Friday, February 12, 2010


Jazz pianist and composer of classical music Melvin Epstein,aka, Mel Powell, was born on February 12, 1923 in the Bronx, New York City. Powell was born to Russian Jewish parents and began playing piano as a child, and performed jazz professionally in New York City as a teenager. In 1941-42 he played, composed, and arraged for Benny Goodman.

A member of Glenn Miller's Army Air Corps Band in 1943-45, he played with Django Reinhardt in Paris at war's end. Powell briefly returned to Goodman's band, then worked in Hollywood after World War II and married actress Martha Scott. In 1948 he played himself in the movie "A Song is Born" as the jazz pianist working with Benny Goodman. In this movie he worked along with many other famous jazz players including Louis Armstrong. After studying at Yale with Paul Hindemith in 1948-1952 he all but gave up jazz for classical composition.

He was a member of the composition faculty at Yale from 1958 to 1969, a founder of the Yale Electronic Music Studio and a founding editor of Perspectives of New Music. In 1969 he moved to California to serve as founding dean of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. After serving as acting head of the Institute he was awarded the Roy O. Disney Professorship of music, and taught and composed at CalArts until his death. In 1990 he received the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his concerto for two pianos and orchestra, Duplicates.

In 1987 he returned to jazz to play a jazz festival on the cruise ship SS Norway with Benny Carter,Howard Alden,Milt Hinton and Louie Bellson. One performance has been documented on the CD release "The Return of Mel Powell" (Chiaroscuro records). This CD includes twenty minutes of Powell discussing his life and his reasons for leaving jazz.

His notable students include Justin Connolly, Brian Fennelly, Robert Fruehwald, Walter Hekster, Cesar Mateus, Lewis Spratlan, Sally Lamb and Steven Hoey.

Mel passed away on April, 1998
Mel w/ Benny and Norvo
Reference - Wikipédia

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