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Bud Powell

Bud Powell
Birth name Earl Rudolph Powell
Born (1924-09-27)September 27, 1924
Harlem, New York, United States
Died July 31, 1966(1966-07-31) (aged 41)
New York, United States
Genres Jazz, bebop
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Piano
Years active 1944–1965
Labels Roost
Blue Note
Associated acts Art Blakey
Miles Davis
Dexter Gordon
Charles Mingus
Sonny Rollins

Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell (September 27, 1924 – July 31, 1966) was a jazz pianist, born and raised in Harlem, New York City. While Thelonious Monk became his close friend, his greatest influence on piano was Art Tatum.

Along with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Powell was a leading figure in the development of modern jazz, or bebop. His virtuosity led many to call him the Charlie Parker of the piano. Powell was also a composer, and he "greatly extended the range of jazz harmony."[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Later life and career 2
    • Early to mid-1940s 2.1
    • Hospitalization (1947–1948) 2.2
    • Solo and trio recordings (1949–1958) 2.3
    • Paris (1959–1963) 2.4
    • Last years (1964–1966) 2.5
  • Musical style 3
  • Influence 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Discography 6
    • Studio recordings 6.1
    • Live and home recordings 6.2
    • Notable compilation 6.3
    • As sideman 6.4
  • Notable compositions 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Powell's father was a stride pianist.[2] Powell took to his father's instrument at a very young age, starting on classical-piano lessons at age five. His teacher, hired by his father, was a West Indian man named Rawlins.

But by age ten, Powell also showed interest in the swing-era jazz that could be heard all over the neighborhood. He first appeared in public at a rent party,[3] where he mimicked Fats Waller's playing style. The first jazz composition that he mastered was James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout".[4]

Bud's older brother, William, played the trumpet, and by age fifteen, Bud was playing in his band. By this time, he had heard on radio Art Tatum, whose overwhelmingly virtuosic piano technique Powell then set out to equal.[4] Bud soon sought chances to hear Tatum in local venues. Other neophyte piano talents, Al Tinney and Gerald Wiggins, also moved among the venues where Tatum could be seen as well as heard.

Later life and career

Early to mid-1940s

Bud, while still underage, soon started to hear the exciting, musically adventurous atmosphere at Uptown House, an after-hours venue that was near where he lived. It was here that the first stirrings of modernism could be heard on a nightly basis, and where Charlie Parker first appeared when he was unattached to a band and was staying briefly in New York.[5]

Thelonious Monk had some involvement there, but by the time that he and Powell met (around 1942)[6] the elder pianist/composer was able to introduce Powell to the circle of bebop musicians that was starting to form at the venue known as Minton's Playhouse. Monk was resident there and, consequently, presented Powell as his protégé. The mutual affection grew to where Monk was Powell's greatest mentor, while Powell was eager to try out Monk's latest ideas on the piano. Monk's composition "In Walked Bud" is an enduring tribute to their time together in Harlem.[7]

Powell was engaged in a series of dance bands, his incubation culminating in his being given the piano chair in the big-time swing orchestra of Cootie Williams. In late 1943 he was offered the chance to appear at a midtown nightclub with the modernist quintet of Oscar Pettiford and Dizzy Gillespie, but Powell's mother decided that he should stay with the secure job, with the popular Williams, instead.

Powell was the pianist on a handful of Williams's recording dates in 1944, the last of which included the first-ever recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight". His tenure with Williams was terminated one night in Philadelphia, in January 1945, when he got separated from the other band members once they had left the bandstand at the end of the evening. Powell was wandering around Broad street station and was apprehended, drunk, by the private railroad police. He was beaten by them, and then briefly incarcerated by the city police. Ten days after his release, his headaches persisting, he was hospitalized—first in Bellevue, an observation ward, and then in a state psychiatric hospital, sixty miles away. He stayed there for two and a half months.[8]

Powell resumed playing in Manhattan immediately upon his release, in demand by various small-group leaders for nightclub engagements in the increasingly integrated midtown scene. His 1945–46 recordings, many as the result of his sudden visibility on the club scene, were for Frank Socolow, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, and Kenny Clarke. Powell quickly gained a reputation as an excellent sight-reader, and for his ability to play at fast tempos. His percussive punctuation of certain phrases, as well as his predilection for speed, showed the influence of Parker and other modern horn soloists. "Bebop in Pastel" (soon to be known as "Bouncing with Bud") was first recorded on August 23, 1946 and became a jazz standard.

Powell's career advanced again, when Parker chose him to be his pianist on a May 1947 quintet record date, with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach. Powell demonstrated his quick-study skills when, on the third complete take of "Donna Lee", he played his brief solo spot with finesse, and when he found jocular chord fills behind the horn players, when they stopped to breathe, on "Buzzy", the last tune recorded.

Hospitalization (1947–1948)

The Parker session aside, Powell made no other records and seldom appeared at nightclubs in 1947. In November, he had an altercation with another customer at a Harlem bar. In the ensuing fight, Powell was hit over his eye with a bottle. When Harlem Hospital found him incoherent and rambunctious, it sent him to Bellevue, which had the record of his previous confinement there and in a psychiatric hospital. It chose to institutionalize him again, though this time at Creedmoor State Hospital, a facility much closer to Manhattan. He was kept there for eleven months.[9]

Powell eventually adjusted to the conditions in the institution, though in psychiatric interviews he expressed feelings of persecution founded in racism. From February to April 1948, he received electroconvulsive therapy, first administered after an outburst deemed to be uncontrollable. It might have been in reaction to learning, after a visit by his girlfriend, that she was pregnant with their child.[10] While the electroconvulsive therapy was said to have made no difference, the MDs gave Powell a second series of treatments in May. He was eventually released, in October 1948—though from these early and subsequent hospitalizations, he was emotionally unstable for the rest of his career.

Bebop's and Powell's increased visibility by the end of 1948, the latter's celebrity seemingly having accelerated in anticipation of his release, made plain as well that he had a serious problem with alcohol. Even one drink had a profound effect on his character, making him aggressive or morose. Nonetheless, after another (though brief) hospitalization in early 1949, Powell soon attained the greatest artistic height that he ever would reach.

Solo and trio recordings (1949–1958)

It is generally agreed that from 1949 through 1953 Powell made his best recordings, most of which were for Percy Heath, Russell, Lloyd Trotman, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Osie Johnson, Buddy Rich, Roach, and Art Taylor.

Powell's continued rivalry with Parker, while essential to the production of brilliant music, was also the subject of disruptive feuding and bitterness on the bandstand, as a result of Powell's troubled mental and physical condition.

Powell recorded for both Blue Note and Granz throughout the fifties, interrupted by another long stay in a mental hospital from late 1951 to early 1953, following arrest for possession of marijuana. He was released into the guardianship of Oscar Goodstein, the owner of the Birdland nightclub. A 1953 trio session for Blue Note (with Duvivier and Taylor) included Powell's composition "Glass Enclosure", inspired by his near-imprisonment in Goodstein's apartment.

His playing after his release from hospital began to be seriously affected by Largactil, taken for the treatment of schizophrenia. And by the late fifties, his talent was in eclipse.[11] In 1956, his brother Richie was killed in a car crash alongside Clifford Brown. Three albums for Blue Note in the late fifties showcased Powell's ability as a composer, but his playing was far removed from the standard set by his earlier recordings for the label.

Paris (1959–1963)

After several further spells in hospital, Powell moved to Paris in 1959, in the company of Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards, whom he had met after an incarceration in 1954.[12] She kept control of his finances and overdosed him with Largactil, but Powell continued to perform and record. The 1960 live recording of the Essen jazz festival performance (with Clarke, Oscar Pettiford and, on some numbers, Coleman Hawkins) is particularly notable.

In December 1961, he recorded two albums for Columbia Records under the aegis of Cannonball Adderley: A Portrait of Thelonious (with Michelot and Clarke), and A Tribute to Cannonball (with the addition of Don Byas and Idrees Sulieman—despite the title, Adderley only plays on one alternative take). The first album (with overdubbed audience noise) was released shortly after Powell's death, and the second was released in the late 1970s. Eventually, Powell was befriended by Francis Paudras, a commercial artist and amateur pianist, and Powell moved into Paudras's home in 1962. There was a brief return to Blue Note in 1963, when Dexter Gordon recorded Our Man in Paris for the label. Powell was a last-minute substitute for Kenny Drew, and the album of standards—Powell could not by then learn new material—showed him to be still capable of playing with some proficiency.

Last years (1964–1966)

In 1963, Powell contracted tuberculosis, and the following year returned to New York with Paudras for a return engagement at Birdland accompanied by drummer Horace Arnold and bassist John Ore. Arnold calls it, "The Ultimate Performance experience of my life". The original agreement had been for the two men to go back to Paris, but Paudras returned alone (although Powell did record in Paris, with Michel Gaudry and Art Taylor, in July 1964). In 1965, Powell played only two concerts: one a disastrous performance at Carnegie Hall, the other a tribute to Charlie Parker on May 1 with other performers on the bill, including Albert Ayler. Little else was seen of him in public.

Powell was hospitalized in New York after months of increasingly erratic behavior and self-neglect. On July 31, 1966, he died of tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism. Several thousand people viewed his Harlem funeral procession.[13]

Musical style

Jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe, whose music was influenced by Bud Powell, said in an interview with All About Jazz:

He was really the first guy; before Bud Powell, pianists were playing boom, chuck in the left hand and a lot of melodic figures in the right hand that tended to be arpeggios. But with Bud Powell, Bud Powell was imitating Charlie Parker. So Bud was the first pianist to take Charlie Parker's language and adapt it successfully to the piano. That's why he is the most important pianist in music today because everybody plays like that now.[14]

His playing of melodic lines owed most to Billy Kyle, and his accompaniments to horn solos owed most to the style of Earl Hines. At other times, Powell's accompanying recalled stride and, on occasion, the graceful approach of pianist Teddy Wilson. His comping often consisted of single bass notes outlining the root and fifth. He also used a tenth, with the minor seventh included.

Powell was greatly influenced by Art Tatum early in his career and more so by Thelonious Monk later on. Powell often listened to Tatum's records and built upon Tatum's style, but with less stride in the left and without the "arabesques" and "flourishes" favored by Tatum. It has been said that Powell is the linchpin between Tatum and the bebop pianists.

Where his solos could be heard to emulate the horn players' attack—with the use of frequent arpeggios punctuated by chromaticism—this was, in part, because of his determination to see that the pianist get the adulation usually reserved for the saxophonist or trumpeter.[15] Powell's progressive exploration, on nightclub bandstands, of the harmonic series often produced brilliant, thrillingly unexpected solos. But his generally rough-edged execution was the price that his music paid for his virtuosic striving. Many later pianists, nonetheless, copied his daring attack, looking to attain that rarefied status, of the fearless improviser. They also emulated his lush melodicism on ballads.

Powell freed the right hand for continuous linear exploration at the expense of developing the left. Legend has it that one night Art Tatum criticized him as he came off the bandstand after playing a set. Powell responded in his next set by soloing on a piece exclusively with his left hand.[16] His favoring the treble was not to avoid integrating the hands, which is essential to both a solo and accompanying technique. These formed the basic small ensembles that have dominated jazz since the bebop era (after swing). Before Powell, Art Tatum and Earl Hines had also somewhat explored independent homophony closely resembling later piano playing.

The pianist's time was especially solid. So much so, that he was not dependent on his accompanists. Powell dictated the time when he played, in particular throughout the strength of the eight-notes in his right hand, essentially participating in the time-keeping with the bassist and drummer. This is reminiscent of recordings of Charlie Parker.[17]


Powell influenced countless younger musicians, especially pianists. These included Horace Silver,[18] Wynton Kelly,[19] Andre Previn,[20] McCoy Tyner,[21] Cedar Walton,[22] Chick Corea,[23] and many others.

Bill Evans, who described Powell as his single greatest influence,[24] paid the pianist a tribute in 1979: "If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell. He was in a class by himself".[25]

Herbie Hancock said of Powell, in a Down Beat magazine interview in 1966: "He was the foundation out of which stemmed the whole edifice of modern jazz piano".[26]


In 1986 Paudras wrote a book about his friendship with Powell, translated into English in 1997 as Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell. The book was the basis for Round Midnight, a film inspired by the lives of Powell and Lester Young, in which Dexter Gordon played the lead role of an expatriate jazzman in Paris. In February 2012 a biography titled Wail: The Life of Bud Powell by Peter Pullman was released as an ebook.


Years listed are years recorded (not years released).

Studio recordings

Live and home recordings

Notable compilation

As sideman

with Cootie Williams

with Frank Socolow

with J. J. Johnson

with Dexter Gordon

with The Quintet (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach)

with Art Blakey

with Charles Mingus

With Sonny Stitt

Notable compositions


  1. ^ Grove
  2. ^ Gitler, p. 112.
  3. ^ Crawford, p. 12.
  4. ^ a b Pullman, chapter 1.
  5. ^ Patrick, pp. 159–161.
  6. ^ Hentoff p. 16.
  7. ^ Jazz: The First 100 Years. Henry Martin and Keith Waters. Cengage Learning, 2005. ISBN 0-534-62804-4. p. 215
  8. ^ Pullman, p. 50.
  9. ^ Pullman, Peter. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. Bop Changes. pp. 84–5. 
  10. ^ Pullman, chapters 4,5.
  11. ^ Davis, Francis (January 1996). "Bud's Bubble". The Atlantic Monthly. 
  12. ^ Pullman, chapter 10.
  13. ^ Powell, Earl "Bud" (1924–1966) at
  14. ^ Fred Jung (2010). "A Fireside Chat with Bill Cunliffe". all-about-jazz. Retrieved 2010-06-07. When I was a kid, I was listening mostly to classical music because my dad had a lot of it in the house. I listened to all the stuff that was on the radio in the Sixties and Seventies. 
  15. ^ Bishop, p. 41.
  16. ^ Morrison, p. 69.
  17. ^ Harris, Barry; Weiss, Michael (1994). The Complete Bud Powell on Verve (Liner notes, booklet). Verve. pp. 105, 106. 
  18. ^ Silver, Horace (1994). The Complete Bud Powell on Verve (Liner notes, booklet). Verve. p. 98-100. 
  19. ^ Bogdonov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris (2002). All Music Guide to Jazz. Backbeat Books. p. 709.  
  20. ^ Bogdonov, p. 1364.
  21. ^ Turner, Richard Brent (2003). Islam in the African American Experience. Indiana University Press. p. 140. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  22. ^ Deardra Shuler, "Cedar Walton and Barry Harris to play Jazz at Lincoln Center", New York Amsterdam News, June 20, 2013.
  23. ^ Diliberto, John. from NPR: Chick Corea"Jazz Profiles". NPR. Retrieved November 5, 2014. 
  24. ^ Evans
  25. ^ Paudras 1998, p. ix
  26. ^ Downbeat. September 22, 1966. 
  27. ^ 10-inch LP release of January 1947 recording session. Roost RLP-401. Later re-issued together with Bud Powell Trio, Volume 2 on a single 12-inch LP, Bud Powell Trio (Roost RLP 2224 / RST 2224)
  28. ^ 10-inch LP release of February 1949 and February 1950 sessions. Mercury MG 35012 (Clef MGC 102 / Clef MGC 502 / Mercury MGC 502). Re-issued together with (most of) Piano Solos No. 2 as Jazz Giant (Norgran MGN 1063 / Verve MGV 8153)
  29. ^ 1951 release of August 1949 and May 1951 sessions. Blue Note BLP 5003, BLP 1503
  30. ^ 10-inch LP release of February & July 1950 sessions. Mercury MGC 507 (Clef MGC 507). All but the two July tracks re-issued together with Piano Solos as Jazz Giant (Norgran MGN 1063 / Verve MGV 8153)
  31. ^ July 1950 session in trio; February 1951 session solo. Mercury MGC 610 (Clef MGC 610 / Clef MGC 739 and, as Bud Powell's Moods
  32. ^ 1954 release of August 1953 session. Blue Note BLP 5041, BLP 1504 / Blue Note BST 81504 (pseudo stereo)
  33. ^ 10-inch LP release of September 1953 recording session. Roost RLP-412. Later re-issued together with Bud Powell Trio on a single 12-inch LP, Bud Powell Trio (Roost RLP 2224 / RST 2224)
  34. ^ June 1954, January 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1064 (Verve MGV 8154) Not to be confused with the Mercury / Clef release Bud Powell's Moods
  35. ^ 1955 release of December 1954 and January 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1017 (and, as Bud Powell '57, Norgran MGN 1098 / Verve MGV 8185)
  36. ^ January and April 1955 sessions. Verve MGV 8301
  37. ^ April 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1077 (Verve MGV 8167)
  38. ^ September 1956 session. Verve MGV 8218
  39. ^ October 1956 session, RCA Victor LPM 1423
  40. ^ February 1957 session, RCA Victor LPM 1507
  41. ^ August 1957 session. Blue Note BLP 1571 (Blue Note BST 81571, CDP 7 81571-2)
  42. ^ October & December 1957 and January 1958 sessions only released in 1997
  43. ^ May 1958 session. Blue Note BLP 1598 (Blue Note BST 81598, CDP 7 46820-2)
  44. ^ December 1958 session. Blue Note BLP 4009 (Blue Note BST 84009, CDP 7 46529-2)
  45. ^ a b December 1961 session in Paris, produced by Cannonball Adderley
  46. ^ February 1963 session in Paris, produced by Duke Ellington
  47. ^ April 1961 live recording in Milan, Italy (Moon MCD 055-2). The album is split between the Powell session and unrelated 1966–70 European sessions by Thelonious Monk
  48. ^ April 1962 live recordings at the Gyllene Cirkeln, Stockholm, Sweden. With Torbjörn Hultcrantz on bass, and Sune Spångberg on drums. 5 volumes available as individual discs. Rare Powell vocals on "This Is No Laughin' Matter".


  • Bishop, Walter (1994), Complete Bud Powell on Verve, New York City: Polygram Records 
  • Crawford, Marc (1966), Requiem for a Tortured Heavyweight, Chicago: Down Beat 
  • Gitler, Ira (1966), Jazz Masters of the Forties, New York: Macmillan,  
  • Hentoff, Nat (1956), Just Call Him Thelonious, Chicago: Down Beat 
  • Morrison, Allan (1953), Can a Musician Return from the Brink of Insanity?, Chicago: Ebony 
  • Patrick, James (1983), Al Tinney, Monroe's Uptown House, and the Emergence of Modern Jazz in Harlem, New Brunswick, NJ: Annual Review of Jazz Studies, IJS,  
  • Paudras, Francis; Monet, Rubye (trans.) (1998), Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, New York: Da Capo Press,  
  • Pullman, Peter (2012), Wail: The Life of Bud Powell, Brooklyn, NY: Peter Pullman, LLC,  
  • Spellman, A B (1998), Four Jazz Lives, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,  
  • Eds. "Bud Powell". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 

External links

  • Wail: The Life of Bud Powell
  • Bud Powell discography
  • Bud Powell at Blue Music Group
  • Website devoted to Bud Powell(includes mp3 samples)
  • The African American Registry – Bud Powell
  • Bud Powell at AllMusic
  • New York Times profile
  • Bud Powell multimedia directory
  • "Bud Powell Anthology" – includes essays and transcriptions
  • Reference article on Bud Powell's left hand jazz chords
  • David W. Niven's tapes on Bud Powell
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