Melba Liston

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Melba Doretta Liston (born January 13, 1926 in Kansas City , Missouri, † April 23, 1999 in Inglewood ) was an American jazz musician ( trombone , composition , arrangement ).

Live and act

Liston grew up as an only child in Kansas City and moved to Los Angeles with her mother in 1936. She wanted to play the trombone at the age of six, taught herself her own grading system before school thanks to perfect hearing and played in her junior high school band (Polytechnical High School) in a band of the music teacher Alma Hightower (Miss Hightower and the Melodic Dots ) among others with saxophonist Elvira "Vi" Redd . Liston played immediately afterwards in the band of the Lincoln Theater under Bardu Ali, where she was already arranging, and in 1943 she became a member of Gerald Wilson's big band , where she had already started arranging, and with Dexter Gordonplayed together. Gordon also urged her to make her first recording in 1945. Then (1948) she played briefly with Count Basie and in 1949 she brought Dizzy Gillespie , who had heard her in California, into an all-star band that also included John Coltrane and Jimmy Heath played, for which she brought her own arrangements at Gillespie's request. In 1949 she played in Billie Holiday's band and toured with her in the southern states, which turned out to be a fiasco, because they just wanted to listen to dance music and were not very open to modern jazz. The band stranded in Kansas City and had to get money sent from Los Angeles. That was one of the reasons for Liston's temporary withdrawal from the music scene. She was employed by the Ministry of Education from 1950 to 1954, but also worked as a harpist in the feature film The Ten Commandments (1956) ( The Ten Commandments ). In 1956/1957 she worked again with Gillespie (tour for example in the Middle East and appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival ), then played with Art Blakey and founded her own all-women band. With this band she also recorded her only album under her own name, Melba Liston And Her "Bones" (MetroJazz 1958). She visited Europe with the musical Free and Easy and the Quincy Jones Big Band from 1959 to 1960.

Liston then worked as a composer and arranger for such musicians as Charles Mingus (1962), Duke Ellington (1963), Milt Jackson , Count Basie (with whom she also played), Dinah Washington and Johnny Griffin, and was co-leader of the Clark Terry big band . She then worked with youth orchestras in New York and Los Angeles and kept afloat at times with compositions for Motown Records and arrangements for Eddie Fisher and Diana Ross , before teaching at the Jamaica School of Music in Kingston from 1973 to 1979, where she taught Department of Jazz Studies established. She then returned to the United States after the Kansas City Woman's Jazz Festival co-organizers (Carol Comer, Dianne Gregg) convinced her to perform there, which she did with great success. At that time, the conditions for female jazz instrumentalists (especially on instruments like the trombone) were considerably better than they were in the 1950s and 1960s, which was a major reason for their retirement at the time. She led her own bands (the septet Melba Liston and Company from 1980, an all women band) and also took part in the new Gillespie big band. Paralyzed after a stroke in 1985, she had to give up this job. However, she continued to create interesting arrangements by training with computerized aids and partially bypassing the disabilities she had suffered.

Melba Liston is considered to be one of the first women to be recognized as authoritative in jazz music. With her surprising and dramaturgically varied arrangements, for example, she made a significant contribution to the success of the albums by pianist Randy Weston (e.g. Little Niles , Blues in Africa , Portraits or Spirits of our Ancestors ).

Choice discography


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Interview with Liston 1979 in the book by Linda Dahl (p. 257), the only time Basie hired a female instrumentalist, if only briefly. Female instrumentalists in predominantly male bands were exceptional at the time (e.g. Woody Herman ) and encountered resistance from their male colleagues, for example the Duke Ellington Band never had female instrumentalists and Liston's involvement with Gillespie initially met with great resistance male musician colleagues.
  2. She arranged a History of Jazz overview for Gillespie , Liston Interview 1979
  3. Compiled from the idea of ​​an agent in 1957 for appearances in Bermuda . Initially with Willene Barton (saxophone), Pola Robert (drums), Bu Pleasant (piano), Gloria Coleman (bass). On their return to the east coast, due to various circumstances, the women were gradually replaced by men like Charlie Rouse until only Gloria Coleman and Liston remained.
  4. "Liston Up!" - The American trombonist and arranger Melba Liston , SWR2 Jazztime musician portrait by Odilo Clausnitzer, broadcast on September 26, 2015