Liston, Melba, 1973 September 25, 1982 November 9
Scope and Contents
Composer and jazz trombonist Melba Liston delivered 2 lectures. Liston spoke 1st on 9/25/1973 (2015-0002/RR218) and again on 11/9/1982 2015-0002/RR219). Melba Doretta Liston (January 13, 1926 – April 23, 1999) was an American jazz trombonist, arranger, and composer. Other than those playing in all-female bands she was the first woman trombonist to play in big bands during the 1940s and 1960s, but as her career progressed she became better known as an arranger, particularly in partnership with pianist Randy Weston. Other major artists with whom she worked include Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Count Basie.
- 1973 September 25, 1982 November 9
Conditions Governing Access
Links to digitized content are included in the finding aid.
Biographical / Historical
Liston was born in Kansas City, Missouri. At the age of seven, Melba's mother purchased her a trombone. Her family encouraged her musical pursuits, as they were all music lovers. Liston was primarily self-taught, but she was "encouraged by her guitar-playing grandfather", with whom she spent significant time learning to play spirituals and folk songs. At the age of eight, she was good enough to be a solo act on a local radio station. At the age of 10, she moved to Los Angeles, California. She was classmates with Dexter Gordon, and friends with Eric Dolphy. After playing in youth bands and studying with Alma Hightower, she joined the big band led by Gerald Wilson in 1944.
She recorded with saxophonist Dexter Gordon in 1947 and joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band, which included saxophonists John Coltrane, Paul Gonsalves, and pianist John Lewis in New York for a time when Wilson disbanded his orchestra in 1948. Liston performed in a supporting role and was nervous when asked to take solos, but with encouragement she became more comfortable as a featured voice in bands. She toured with Count Basie, then with Billie Holiday (1949) but was so profoundly affected by the indifference of the audiences and the rigors of the road that she gave up playing and turned to education. Liston taught for about three years.
She took a clerical job for some years and supplemented her income by taking work as an extra in Hollywood, appearing with Lana Turner in The Prodigal (1955) and in The Ten Commandments (1956). Liston returned to Gillespie for tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department in 1956 and 1957, recorded with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1957), and formed an all-women quintet in 1958. In 1959, she visited Europe with the show Free and Easy, for which Quincy Jones was music director. She accompanied Billy Eckstine with the Quincy Jones Orchestra on At Basin Street East, released on October 1, 1961, by Verve.
In the late 1950s she began collaborating with pianist Randy Weston, arranging compositions (primarily his own) for mid-size to large ensembles. This association, especially strong in the 1960s, would be rekindled in the late 1980s and 1990s until her death. In addition, she worked with Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, and Johnny Griffin, as well as working as an arranger for Motown, appearing on albums by Ray Charles. In 1964, she helped establish the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra. In 1971 she was chosen as musical arranger for Stax recording artist Calvin Scott, whose album was being produced by Stevie Wonder's first producer, Clarence Paul. On this album she worked with Joe Sample and Wilton Felder of the Jazz Crusaders, blues guitarist Arthur Adams, and jazz drummer Paul Humphrey. In 1973, she moved to Jamaica to teach at the Jamaica School of Music for six years, before returning to the U.S. to lead her own bands.
During her time in Jamaica, she composed and arranged music for the 1975 comedy film Smile Orange, starring Carl Bradshaw, who three years earlier starred in the first Jamaican film, The Harder They Come (1972).
She was forced to give up playing in 1985 after a stroke left her partially paralyzed, but she continued to arrange music with Randy Weston. In 1987, she was awarded the Jazz Masters Fellowship of the National Endowment for the Arts. After suffering repeated strokes, she died in Los Angeles, California, in 1999 a few days after a tribute to her and Randy Weston's music at Harvard University. Her funeral at St. Peter's in Manhattan featured performances by Weston with Jann Parker, as well as by Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban ensemble and by Lorenzo Shihab (vocals).
[Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melba_Liston / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melba_Liston / https://www.arts.gov/honors/jazz/melba-liston / https://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/30/arts/melba-liston-73-trombonist-and-prominent-jazz-arranger.html]
2 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recordings ) : RR 218 1 reel, 0:56:18; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester. RR 219 1 reel, 0:52:23; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.
Language of Materials
From the Series: English
- African American composers Subject Source: Fast
- African American jazz musicians Subject Source: Fast
- African Americans Subject Source: Fast
- African Americans in popular culture Subject Source: Fast
- Black Experience in the Arts Course (University of Connecticut) -- Sound recordings Subject Source: Local sources
- Sound recordings Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus