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Johnny Coles

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A fine trumpeter with a distinctive cry, Johnny Coles long had the ability to say a lot with a few notes. He played with a few top R&B bands, including Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson (1948-1951), Bull Moose Jackson (1952), and Earl Bostic (1955-1956); was with James Moody's group (1956-1958); and appeared on several Gil Evans records between 1958-1964. Probably his most significant association was with the 1964 Charles Mingus Sextet that toured Europe. Also in the group were Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Jaki Byard, and Dannie Richmond. Coles can be seen holding his own against those giants on a European television show (available on a Shanachie video), but he had to leave the tour halfway through due to a sudden illness. He also played with Herbie Hancock's sextet (1968-1969), Ray Charles (1969-1971), Duke Ellington (1971-1974), Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (briefly in 1976), Dameronia, Mingus Dynasty, and the Count Basie band when it was under Thad Jones' leadership (1985-1986), but fame managed to elude him. Coles led sessions through the years for Epic, Blue Note, Mainstream, and finally for Criss Cross, before passing away from cancer. ~ Scott Yanow

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03 July 1926 in Trenton, NJ

Years Active:

'50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s


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