The Night Beat—The Music of George Wallington
On tap: noting the birthdate of pianist George Wallington and the passing of lyricist Leslie Bricusse.
Pianist George Wallington was born Giacinto Figlia in Palermo, Sicily on October 27, 1924. His family moved to New York City a year later. His father was an opera singer who began giving his son piano lessons at an early age.
George first heard pianists Count Basie, Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy on the radio in New York City but said it wasn’t until he heard tenor saxophonist Lester Young that he developed an interest in jazz.
While it’s said that Wallington played similarly to Bud Powell with an emphasis on a fast and dexterous right hand playing melodic lines, they came to their respective styles independent of each other.
He was a member of the first bebop bands led by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in early 1940s.
Among his best-known compositions are Godchild, an arrangement of which was part of what’s come to be known as the Miles Davis “Birth of the Cool” recording sessions and Lemon Drop recorded by both Woody Herman and Gene Krupa that prominently features a scat vocal part.
Gerry Mulligan asked Wallington to move to Los Angeles from New York City around 1952. Wallington’s refusal to move to California may have been the determinative reason for Mulligan to lead a pianoless quartet for many years.
Wallington’s working quintets included a number of rising young jazz stars such as Donald Byrd, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Art Taylor and Paul Chambers.
He left the music business suddenly in 1957 and only performed privately. He then sold air conditioning in Florida for his father’s business only to reappear on the jazz scene in the early 1980s. He recorded a couple of albums for Japanese record companies and performed at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York City in 1985. He passed away in 1993.
We’ll hear from George Wallington himself as a leader and sideman for Al Cohn and Allan Eager plus recordings of a couple of his songs by Woody Herman, Miles Davis, Bill Charlap and others.
We’ll defer to the obituaries of British lyricist Leslie Bricusse who passed away on October 19th at the age of 90 for biographical information. But we will feature some of his best known songs (including vocals for the most part) in recordings by Alexis Cole, Sue Raney, Nina Simone, Bill Frisell and more from the stage and screen including Stop the World, I Want to Get Off; You Only Live Twice, Two for the Road and Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Tune in on Wednesday, October 27, at 8 pm for the Night Beat Jazz Beyond Category with your host Doug Crane.
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