Bud Powell

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Bud Powell

Earl "Bud" Powell (born September 27, 1924 in Harlem , New York City , † July 31, 1966 in New York City) was an American jazz pianist . He is considered one of the leading founders of the modern jazz piano.


Powell's younger brother Richie also played the piano, as did his school friend Elmo Hope . Powell gained his first musical experience by studying classical piano literature. He played Bach , Chopin and Debussy and soon caught the attention of many jazz musicians. Art Tatum and James P. Johnson were among his role models. Powell's grandfather was a guitarist and played flamenco, his father was a good stride pianist and very proud of his son. He allowed him to drop out of school at the age of 15 and join Bud's older brother William's band as a professional pianist. He soon had contact with the bebop scene around Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in Minton's Playhouse . Here he also met the pianist Thelonious Monk , who took him under his wing and with whom he later shared a deep, lifelong friendship. Monk later dedicated the composition In Walked Bud to Powell . Powell was the first pianist who dared to play Monk's compositions.

In the early 1940s Powell played in various bands, including that of Cootie Williams . Here he also had his first studio session, during which Monk recorded a song called 'Round Midnight' . It was the first recording of a composition by Monk. Further recordings with Frank Socolow , Dexter Gordon , JJ Johnson , Sonny Stitt , Fats Navarro and Kenny Clarke followed.

He made his first recordings in the role of band leader in 1947 with Curly Russell and Max Roach . This record was not released until two years later. Another recording was made in the same year with Parker, Miles Davis , Tommy Potter and Roach before he was admitted to Creedmore Psychiatric Clinic in November 1947, where he stayed for over a year and was given electric shocks, which resulted in severe memory loss. The exact causes of his illness are not known, but it is certain that he was beaten by some police officers in 1945. According to Miles Davis' autobiography, a major injury occurred in 1945/1946 when he was beaten up. In any case, from around 1947 onwards, there are less good photos of him than before. Before that, however, he had also attracted attention because of his strange behavior. What is certain is that he was an alcoholic and even small amounts of alcohol could lead to aggressive behavior in him.

The recording of Sonny Stitt / Bud Powell / JJ Johnson from 1949 with the Sonny Stitt Quartet on Prestige once again gives a good impression of the marriage of the melodious bebop with Stitt on the tenor saxophone.

Powell had the first session on Blue Note Records in August 1949, along with Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins , Powell, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes . A second was in the trio with Russell and Roach, which literary critic Harold Bloom added to his list of the most important works of art of the 20th century. Most of the more than a dozen recordings for Norman Granz were played solo or in a trio with different musicians. In the 1950s, Powell made mostly recordings for Blue Note and Verve , interrupted by a second stint in psychiatry in late 1951 to early 1953 and an arrest for marijuana possession . After his arrest, he was placed in the care of Oscar Goodstein , the owner of Birdland . He dedicated the composition Glass Enclosure to this time with Goodstein, which he apparently felt as quasi-imprisonment . His star slowly began to decline due to medication and it can be said that his recordings before 1954 were the better, but his compositions retained their quality in the late 1950s. The death of his brother Richie Powell in a car accident in 1956, in which Clifford Brown was also killed, pushed him further into psychological isolation.

By the age of 30, Bud Powell had passed his zenith and was a sick, worn-out man. Most of the time he was withdrawn and hardly cared about his surroundings. He had next to no friends, but apart from when he was at the piano, he needed constant care . He got it from his mother for a long time, but she couldn't help him with his psychological problems either. Another help (or not, if you don't believe the stories about her) was Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards, who claimed to be his wife and who also arranged a lot for Bud Powell in Paris.

Powell went to Paris in 1959 because racism in the USA made life difficult for him. He flourished here noticeably and played in a trio with Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke. His appearance at the Essen Jazz Festival in 1960 together with Clarke, Oscar Pettiford and (for some pieces) Coleman Hawkins is particularly noteworthy. He recorded two albums for Columbia Records in December 1961: A Portrait of Thelonious and A Tribute to Cannonball ( referring to Cannonball Adderley ).

He dedicated the piece Una Noche Con Francis to a French jazz fan, Francis Paudras , who looked after him lovingly and who later wrote down his time with Powell . Paris made Powell receptive to the naive sentimental, and his compositions became more “hearing-friendly”, sometimes colored Hispanic, sometimes classicistic. Due to severe tuberculosis , Powell had to end his stay in Paris in 1964. He returned to New York with Paudras and celebrated one last big comeback at Birdland . Bud Powell's illness eventually led to an admission to Brooklyn's Kings County Hospital. He suffered from a combination of tuberculosis, malnutrition and liver failure due to his alcohol abuse. He died in the hospital.

Bud Powell's way of playing the piano turned the previous tradition of the jazz piano on its head. His sparkling sound and brilliantly aggressive rhythm came as close to Parker's emotional message and mastery of his instrument as was possible on a piano. He competed with Charlie Parker, one of the most famous bebop alto saxophonists. His playing was virtuoso, but there was also something irritably nervous about it. Powell found Parker unsympathetic and there are hardly any recordings together.

20 years after his death inspired the story of Bud Powell director Bertrand Tavernier for the film 'Round Midnight (dt. Titles at midnight ), in which Dexter Gordon the role of a difficult and ill artist plays. Dexter Gordon was a tenor saxophonist, which explains the film's double dedication (to Bud Powell and Lester Young ). Paudras' book served as the basis for the film.

Discography (selection)


Well-known compositions by Bud Powell were Webb City , Bouncing With Bud, Un Poco Loco, Dance of the Infidels, Celia, Strictly Confidential, Glass Enclosure, Hallucinations and Parisian Thoroughfare .

Web links



  1. to Bohländer u. a. "Reclam's Jazz Guide" 1989 on August 1st
  2. Robin Kelley: Thelonious Monk. The Life and Times of an American Original , New York 2009, p. 383.
  3. ^ Rough Guide Jazz
  4. Obituary in the ( Memento of the original from January 19, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. DownBeat (1966) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.downbeat.com