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Bud Powell Biography


Home > Music > P > Powell, Bud > Biography


Birth Name: Earl Rudolph Powell
Born: 1924/09/27
Birth Place: New York City, U.S.
Died: 1966/07/31
Years Active: 1944–1963
Genres: Jazz, Bebop


Earl Rudolph Powell was born on September 27, 1924 in Harlem, New York City and was a jazz pianist who cited Thelonious Monk as one of his greatest musical influences. Powell held artist Art Tatum as one of his closest friends and worked with musical greats, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Powell became known for his innovation and his role in the bebop movement. Born into a musical family, Powell's father was a pianist and began classical piano lessons for his son from the age of five onwards. By the time he was ten years old, Powell developed an interest in jazz music.

At the age of 15 Powell was playing in his brother's band and playing in local clubs in New York City. At the age of 18, Powell met Thelonious Monk who introduced him to a the world of bebop music and his bebop musicians. As the 1940s progressed, Powell was asked to play with Cootie Williams, and recorded with him in 1944, however, their relationship came to an end in 1945 when Powell failed to show up at a performance due to being drunk, apprehended by the police, and hospitalized for 2 months in a psychiatric hospital. Once recovered, he resumed playing on the Manhattan club scene, playing alongside artists, such as Frank Socolow, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, and Kenny Clarke. Powell's career took a giant leap in 1947 when Charlie Parker asked him to play piano in his quintet with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach in May 1947.

From 1947 to 1948 Powell was hospitalized and received electro-convulsive shock therapy for his “emotional outbursts.” Though he was released a year after treatment, Powell's emotional stability was forever altered from his time at the Creedmoor State Hospital. By 1949 Powell was recording once again for Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records, featuring Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Powell, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes. These sessions produced the compositions “Bouncing with Bud” and “Dance of the Infidels.” The second Blue Note session arrived in 1951 with Russell and Roach, and produced the pieces “Parisian Thoroughfare” and “Un Poco Loco.” However, shortly thereafter, Powell was hospitalized once again until 1953; once out of hospital, Powell formed another trio with Duvivier and Taylor, however the medication he was on for treatment of schizophrenia severely impeded his playing abilities. Several further hospitalizations followed before he moved to Paris in 1959, where he became part of a trio with Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke.

1961 saw Powell record two albums for Columbia Records: “Cannonball Adderley: A Portrait of Thelonious,” and “A Tribute to Cannonball.” In 1963, Powell contracted tuberculosis and returned to New York. Despite his declining health he continued to play: Two concerts in 1965 saw Powell performing at Carnegie Hall and as part of a tribute for Charlie Parker. Powell was hospitalized one final time in New York after months of increasingly erratic behavior and self-neglect. He died of July tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism on July 13, 1966.