Sunday, January 15, 2017 - 2:00pm to 7:00pm
Sid Gribetz presents a five hour radio program celebrating the pianist and composer George Wallington on Jazz Profiles this Sunday, January 15 from 2:00 PM - 7:00 PM EST.
George Wallington was one of the legendary pianists of the bebop era but never achieved great fame. With his early retirement from a musical career, he remains a more obscure figure in jazz history and lore. However, he was an especially swinging pianist and inventive composer who deserves continued attention.
Born Giacinto Figlia in Sicily in 1924 (some sources date his birth a little earlier) his family moved to New York when he was an infant, and his father was an opera singer who exposed him to classical music. But when he heard Lester Young and the Count Basie orchestra as a young teen, he was smitten with the expressive and emotional power of jazz. He started playing professionally in New York nightclubs as a youth, using the stage name Wallington (taken from a nickname) and befriended fellow teen musicians such as Max Roach.
Wallington was hired by Dizzy Gillespie to play (along with Roach and Oscar Pettiford) in his early bebop band at the Onyx Club in late 1943 and 1944, a seminal event in jazz history, and Wallington became a figure on the 52nd Street scene along with Bird, Diz, Miles Davis and all the innovative young jazz musicians of the time. His tunes “Lemon Drop” and “Godchild” became famous bebop anthems popularized in recordings by others.
After appearing as a sideman on several records by the likes of Gerry Mulligan, Kai Winding, and Al Cohn, by 1949 Wallington began recording as leader. These albums, especially piano trios playing both his cerebral original compositions and swinging treatments of the American popular song, accompanied by greats such as Roach, Charles Mingus and Curly Russell, are stunning to listen to and serve as testaments of his musical stature.
Wallington was in the infamous Lionel Hampton band of young turks that toured Europe in 1953. Later in the 1950's he led jazz combos on the New York scene, including working groups with Jackie McLean, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor, and notably a long running popular band that featured the horns of Donald Byrd and Phil Woods.
But it was at this point that he left music and started a successful air conditioning business with his brother (Figlia & Sons). Wallington returned to jazz for occasional brief appearances at concerts in the 1980's, and he passed away in 1993.