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Mel Powell

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One of the finest swing pianists and a prodigy, Mel Powell was playing piano and writing important arrangements for Benny Goodman by the time he was 18. He had previously played with Bobby Hackett, George Brunis, and Zutty Singleton (1939), was the intermission pianist at Nick's, and worked in the short-lived Muggsy Spanier big band. During his stay with B.G., Powell and the clarinetist struck up a lifelong friendship; among his arrangements for Goodman were "The Earl," "Mission to Moscow," "Clarinade," and "Jersey Bounce." After a period working for the CBS Orchestra under Raymond Scott (1942), Powell was one of the stars of the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. Powell, whose style was reminiscent of Teddy Wilson's, recorded with Goodman during 1945-1947, led a few record dates (his first one was in 1942), and worked in the studios. However, after studying with Paul Hindemith at Yale (1952), he switched his career and became a classical composer. Powell did record some superior jazz dates for Vanguard during 1953-1955 and sat in with Bobby Hackett in the mid-'60s, but was otherwise occupied completely outside of jazz. After decades of work as a well-respected serial composer, Mel Powell returned to jazz for cruises in 1986 and 1987 that were recorded by Chiaroscuro. He continued composing and performing even after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. Eight years later, on April 24, Melvin Epstein died in the Los Angeles area. ~ Scott Yanow

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Birth Name:

Melvin Epstein


12 February 1923 in New York, NY

Years Active:

'40s, '50s, '60s, '80s

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