For both his musical virtuosity on alto saxophone and his compositions, Ornette Coleman is one of the major forces in American music in the late twentieth century. Like painter Jackson Pollock and writer Walt Whitman, who rejected traditional forms as too constrictive for human expression, Coleman broke with existing jazz diction, creating a raw sound that seemed to deliberately avoid the musical scale in favor of "playing in the cracks." In 1959, Coleman's quartet produced The Shape of Jazz to Come, a musical manifesto that was the aural equivalent of Pollock's abstract expressionism. Coleman disavowed the idea that "free jazz," as his music was called, was pure improvisation, maintaining that careful planning went into each composition. In the 1970s Coleman moved into jazz funk, using electrified instruments. He is still a prolific musician, and his album Sound Grammar won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2007.
Frame: 71.9 x 56.7 x 3.2 cm (28 5/16 x 22 5/16 x 1 1/4")
Born Newark, New Jersey
Known popularly as “the divine Sarah” and “Sassy,” Sarah Vaughan was regarded as one of the premier female vocalists of her day. Drawn to music from an early age, she studied piano and sang in her church choir as a youth. When Vaughan was eighteen, she entered an amateur talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on a dare and won first prize. This success led to frequent invitations to perform alongside the leading figures in contemporary jazz, including Earl “Fatha” Hines, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billy Eckstein. Adept at bebop improvisation, Vaughan possessed a wonderfully versatile voice that complemented a larger jazz ensemble. By 1950—the year in which Josef Breitenbach created this portrait—she was selling upwards of three million records a year. During this period, a poll in Down Beat magazine named her the top female singer for six consecutive years.
Sarah Vaughan: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Pianist
Sarah Vaughan: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Jazz
Sarah Vaughan: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Jazz
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
A gifted pianist and singer who moved easily between jazz and the classics, Hazel Scott dazzled audiences with her witty, daring, and sophisticated performances. Her prodigious talent was evident at an early age. Only fifteen when she appeared as soloist with Count Basie and his orchestra in 1935, Scott made her Broadway debut just three years later. In 1940 her Carnegie Hall performance of a "swing" version of Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody created a sensation, delighting her fans and confounding the critics. From 1939 to 1945 (the year in which she married Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.), Scott not only enjoyed star status as a nightclub performer in New York, but also appeared in several films and toured extensively. A staunch proponent of equal rights, she maintained a professional contract enabling her to refuse to perform before racially segregated audiences.
France\Île-de-France\Ville de Paris, Départment de\Paris
Born Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Branford Marsalis comes from the famous musical family of Louisiana Marsalises, although his reputation has always been somewhat overshadowed by that of his brother Wynton. Nonetheless, he is a talented saxophonist—playing all four kinds of the instrument—in his own right. He has performed with some notable ensembles, including the Jazz Messengers, as well as groups fronted by Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. As live jazz became a precarious way to make a living, Branford started playing and recording pop and classical music; he also had a long-running gig (1992–95) as the leader of the Tonight Show’s house band. He has taught music at several universities and has been a leader in the movement to revive the New Orleans jazz and cultural scene after Hurricane Katrina.
Duke Ellington called Billie Holiday "the essence of cool," a reference to her equipoise in performance. The most influential jazz vocalist of all time, Holiday had a controlled emotional power that transformed even trite ballads into romantic short stories. Born Eleonora Harris and partially raised in a New York City brothel, she crafted a cool vocal style by tempering Bessie Smith’s shouting power with Louis Armstrong’s rhythmic nuance, then honed her craft on the road with the Count Basie Orchestra. Lester Young named her "Lady Day," and in their chamber jazz classics, such as "All of Me," voice and saxophone curl around each other into smoky swirls of late-night yearning. Late in life Holiday, a drug addict and survivor of abusive relationships, sang in a cracked, broken voice that remained true to the jazz practice of self-expression.