Powell Chronology



September 27, 1924 Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell is born to Pearl Young and William Powell, Sr.

1929 Bud begins to pick out tunes on the piano, following the interest that older brother William, Jr (b. March 15, 1923) has shown in music. Bud’s formal lessons probably begin in this year, though he had already been taught by his father, who favored the stride-piano style (but had had very few professional gigs).

September 5, 1931 Richard Bertram Powell, third son of Pearl and William, Sr, is born.

c. 1935 Bud gives his earliest public performances, at rent parties and in other informal settings in Harlem. At his father’s urging, he does imitations of the piano style of Fats Waller and, once he has heard him on radio or records, of Art Tatum. (First jazz-piano piece learned, however: James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout”.)

Spring 1940 Plays his first professional engagement, as pianist in his older brother’s band: Skeets Powell and his Jolly Swingsters. By this time has probably begun first relationship with a similarly trained piano peer, Allen Tinney.

1940–42 With Tinney and another aspiring pianist, Gerald Wiggins, roams Harlem piano bars, looking to challenge older players. Then they establish themselves at Uptown House and, from ’41, begin to gain entry to the newer center of modern experimentation, Play House—known by its proprietor’s, Minton’s, name.

Fall 1942 Probably the period in which he meets Thelonious Monk for the first time. Powell’s enthusiasm for the older, confident, self-styled composer–pianist—and the latter’s being so utterly impressed with the former’s technique—quickly leads to profound bond.

Spring 1943 Bassist Jimmy Butts recommends Powell for Sunset Royals orchestra, which is under Doc Wheeler’s baton. He links with one of its trumpeters, George Treadwell, who recognizes that Powell’s talent isn’t being fully exploited by the band.

Summer–Fall 1943 Treadwell leaves Sunset Royals to form a combo and takes Powell with him. Trumpeter Cootie Williams, leading a popular dance orchestra, sees the Treadwell combo and is interested in hiring a number of its players, including Powell.

October–November 1943 Powell joins Williams’s orchestra. But bassist Oscar Pettiford and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s groundbreaking, midtown-Manhattan engagement with a modern combo is premiering. Monk is soon fired, so Gillespie asks Powell’s mother if he can hire her son. She decides that he’s better off taking the Williams job.

January 1944 Powell’s commercial recording debut, with Williams. His first solo is on “Floogie Boo”. Known as Buddy Powell, he’s listed on the record label as E. Powell.

Spring 1944 Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker appears occasionally in Williams band, possibly in Chicago. His rhythmic innovations and bell-like blues tone have an immediate impact on Powell.

January 19, 1945 Powell shows up late for a Williams-sextet dance date in Philadelphia and, later, is apprehended and beaten by the Pennsylvania Railroad police—charged with being drunk and disorderly and, then, with resisting arrest.

February 1, 1945 Powell is taken first to a local hospital, then transferred to Bellevue, an observation ward and, finally, certified for admission to Pilgrim State Hospital, a psychiatric facility.

April 18, 1945 Powell is released from Pilgrim.

May–July 1945 Has his first midtown gigs in a combo—one with drummer Sid Catlett, the other with tenor saxophonist Don Byas. Is then hired by bassist John Kirby, to take the chair once occupied by Billy Kyle, one of his piano forebears. Gig is at Café Society Downtown and requires him to accompany comedienne Imogene Coca.

Also, develops at this time a longterm, intense musical bond with composer–pianist Mary Lou Williams. She gives him invaluable piano instruction. (Other pianist–composers who appear at her home in the after hours: Monk, Tadd Dameron, Elmo Hope, and Erroll Garner.)

Fall 1945 Powell appears at Spotlite on Fifty-second Street—the heart of New York City’s jazz-nightclub scene—in Parker’s quintet.

January 1946 Plays with Dexter Gordon on the tenor saxophonist’s first record session as a leader, with the bassist and drummer who’ll be his frequent collaborators for years—Curly Russell and Max Roach. Gets cocomposer credit (with Gordon) on one tune.

February 1946 Is hired to play for Gillespie’s exciting modern combo at Spotlite; contributes an original, “Tempus Fugit”, to the band’s songbook.

June–August 1946 Plays on a handful of record sessions, with such fellow modernists as trumpeters Kenny Dorham and Fats Navarro, trombonist J. J. Johnson, alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Gets his compositions recorded— including “Webb City”, which he also arranges—and asserts his soloing authority.

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March 6, 1947 Bud Powell Sextet appears at a Harlem venue; possibly the first time that he played a professional gig, mentioned in print, under his name.

May 8, 1947 Records with Charlie Parker Quintet. “Donna Lee”, among others on the date, the most harmonically challenging repertoire that Parker ever recorded. Powell’s name is printed (on the record) for the first time as Bud not Buddy.

November 14, 1947 Powell gets into a fight in a Harlem bar. A blow to his face leads to his being sent to Harlem Hospital and then Bellevue—and, ten days later, to his being certified for admission to Creedmoor State Hospital, a psychiatric facility.

February 4, 1948 Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is administered, two to three times a week, till April 5. At that time, his condition is deemed “unimproved”, so another regimen is begun two weeks later, with a similar number of induced subcomas achieved.

June 1, 1948 Cecelia June Powell, Bud’s only child, is born to Mary Frances Barnes, his girlfriend. Although hospitalized, he had insisted that his girlfriend name the child for the patron saint of music.

October 23, 1948 Creedmoor releases Powell but places him on “convalescent care”— parole, in all but name. He immediately strives to get caught up with the musical activities of his peers, in Harlem and midtown.

Mid-December 1948 The all-star lineup that opens at Clique Club, just off Fifty-second Street: Pettiford, Navarro (and, a week or so later, trumpeter Miles Davis), Johnson, tenor saxophonists Gordon and Lucky Thompson, Powell, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and Clarke.

January 9, 1949 In midst of Clique gig, Powell is deemed to have violated the terms of his Creedmoor release and is rehospitalized.

January 19, 1949 Pearl visits her son and pleads with the hospital authorities to give him leave to make a record for Norman Granz, who has offered him the chance to have his first date as a leader, with his trio.

February 23, 1949 Powell is taken by a Creedmoor nurse to his thrilling leader debut. “Tempus Fugit” and three more originals are cut. He is returned to the hospital as soon as breakneck-tempo “All God’s Chillun” has concluded the session.

April 16, 1949 Creedmoor releases Powell and, again, places him on convalescent care.

August 8, 1949 Alfred Lion, who has come to know Powell through Monk, records him, as leader of a quintet (for Blue Note). Navarro is stellar and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, whom Powell had picked over alto saxophonist Jackie McLean after conducting auditions, also handles well the thoughtfully arranged Powell originals. “Dance of the Infidels” is the standout one of the date.

September 17, 1949 Granz signs Powell to his first record contract.

Probably fall 1949 Powell and Navarro play what became a legendary, midtown engagement at Three Deuces, showing their intensely creative, occasionally combustible collaboration at its most thrilling.

Christmas 1949 Bud Powell Trio(Russell and Roach)’s debut at Carnegie Hall. Davis joins them for a superb rendition of Dameron’s “Hot House”. Also on the program are groups led by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, vocalist Sarah Vaughan, pianist Lennie Tristano, and Parker.

1950 Powell is becoming a fixture at Birdland (where Clique had been), playing in combos with various instrumentation. His solo talent is signally burnished, though, by a showdown with his idol, Art Tatum—who accords his disciple much respect at night’s end.

Spring 1950 Two one-off Powell performances at Birdland: One, as guest pianist with the now-classic big band, known as Birth of the Cool; the other, in a quintet with Navarro and Parker.

June or July 1950 Powell tears through ten takes of “Tea for Two” on a record date with drummer Buddy Rich. Granz eventually releases three completed versions, providing insight to Powell’s improvisatory instincts.

February 1951 “Oblivion” and “Hallucinations” are among five originals that Powell records at an 8-tune solo-piano date. The titles not withstanding, the bright-sounding melodies are, as well, buoyantly dispatched.

March 29–April 5, 1951 Parker and Gillespie headline a Birdland quintet with Powell. The live broadcast from the club reminds listeners that they can enter for a dollar, warning them about missing the meeting of these three giants: “ . . . never in life again, probably will happen . . .”.

May 1, 1951 Powell records for Blue Note. Unprecedented creative interplay emerges, with Roach seizing a crucial role on a Powell original, which he’d been experimenting with in the clubs. “Un Poco Loco” stands, today, as his greatest achievement on record—the piece audibly taking shape over the three surviving, completed takes.

August 8, 1951 Powell, Monk, and three others are found by police in a car, trying to dispose of heroin. The two are taken to the Tombs, a notorious detention center, where Powell is roughed up. Monk enters a not-guilty plea but ends up serving sixty days in jail. Powell is soon whisked off, instead, to Bellevue and, then, to Pilgrim, on September 4—certified “mentally ill”, which punishment turns out to be the longest institutionalization of his life.

October 3, 1951 While Powell’s condition was to be evaluated in sixty days (as to whether confinement of indefinite length would be necessary), Pilgrim’s director concludes inside one month that Powell is to be kept indefinitely.

December 14, 1951 Insulin shock therapy begins, lasting eleven weeks. One MD is frustrated at the lack of the patient’s recovery; he innocently reports that Powell “used to play piano in one of the best bands on Broadway. Many of his records are on the market.”

August 7, 1952 Pilgrim transfers Powell to Creedmoor.

December 11–12, 1952 Bud Powell Trio (Russell and Roach) appears at Birdland. Another course of insulin shock treatments had begun for Powell, however, just days before this two-night engagement. Hospital staff take him back to Creedmoor after his last set.

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February 3–5, 1953 Powell is declared “incompetent” by the state, meaning that he isn’t capable of handling his money. Oscar Goodstein, manager of Birdland and already Powell’s personal manager, is made his committee—giving him the legal duty to manage Powell’s finances. He has him open as a headliner at Birdland on February 7.

For the rest of this, the busiest year of Powell’s career, Goodstein schedules Powell to play for twenty weeks at the club. When he’s not there, he’s being sent to play in Philadelphia, Washington, other eastern-US cities, and as far west as St Louis.

March 9, 1953 At his committee’s urging, Powell marries Audrey Hill, a transplanted Californian whom Goodstein had been seeing at Birdland. She and Powell hadn’t met before his recent release. The marriage dissolves in July.

May 15, 1953 Powell plays a one-off concert at Massey Hall, in Toronto, which becomes marketed on record as the “Greatest Jazz Concert Ever”. Powell, with rhythm section–mates Mingus and Roach, performs a sterling trio set and, in the quintet set, matches or exceeds Gillespie’s and Parker’s solos, especially on “All the Things You Are” and “A Night in Tunisia”.

May–June 1953 Powell immediately resumes what soon becomes house-pianist status at Birdland. Classically trained bassist George Duvivier and drummer Art Taylor soon settle into stable roles, becoming his longest-serving accompanists in the clubs and on record.

August 14, 1953 Blue Note records the Powell–Duvivier–Taylor trio. The bassist, insisting on more structure, helps Powell to put on paper an original piece that he’d been working on—the other-worldly “Glass Enclosure”, a four-part suite that runs two minutes, twenty-one seconds.

January 8, 1954 As ‘relaxation’ for a December near-breakdown at Birdland, Goodstein accompanies Powell on a cross-country train to play a one-off club date in Los Angeles. Powell’s dissipations keep him from completing the second week, and he is left on his own to get back to New York City.

February 1954 He goes to stay with his mother but, after an altercation, takes up with a married woman, Altevia Edwards, a part-time housekeeper who now devotes herself to managing his private life.

June 8, 1954 At an undistinguished record session, Powell takes a novel approach to “It Never Entered My Mind”. It either reflects self-awareness of having attained an artistic middle age, or is a sign of his many troubles having worn him down.

June 14, 1954 The Philadelphia police charge Powell with possessing heroin. A court date is set but, then, postponed till early 1955.

July–August 1954 Goodstein tries to get Powell returned to Creedmoor, but an attorney fights for his rights and gets him released pending outpatient psychiatric care—which his mother is left to arrange. She winds up sending him to a Philadelphia facility instead.

August 1954–January 1955 Powell has a series of short stays at nursing homes, none of which understands his need to play music. A singular LP date in January is the nadir of his career, drummer Art Blakey walking off the date before it’s completed.

February 28, 1955 The Philadelphia court convicts Powell, putting a felony on his record but suspending the sentence.

March 4–5, 1955 Bebop’s Last Supper takes place over a Birdland weekend: Parker and Powell are both falling apart, and sidemen Dorham, Mingus, and Blakey are only intermittently successful at getting good music made.

April 25 and 27, 1955 An LP date, with (by now) old reliables Duvivier and Taylor, yields no originals. But Powell manages a solid “Crazy Rhythm” and, after multiple attempts, a fine “Star Eyes”, just six weeks after the tune’s greatest interpreter, Parker, had died.

September 1955–January 1956 The New York City and State authorities make it difficult for Powell to obtain permission, in the form of what is known as a cabaret card, to get even a week’s engagement in local nightclubs—because of the Philadelphia felony. So he’s sent by Goodstein to play all over the East and, even, in the Midwest.

February 1956 Birdland All-Stars of ’56, club owner Morris Levy’s three-week tour, hires Bud Powell Trio as one of the headlining acts.

June 26, 1956 Richie Powell, along with trumpeter Clifford Brown and his fiancée, Nancy Welch, is killed in a car accident.

July 1956 Attorney Maxwell Tillman Cohen, hired by Goodstein, gets the court to declare Powell competent again. He and Goodstein become a de facto corporation, managing all of Powell’s affairs.

September 1956 Powell records twelve masters at his best record session for Norman Granz since 1951. He chooses two Pettiford and two Gillespie tunes, performing a faithful “Woody ‘n’ You”.

November 1956 Birdland Stars ’56 tours Europe, playing grand concert halls. Headliners are Miles Davis and tenor saxophonist Lester Young, each playing with rhythmic support. Powell appears solo, with Modern Jazz Quartet winding up the programs. Tour starts and ends in France, and visits Holland, Belgium, West Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and Italy.

Winter 1956–Spring 1957 Powell still can’t work much in New York City, so he does more tours, with Birdland stars and with just his trio.

July–August 1957 About to be signed to Levy’s Roulette label, Powell records for Blue Note first. The unique addition to his discography from this date is “Bud on Bach”, where he first plays C. P. E.’s “Solfeggietto” and, then, improvises off it.

November 1957 Powell, having accepted an invitation to return to Paris for a club engagement, plays this time with bassist Pierre Michelot and Clarke. Audiences and critics find his playing of a higher caliber than it had been in ’56.

Spring 1958 Cohen begins his assault on the entire, corrupt system regulating musicians’ appearances in nightclubs—but it’s of no immediate use to Powell. His desire to create new material is renewed only when he records again for Blue Note, cutting seven originals in May.

December 1958 Again, recording for Blue Note is a tonic: There are a number of moderate successes but one great piece, the through-composed “Cleopatra’s Dream”.

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Spring 1959 Edwards convinces Powell to take the bold step and move to Paris.

March 29, 1959 Powell arrives and is immediately invited to play as a guest headliner at Blue Note, a Right Bank venue. He stays for a month.

August 1959 Powell begins a residency at a very different kind of venue, the Left Bank, subterranean Chat Qui Peche. He returns to the unpretentious club whenever he’s not working elsewhere.

October–November 1959 Club Saint-Germain invites Powell to play. His combo, temporarily including trumpeter Clark Terry and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen, rehearses Duke Jordan’s repertoire (from the recently released film, Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Radio Télévision Françiase (RTF) broadcasts, live, a Saturday night set, on the sole French TV station.

December 1959 Blue Note invites Powell back. He, Michelot, and Clarke soon establish themselves as the house band. A Saturday night set of theirs is also broadcast on television. Powell romps on his favorite Vincent Youmans tune, “Get Happy” and, with Jimmy Gourley and Lucky Thompson added, performs “Anthropology” (see: video).

1960 Three Bosses (Powell, Michelot, Clarke) maintain their residency at Blue Note for the year. This makes for the longest continuous employment for Powell, at one club, in his career.

April 2, 1960 Powell, Pettiford, and Clarke play at Essen Jazztage, an annual festival. The trio play only half a set, joined for the second half by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Powell cues Hawkins with a novel introduction to “Yesterdays”, and they construct an instant classic.

July 1960 Powell is guest pianist with Charles Mingus Sextet at the Juan-les-Pins festival. He’s also recorded solo, essaying a delicately stated “Sweet and Lovely”.

April 1961 Powell and Monk, each with his own rhythm support, make a short tour: Marseille, Milan, Bologna, and Rome. In Milan, Powell plays “I Remember Clifford”, testament to his respect for the tune that commemorates the death of Clifford Brown (which means, as well, that of Richie Powell).

December 1961 Powell had still not recorded for a European label, so visiting alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley produces two LP dates for him, to be issued on Columbia. A part-quartet, part-quintet session allows Powell to play with Byas, and their old chemistry returns on “All the Things You Are”.

January 1962 Having swiped a patron’s drink when he wasn’t looking, Powell is fired by Blue Note. He’s invited by producers in Lausanne and Geneva to come to their cities to play, but not for nearly a month.

Probably mid-January 1962 Without any employment prospects, Powell agrees to have dinner at the apartment of a persistently admiring fan, commercial artist Francis Paudras. The evening is cohosted by his girlfriend, Unesco translator Nicole Grassian.

January 31–February 1, 1962 On the Swiss concerts, Powell plays “Just One of Those Things” as if it’s 1951 rather than 1961. Also, accompanied by Edwards, he has accepted invitations from club owners in Copenhagen and Stockholm, to appear there directly after Switzerland.

February 13, 1962 Backed by Danish rhythmic support, including fifteen-year-old bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Powell begins an engagement at the recently reopened Café Montmartre. Contracted for two weeks, he’s asked to stay seven.

April 7, 1962 Gylllene Cirkeln, a new club, opens in Stockholm, and Powell is the first to perform there. Kindly received in general, he’s overwhelmed by the affection of a young female fan, Margareta Jonsson, who leaves Stockholm soon after he does, to live in New York City. She promises, however, to stay in touch with him.

April 26, 1962 Back in Copenhagen, Powell is invited to make an LP for a Danish company. The complaisant producer manages, at the same time, to get renditions from Powell of tunes that he rarely if ever did in the studio: Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” and “Hot House”. The latter and another jazz standard, “Move”, come off best.

Early August–late October 1962 Powell returns to Scandinavia, this time playing in Oslo as well. There, he meets more admiring and supportive fans, including Randi Hultin, whose home has already become an oasis for countless visiting musicians.

December 4–11, 1962 Powell, having passed out from drink on a Paris street and been admitted to a local hospital, is transferred to its psychiatric unit. Edwards asks Paudras to find him and, once found, to intervene with the MDs. Powell is released.

December 13, 1962 Powell is back on the Blue Note bandstand, but only at the behest of now-expatriate tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who soon gets Powell a quasi-steady job there. For the first time in about fifteen years, though, he is given second billing.

February–June 1963 In the space of four months, Powell makes as many record dates as he did in the previous four years—one produced by orchestra-leader Duke Ellington, one as guest pianist in Gordon’s combo, and one as guest in Gillespie’s.

July–August 1963 Powell still gets to the Blue Note piano chair when he’s scheduled, though Griffin finds him weak and suspects serious illness. With Paudras’s help, they find that he has tuberculosis. Paudras arranges for treatment at a Paris hospital.

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March 13, 1964 As Powell is nearing the end of his recuperative rest—having given hospital staff and patients occasional, impromptu recitals—the Paris jazz world holds a tribute/benefit concert to/for him at Salle Wagram. When Powell is released, he goes to live with Paudras and Grassian.

June–July 1964 Paudras has been exchanging letters with Goodstein about a visit to New York City, for Powell to play again at Birdland. Powell is not told the exact terms, yet Paudras purchases one-way tickets for the two of them.

August 16, 1964 Powell and Paudras fly to recently renamed JFK airport. They are greeted there by Goodstein, who has arranged for a publicist, a journalist, and a photographer to be present.

August 25, 1964 Powell, supported by bassist John Ore and drummer Horace Arnold, opens at Birdland opposite Horace Silver’s group. Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, and Roach, all leading combos in New York City at the time, stop by to greet Powell. But the piano disciples, such as Barry Harris, are there to listen, and they sit close, waiting on every note struck.

September 1964 Daughter Celia and her mother, Mary Frances, have their reunion with Powell at the club. On another night, accompanied by Jonsson (who has reunited with him), he goes to see his estranged father. His return to Birdland gets feature stories in all of the major city newspapers and a number of national magazines. The fact of his return is celebrated but his performances get middling reception. By mid-month, having missed sets at the club, he’s given almost two weeks off.

He returns at month's end, but his playing (and, so, his appearances) is even more erratic.

October 11, 1964 When Powell fails to show for his first Birdland set on the eleventh, he’s fired.

October 27, 1964 Paudras, having given Powell his plane ticket so that he could spend the previous night with Celia and Mary Frances, waits in vain at the airport. He returns home alone.

November 1964 At Jonsson’s urging, Powell ensconces himself at Mary Francesís place. Only Jonsson is able to rouse him from his bed, which he takes to often when he’s not searching for alcohol.

March 27, 1965 A tenth-anniversary memorial concert for Parker boasts Dorham, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, Gillespie, Hawkins, Johnson, Konitz, trumpeter Howard McGhee, Roach, and Stitt—but Powell’s awful performance becomes the talk of the evening.

May 1, 1965 Powell, appearing this time at a concert with young musicians (of various styles, all of whom are labeled avant garde), plays better. He concludes his short set with “I Remember Clifford”. It’s the last performance that he gives in public.

July–August 1965 Powell is admitted to the hospital due to pulmonary complications but, by the beginning of August, is well enough to return to Mary Francesís place.

Fall 1965 This time, Powell is taken to a psychiatric hospital. Alan Bates, a record producer, visits him there and is convinced that he can get Powell to the studio again.

January 1966 Powell, released again, agrees to try to record, not for Bates but for an attorney, Bernard Stollman, who is attempting to manage all of his affairs. Through much of a day and all of a night, hardly any acceptable music is made.

April–May 1966 Two Frenchmen, Daniel Berger and Alain Corneau, coming to New York City to make a film documentary, stop first in Brooklyn to bring Powell warm greetings from Paudras. He would like them to bring Powell back to Paris with them but, after a month of visits, they decide that Paudras will have to do this himself.

July 31, 1966 Having been taken by Mary Frances to Kings County Hospital in the last week of July, he dies on Sunday after bedside visits by Jonsson, McLean, and bassist Don Moore.

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