Here is an eclectic selection of jazz musicians born in May.
May 1, 1934 – October 20, 2005
“Let me whisper it. Let me sigh it. Let me sing it, my dear or I will cry it.”
Shirley Horn was an American jazz singer and pianist. She collaborated with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Carmen McRae, Wynton Marsalis, and others. She was most noted for her ability to accompany herself with nearly incomparable independence and ability on the piano while singing, something described by arranger Johnny Mandel as “like having two heads”, and for her rich, lush voice, a smoky contralto, which was described by noted producer and arranger Quincy Jones as “like clothing, as she seduces you with her voice”.”
3 May, 1903 – 14 October, 1977
“Oh, listen a lot and talk less. You can’t learn anything when you’re talking.”
Bing Crosby was an American singer, comedian and actor and was one of the first singers to exploit the intimacy of the microphone rather than use the deep, loud vaudeville-style associated with Al Jolson. He was, by his own definition, a “phraser”, a singer who placed equal emphasis on both the lyrics and the music. In the framework of the novelty-singing style of the Rhythm Boys, he bent notes and added off-tune phrasing, an approach that was rooted in jazz.
May 4, 1937
“Creativity is not simply a property of exceptional people but an exceptional property of all people.”
Ron Carter is an American jazz double-bassist. His appearances on 2,221 recording sessions make him the most-recorded jazz bassist in history. Carter is also a cellist who has recorded numerous times on that instrument. Some of his studio albums as a leader include: Blues Farm (1973); All Blues (1973); Spanish Blue (1974)
May 7, 1947
“All the styles I grew up with and have played professionally, funk, gospel, classical, avant-garde and jazz, are within me. Though I’ve been playing professionally for many years, every note I play is brand new, providing a current overview of what I’m about at the present time.”
Joe Ford is an American jazz saxophonist. Ford studied saxophone under Makanda Ken McIntyre, Jackie McLean, and Frank Foster. He took his Bachelor’s in music education in 1968 from Central State University. Since the early 1980s, he has worked extensively as a sideman, playing with Sam Jones, Lester Bowie, Jimmy Owens, Idris Muhammad, Abdullah Ibrahim, etc. In the late 1990s, he led two ensembles, the Black Art Sax Quartet and a big band called The Thing. He has released one album as a leader, 1993’s Today’s Night on Blue Moon Records.
May 9, 1948
Tania Maria is a Brazilian artist, singer, composer, bandleader and piano player, singing mostly in Portuguese or English. Her Brazilian-style music is mostly vocal, sometimes pop, often jazzy, and includes samba, bossa, Afro-Latin, pop, and jazz fusion.”
May 9, 1968
Anthony Wilson is an American jazz guitarist, arranger, and composer. He is the son of bandleader Gerald Wilson. Born in Los Angeles on May 9, 1968, Wilson received his degree in music composition from Bennington College. His first major breakthrough was as lead guitarist of the group, Storm in 1980. He counts Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Wes Montgomery, Ry Cooder, and T-Bone Walker among his influences. His first album Anthony Wilson was nominated for a Grammy Award and his second album, Goat Hill Junket (1998) also received praise. Albums with his nine-piece band include Adult Themes (MAMA, 1999) and Power of Nine (Groove Note, 2006). Diana Krall and mandolinist Eva Scow appear on the latter.”
May 11, 1962
Pamela Hines has been a prolific and consistent presence in American jazz as a pianist and composer. She has received national and international critical acclaim for edgy instrumental compositions that contribute to the jazz history and art of the trio, quartet, and quintet and for jazz originals for vocalists that are more at home in the American Songbook.
May 13, 1912 – March 20, 1988
“The arranger doesn’t get any royalties, but I had so much fun doing it.”
Gil Evans was a Canadian-American jazz pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest orchestrators in jazz, playing an important role in the development of cool jazz, modal jazz, free jazz, and jazz fusion. He is best known for his acclaimed collaborations with Miles Davis.
May 14, 1975
‘Music can be a really powerful healing tool’
Born into a family of Venezuelan folk musicians, jazz pianist Benito Gonzalez has always had a deep-rooted appreciation for pastimes and traditions. Today, as a rising star of one of America’s finest musical traditions, Gonzalez has come to his current status by following in the footsteps of jazz’s ancestral forebears. The fusion of world rhythms and straight-ahead jazz makes this passionate performer an audience favorite all over the world. Benito Gonzalez is being recognized as an exciting pianist and composer for his well-received debut album ‘Starting Point’.
May 19, 1939 – October 25, 2018
Sonny Fortune was an American jazz saxophonist. Fortune played soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, clarinet, and flute.
After moving to New York City in 1967, Fortune recorded and appeared live with drummer Elvin Jones’s group. In 1968 he was a member of Mongo Santamaría’s band. He performed with singer Leon Thomas, and with pianist McCoy Tyner (1971–73). In 1974 Fortune replaced Dave Liebman in Miles Davis’s ensemble, remaining until spring 1975, when he was succeeded by Sam Morrison. Fortune joined Nat Adderley after his brief tenure with Davis, then formed his own group in June 1975, recording two albums for the Horizon Records. During the 1990s, he recorded several albums for Blue Note.
Mary Ellen Desmond
Mary Ellen Desmond has been performing professionally in the Philadelphia / New Jersey area for the past 20 plus years. She has also performed engagements in Japan. Classically trained she is recognized as a crossover artist covering a variety of styles and repertoires with a primary focus on jazz standards and the American Songbook.
May 21, 1904 – December 5, 1943
“Jazz isn’t what you do; it’s how you do it.”
Fats Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, violinist, singer, and comedic entertainer. His innovations in the Harlem stride style laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano. His best-known compositions, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1984 and 1999.Waller copyrighted over 400 songs, many of them co-written with his closest collaborator, Andy Razaf. Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody… a man who made the piano sing…”
May 24, 1937
Archie Shepp is an American jazz saxophonist, educator and playwright who since the 1960s has played a central part in the development of avant-garde jazz. He studied piano, clarinet, and alto saxophone before focusing on tenor saxophone. He occasionally plays soprano saxophone and piano. He studied drama at Goddard College from 1955 to 1959. He played in a Latin jazz band for a short time before joining the band of avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor.
May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991
“My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
Miles Davis was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz.
May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002
“You can’t beat The Beatles, you join ‘em.”
Norma Deloris Egstrom, known professionally as Peggy Lee, was an American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer, and actress, with a career spanning six decades. From her beginning as a vocalist on local radio to singing with Benny Goodman’s big band, Lee created a sophisticated persona, writing music for films, acting, and recording conceptual record albums combining poetry and music.
May 29, 1923 – December 30, 2020
Eugene Wright, nicknamed The Senator in jazz circles, first became proficient on cornet, leading the group Dukes of Swing as a young man. He then taught himself the double bass and became even more successful at the peak of the swing era, earning slots under bandleaders including Count Basie and Erroll Garner. He also played with Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, and displayed his versatility as the swing era ended, playing bebop with the likes of Sonny Stitt and Latin jazz with Cal Tjader. Wright was known for nimble soloing as well as providing rhythmic backing.
His most celebrated work, though, came with the Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1958 until 1968, alongside the bandleader on piano, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone and Joe Morello on drums. Wright played on Take Five, one of the most instantly recognisable tunes in jazz, as well as another classic, Blue Rondo à la Turk, and recorded more than 30 albums with the group.
May 30, 1909 – June 13, 1986
“If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.”
Benny Goodman was an American jazz clarinetist and bandleader known as the “King of Swing”. In the mid-1930s, Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in the United States. His concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 16, 1938 is described by critic Bruce Eder as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music. Goodman’s bands started the careers of many jazz musicians. During an era of racial segregation, he led one of the first integrated jazz groups. He performed nearly to the end of his life while exploring an interest in classical music.
May 31, 1930
“There’s a rebel lying deep in my soul. Anytime anybody tells me the trend is such and such, I go the opposite direction. I hate the idea of trends. I hate imitation; I have a reverence for individuality.”
Clint Eastwood is a pianist and composer in addition to his main career as an actor, director, and film producer. He developed as a ragtime pianist early on, and in late 1959 he produced the album Cowboy Favorites, which was released on the Cameo label. Jazz has played an important role in Eastwood’s life from a young age and although he was never successful as a musician, he passed on the influence to his son Kyle Eastwood, a successful jazz bassist and composer.