Born: February 12, 1923 Died: April 24, 1998
A former Pulitzer Prize winner, composer, pianist and arranger, Mel Powell doesn't do much jazz these days and hasn't for a long time. But in the '40s, he was a prime player, composer and arranger. His playing was unpredictable, challenging, and impressive though not flashy or bluesy. Powell was leading a traditional jazz band at 12. He joined Benny Goodman at 19, and was a member of the CBS orchestra under Raymond Scott. His military service included a tour and recording session with Glen Miller's Air Force band. Powell also recorded with The Jazz Club American Hot Band in Paris in the mid-'40s that included Django Reinhardt and Ray McKinley. Powell recorded with Goodman after his discharge in 1945, and then went to Los Angeles, where he worked with studios and recorded with Jazz At The Philharmonic. He periodically worked with Goodman and also led groups in the late '40s. Powell then decided to study composition with Paul Hindemith in the early '50s; he quit film and studio work. Powell had composed such pieces as "the Earl" and "Mission to Moscow" for Goodman. Powell worked with Goodman again in the mid and late '50s, and also with Bobby Hackett in the mid-'60s. But he'd decided to become a contemporary classical composer, and became heavily involved in serial and electronic music. Powell was a teacher at Queens College and at Yale from the mid-'50s to the end of the '60s. He became Dean of Music at The California Institute of Arts in Valencia in 1969 and a fellow in 1976. But Powell surprised many observers by playing on the SS Norway's Floating Jazz Festival out of Miami with Ruby Braff, Mel Lewis, Bob Wilber, Warren Vache and Svend Asmussen in 1986. He surprised even more with the The Return Of Mel Powell on Chiaroscuro with Benny Carter, Howard Alden, Milt Hinton and Louis Bellson in 1987. Powell's been battling a muscular disease in his legs for the last few years. He won a Pulitizer for composition in the early '90s. Powell began recording on Commodore with Joe Bushkin in the '40s, and did other sessions on Pausa, Vogue, Chiaroscuoro and Vanguard. He has a couple of dates available on CD.