John Young

A longtime fixture of the Chicago bop scene -- and criminally underappreciated outside of it -- pianist John Young collaborated with jazz giants ranging from Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald to Dexter Gordon during a career spanning more than six decades. Born March 16, 1922 in Little Rock, AR, Young was the last of eight children -- the family relocated to Chicago while he was still a toddler, and at age eight he began playing piano, later studying under celebrated DuSable High School instructor Captain Walter Dyett. After serving briefly in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Young signed on with bandleader Andy Kirk & His 12 Clouds of Joy in 1942, remaining with the big band for five years and crisscrossing the U.S. myriad times. In 1947 he returned to Chicago for good, leading his own trio under the name Young John Young in addition to forging an extended collaboration with tenor saxophonist Eddie Chamblee. While Young's lyrical playing originally borrowed from swing icon Earl Hines, he quickly developed his own distinctive approach that married the earthiness of the blues with the cerebral complexity of bebop -- singer Nancy Wilson implored him to join her on tour but he declined, rarely traveling outside of the Windy City during the remainder of his career. In 1957, Young signed to Argo to issue his debut LP Opus de Funk, followed two years later by his acknowledged masterpiece, the Delmark release The Serenata. An in-demand session contributor, he also played on LPs headlined by T-Bone Walker, Lorez Alexandria, and Etta James, and with 1961's Themes and Things scored a local hit with "Love Theme from 'Spartacus,'" for many years the theme song for Chicago DJ Sid McCoy's long-running WCFL all-night program. Although Young's recording career slowed in the wake of 1962's A Touch of Pepper, he remained a regular presence at the venerable Chicago club Jazz Showcase, backing jazz acts including Dexter Gordon, blues greats like Big Joe Turner, and even comedians like Slim Gaillard. For years he joined saxophonist Von Freeman for weekly sessions at clubs including the Green Mill, the Apartment, El Matador, and the Enterprise, and also backed Freeman on a series of independent label dates. Young additionally made more than a dozen appearances at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival, often in support of tenor saxophonist Eddie Johnson. A comeback LP, Think Young, appeared in 1987. Young continued performing until severe sciatic nerve inflammation forced him to retire in 2005; he died from multiple myleoma on April 16, 2008 at the age of 86. ~ Jason Ankeny

    Little Rock, AR
  • BORN
    16 March 1922

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