1964 and Paudras, now his caretaker, arranged for his permanent return to New York.[14] Powell completed further recording dates, including two with Paudras on brushes, during his last year in France; one of these included a live engagement with Griffin in Jullouville that was released as Holidays in Edenville.[17] He returned to New York on August 16,[61] accompanied by Paudras and met Goodstein upon his arrival at JFK Airport.[14]

1964–1966: Return to New York edit

His engagement at Birdland with drummer Horace Arnold and bassist John Ore began on August 25. After missing his scheduled nights performing at the club, he was fired on October 11. Paudras, who was still living in New York in October, returned to France later that month without Powell.[14] During the rest of his life, Paudras wrote a biography of Powell titled Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, which was published in English by Da Capo Press in 1998.[60]

Powell's guardianship was transferred from Paudras to his girlfriend Mary Frances and their daughter upon returning to New York.[14][60] However, his few public performances between 1964 and 1966 were adversely affected by his alcoholism.[19] Between 1964 and 1966, several recording sessions were made for the album Ups 'n Downs, but most of the recordings from these dates were not released.[17] A Charlie Parker tribute concert at Carnegie Hall in March 1965[17] and a May performance at the New York Town Hall demonstrated him in poor health, and he did not play in public again.[62][63] His emotions became unbalanced, and he was hospitalized in New York after months of erratic behavior and self-neglect. On July 31, 1966, he died of tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism.[64] He was given the last rites of the Catholic Church.[65]

Musical style edit

Bud Powell was influenced primarily by Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum.[62] His virtuosity led many to call him the Charlie Parker of the piano, and Bill Cunliffe noted that he was "the first pianist to take Charlie Parker's language and adapt it" to the instrument.[66][67] He was one of the few musicians on any instrument who could match Parker's musically complex approach to bop.[62] His solos featured an attacking style similar to that of horn players, contained frequent arpeggios, and utilized much chromaticism.[19]

His comping often consisted of single bass notes outlining the root and fifth. He used voicings of the root and the tenth or the root with the minor seventh.[68] In some voicings and melodic ideas, such as "Un Poco Loco," he used bitonality and extremely extended chords such a raised fifteenth, while in solo breaks such as that of "Celia" he used 16th-note chord arpeggiations to transition from melody to improvisation.[69]

Tom Piazza noted for The New York Times that Powell played with "a Romantic's imagination [but] a classicist's precision and [with] an awesome, sometimes frightening, intensity" and was a "lifelong Bach devotee." The titles of his compositions referenced the breadth of his knowledge of culture and music history including one song title in Latin, "Tempus Fugit."[70]

Legacy edit

In 1986 Paudras wrote a book about his friendship with Powell, translated into English in 1997 as Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell.[71] The book was the basis for Round Midnight, a film inspired by the lives of Powell and Lester Young, in which Dexter Gordon played the lead role of an expatriate jazzman in Paris.[72]

Powell influenced countless younger musicians, especially pianists. These included Horace Silver,[73] Wynton Kelly,[74] Andre Previn,[75] McCoy Tyner,[76] Cedar Walton,[77] and Chick Corea.[78] Corea debuted a song called "Bud Powell" on his live album with Gary Burton, In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979, and in 1997 dedicated an entire album, Remembering Bud Powell to him. Bill Evans, who described Powell as his single greatest influence,[79] paid the pianist a tribute in 1979: "If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell. He was in a class by himself".[80] Herbie Hancock said of Powell, in a Down Beat magazine interview in 1966: "He was the foundation out of which stemmed the whole edifice of modern jazz piano".[81]

Additionally, Powell influenced musicians associated with other instruments, and Miles Davis in his autobiography said of Powell: "[He] was one of the few musicians I knew who could play, write, and read all kinds of music."[82] "Bud was a genius piano player – the best there was of all the bebop piano players."[83] The drummer Art Taylor, who is listed among the personnel on about a dozen Powell recordings, elicited comments concerning Powell from numerous musicians in his 1993 book of interviews, Notes and Tones. In the book, Elvin Jones described Powell's playing as "revolutionary," but noted his delicate personality.[84]

Powell was also praised by Art Blakey, Don Cherry, Kenny Clarke, Erroll Garner, Hampton Hawes, Freddie Hubbard, Carmen McRae, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Randy Weston, and Tony Williams.[84]

Discography edit

References edit

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  82. ^ Davis & Troupe 1989, p. 60.
  83. ^ Davis & Troupe 1989, p. 103.
  84. ^ a b Taylor, Art (1993). Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 030680526X.

Sources edit

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  • Fichet, Jean-Baptiste (2017), La Beauté Bud Powell, Paris: Bartillat
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  • Patrick, James (1983), Al Tinney, Monroe's Uptown House, and the Emergence of Modern Jazz in Harlem, New Brunswick, NJ: Annual Review of Jazz Studies, IJS, ISBN 0-87855-906-X
  • Paudras, Francis; Monet, Rubye (trans.) (1998), Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, New York: Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80816-1
  • Pullman, Peter (2012), Wail: The Life of Bud Powell, Brooklyn, NY: Bop Changes, ISBN 978-0-9851418-0-6
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External links edit