Note: Benny Powell’s last studio recording as a leader was for Origin Records. Click here to view/listen to that recording.
The Count Basie Orchestra is announcing that trombonist Benny Powell has died at age 80. Powell is best known for his role in the Basie band of the 1950s and early ’60s — he took a brief solo on the hit recording of “April In Paris” — but he also held spots in the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and many, many other top ensembles. He was busy as a recording studio, Broadway and television musician, and also worked with high modernist jazzmen like pianist Randy Weston and clarinetist John Carter.
A week before his death was announced, Powell performed pleasingly with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band as part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York. I spoke with him briefly afterwards, and he said that while he did not play early jazz frequently, he had grown up in New Orleans and was comfortable in the idiom. Apropos of this, his words were recently quoted in the HBO series Treme, according to co-creator Eric Overmeyer in a comment left on this blog:
I asked [Powell] once what he said … to his students, and he replied, “Straight ahead and strive for tone.” Which seems to me like pretty sound advice for all kinds of strivers.