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Bobby Timmons

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Bobby Timmons
Background information
Birth nameRobert Henry Timmons
Born(1935-12-19)December 19, 1935
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMarch 1, 1974(1974-03-01) (aged 38)
New York City, U.S.
  • Musician
  • composer
  • Piano
  • vibraphone
Years active1950s–1970s
Formerly ofThe Jazz Messengers

Robert Henry Timmons (December 19, 1935 – March 1, 1974) was an American jazz pianist and composer. He was a sideman in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for two periods (July 1958 to September 1959; February 1960 to June 1961), between which he was part of Cannonball Adderley's band. Several of Timmons' compositions written when part of these bands – including "Moanin'", "Dat Dere", and "This Here" – enjoyed commercial success and brought him more attention. In the early and mid-1960s he led a series of piano trios that toured and recorded extensively.

Timmons was strongly associated with the soul jazz style that he helped initiate. This link to apparently simple writing and playing, coupled with drug and alcohol addiction, led to a decline in his career. Timmons died, aged 38, from cirrhosis. Several critics have commented that his contribution to jazz remains undervalued.[a]

Early life[edit]

Timmons was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of a minister.[1] He had a sister, Eleanor.[2] Both of his parents, and several aunts and uncles, played the piano.[3] From an early age Timmons studied music with an uncle, Robert Habershaw, who also taught McCoy Tyner.[3][4] Timmons first played at the church where his grandfather was minister;[5] this influenced his later jazz playing.[1] He grew up in the same area as other future musicians, including the Heath brothers (Jimmy, Percy, and Tootie) and Lee Morgan.[5] Timmons' first professional performances were in his local area,[6] often as a trio that included Tootie Heath on drums.[2] After graduating from high school Timmons was awarded a scholarship to study at the Philadelphia Musical Academy.[3]

1954 to spring 1961[edit]

Timmons moved to New York in 1954.[1] He played with Kenny Dorham in 1956,[6] making his recording debut with the trumpeter in a live set in May of that year. He went on to play and record with Chet Baker in 1956–57 (bassist Scott LaFaro was part of this band for a time[7]), Sonny Stitt in 1957, and Maynard Ferguson in 1957–58.[1][6] He also recorded as a sideman with hornmen Curtis Fuller,[8] Hank Mobley,[9] and Morgan.[10] all for Blue Note Records in 1957.

Timmons became best known as a member of Art Blakey's band the Jazz Messengers, which he was first part of from July 1958 to September 1959, including for a tour of Europe.[1] He was recruited for the Messengers by saxophonist Benny Golson, who said that "He was inventive, [...] He could play bebop and he could play funky – he could play a lot of things, and I thought it was the element that Art needed. He hadn't had anybody quite like Bobby, who could go here or go there, rather than walking in a single corridor."[5] By late 1958 Timmons was sharing bandmate Morgan's East Sixth Street apartment and the pair had bought a piano, allowing Timmons to practice and Morgan to work on composing.[11]: 88  From around the time he joined Blakey, Timmons, along with some of his fellow band members, was a heroin user.[11]: 90  After leaving Blakey, Timmons joined Cannonball Adderley's band, in October 1959.[1]

Timmons was also known as a composer during this period: The Encyclopedia of Jazz states that his compositions "Moanin'" (from the 1958 album of the same title), "This Here", and "Dat Dere" "helped generate the gospel-tinged 'soul jazz' style of [the] late '50s and early '60s."[6]: 646  The first was written when Timmons was first with Blakey; the others were composed when he was with Adderley.[12] "This Here" (sometimes "Dis Here") was a surprise commercial success for Adderley: recorded in concert in 1959, it was released as part of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco album while the band was still on tour, and they discovered its popularity only when they arrived back in New York and found crowds outside the Village Gate, where they were due to play.[13]

Timmons was reported to be dissatisfied with the money he had received from "This Here", and was enticed in February 1960 into leaving Adderley and returning to Blakey's band by the offer of more pay.[1][13] Timmons then appeared on further well-known albums with the drummer, including A Night in Tunisia, The Freedom Rider and The Witch Doctor.[5] His own recording debut as sole leader was This Here Is Bobby Timmons in 1960, which contained his first versions of his best-known compositions.[14] In the same year, he played on recordings led by Nat Adderley,[15]: 13  Arnett Cobb,[15]: 307  and Johnny Griffin,[15]: 670  among others; on the first of these, Work Song, Timmons did not appear on all of the tracks, because he had been drinking heavily.[16]

Summer 1961 to 1974[edit]

Timmons left Blakey for the second time in June 1961,[1] encouraged by the success of his compositions, including jukebox plays of "Dat Dere", which Oscar Brown had recorded after adding lyrics.[5] Timmons then formed his own bands, initially with Ron Carter on bass and Tootie Heath on drums.[17] They toured around the US, including the West Coast, but played most in and around New York.[2] In the initial stages of this trio, Timmons liked the group sounds of the trios led by Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal.[18] According to Tootie Heath, Timmons was at the peak of his fame at that point, but was addicted to heroin, and used a lot of the money that the band was paid maintaining his habit.[19]

In 1963, Timmons' playing, with Lewis Powers on bass and Ron McCurdy on drums, was described by a Washington Post reviewer as "flexible and adventuresome [...] Glossing over everything is an undeniable sheen of church music and spirituals."[20] In 1965, the same reviewer commented that Timmons was employing musicians who were of much lower ability: "Timmons lacks a certain passion but I wonder if this is not the fault of his sidemen."[21] Timmons started playing vibes in the mid-1960s.[22] He occasionally played organ, but recorded only one track on that instrument – a 1964 version of "Moanin'" on From the Bottom.[12] Recordings as a leader continued, usually as part of a trio or quartet, but, after joining Milestone Records around 1967,[23] Timmons' album Got to Get It! featured him as part of a nonet, playing arrangements by Tom McIntosh.[12]

Timmons' career declined quickly in the 1960s, in part because of drug abuse[24] and alcoholism, and partly as a result of being typecast as a composer and player of seemingly simple pieces of music.[1] In 1968 he made his second - and final - recording for Milestone, Do You Know the Way?[12] In the following year, he played in a quartet led by Sonny Red,[25] with Dexter Gordon on one of the saxophonist's temporary returns to the US from Europe,[26][27] and in a trio backing vocalist Etta Jones.[28] Timmons continued to play in the early 1970s, mostly in small groups or in combination with other pianists, and mainly in the New York area.[29][30][31][32]

According to saxophonist Jimmy Heath, Timmons joined Clark Terry's big band for a tour of Europe in 1974.[33] He was unwell and drank on the plane to Sweden, and fell while drinking at the bar before the band's first concert, in Malmö.[33] Susceptible to blood clotting, he was flown back to the US.[33] On March 1, 1974, he died from cirrhosis, at the age of 38, at St Vincent's Hospital in New York.[6][34] He had been in hospital for a month.[22] He was buried in Philadelphia,[35] and was survived by his wife, Estelle, and son, also Bobby.[34]

Playing style and influence[edit]

Timmons was known for using block chords, "a style in which the right hand creates the melody and the left hand moves with the rhythm of the right hand, but does not change voicing except to accommodate the chord changes."[36] His use of them was more aggressive, and less melodic, than that of Red Garland.[36] The Penguin Guide to Jazz suggested that "Timmons' characteristic style was a rolling, gospelly funk, perhaps longer on sheer energy than on harmonic sophistication."[15]: 1574  In the opinion of Scott Yanow, stylistically, "somehow Bobby Timmons never grew beyond where he was in 1960."[37] Gary Giddins, however, highlighted other facets of Timmons' playing: the "lush [Bud] Powell-inspired ballads, his clear, sharp, unsentimental long lines."[24]: 50  Carter also identified Powell as a primary influence on Timmons, and commented that his partner in the trio "was very giving, very loyal, played every night like it was his last chance to get it right."[18]

The funky aspects of Timmons' playing influenced fellow pianists, including Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, and Benny Green.[38] Timmons is often mentioned as being under-rated;[39] jazz writer Marc Myers commented in 2008 that "today, Timmons' contribution to jazz – as an accompanist, writer, leader and innovator of a new sound – is vastly overlooked and undervalued."[14]


Timmons wrote "a steady stream of infectious funky tunes", stated Giddins.[24]: 50  Timmons dismissed the idea that he was deliberately a composer: "I'm a dilettante as a composer. I have never consciously sat down and tried to write a song."[3] He stated that his method of composing a new song might involve "whistling, playing around with the notes, or at a club. I'll tell one musician to play this note, another that note, and we kick it around."[3] One account of the creation of "Moanin'" was given by Golson: Timmons had the opening eight bars, which he often played between tunes, but formed the complete song only after Golson encouraged him to add a bridge.[5][40]


Tootie Heath reported that, when they were on tour and Timmons was addicted to heroin, Timmons would routinely lie and sometimes pull out a knife to threaten people.[19] On the other hand, Ron Carter, the bassist from that tour, stated that Timmons offered his bandmates a lot of encouragement to experiment and improve from performance to performance, and that he "was a really multi-talented person and he was just a real sweetheart, a sweetheart of a man".[41] In Golson's words, Timmons "had no ego about him, [...] He was always upbeat, never downbeat, and he never maligned anybody unless it was in a humorous way".[5]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1957 Jenkins, Jordan and Timmons New Jazz Quintet, with John Jenkins (alto sax), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Wilbur Ware (bass), Dannie Richmond (drums)
1960 This Here Is Bobby Timmons Riverside Trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)
1960 Soul Time Riverside Quartet, with Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Sam Jones (bass), Art Blakey (drums)
1961 Easy Does It Riverside Trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)
1961 In Person Riverside Trio, with Ron Carter (bass), Albert Heath (drums); in concert at the Village Vanguard, New York City
1962 Sweet and Soulful Sounds Riverside Trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Roy McCurdy (drums)
1963 Born to Be Blue! Riverside Trio, with Ron Carter and Sam Jones (bass; separately), Connie Kay (drums)
1964 Live at the Connecticut Jazz Party Chiaroscuro Quartet, with Sonny Red (alto sax), Sam Jones (bass), Mickey Roker (drums); in concert
1964 From the Bottom Riverside Timmons plays vibes on two tracks, organ on one. Trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums); released 1970[42]
1964 Little Barefoot Soul Prestige Trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Ray Lucas (drums)
1964 Holiday Soul Prestige Trio, with Butch Warren (bass), Walter Perkins (drums)
1964 Chun-King Prestige Trio, with Keter Betts (bass), Albert Heath (drums)
1964 Workin' Out! Prestige Quartet, with Johnny Lytle (vibes), Keter Betts (bass), William Hinnant (drums); one track is trio, with Sam Jones (bass), Ray Lucas (drums)
1965 Chicken & Dumplin's Prestige Timmons plays vibes on two tracks. Trio, with Mickey Bass (bass), Billy Saunders (drums)
1966 The Soul Man! Prestige Quartet, with Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)
1966 Soul Food Prestige Trio, with Mickey Bass (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)
1967 Got to Get It! Milestone Nonet, with Joe Farrell and James Moody (flute, tenor sax), Hubert Laws (flute), George Barrow (baritone sax), Jimmy Owens (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eric Gale and Howard Collins (guitar; separately), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Higgins and Jimmy Cobb (drums; separately); four tracks are quartet, with Joe Beck (guitar), Carter, Cobb
1968 Do You Know the Way? Milestone Quartet, with Joe Beck (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums); 3 tracks are trio, without Beck

As sideman[edit]

Year recorded Leader Title Label
1958 Pepper Adams 10 to 4 at the 5 Spot Riverside
1959 Cannonball Adderley The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco Riverside
1960 Cannonball Adderley Them Dirty Blues Riverside
1960 Nat Adderley Work Song Riverside
1960 Joe Alexander Blue Jubilee Jazzland
1956 Chet Baker Chet Baker Quintette Crown
1956 Chet Baker Chet Baker & Crew Pacific
1956 Chet Baker Chet Baker Big Band Pacific
1958 Art Blakey Moanin' Blue Note
1958 Art Blakey Drums Around the Corner Blue Note
1958 Art Blakey 1958 – Paris Olympia Fontana
1958 Art Blakey Des femmes disparaissent (Soundtrack) Fontana
1958 Art Blakey Au Club St. Germain, Vol. 1 RCA
1958 Art Blakey Au Club St. Germain, Vol. 2 RCA
1958 Art Blakey Au Club St. Germain, Vol. 3 RCA
1959 Art Blakey At the Jazz Corner of the World, Vol. 1 Blue Note
1959 Art Blakey At the Jazz Corner of the World, Vol. 2 Blue Note
1959 Art Blakey Just Coolin' Blue Note
1959 Art Blakey Les liaisons dangereuses 1960 (Soundtrack) Fontana
1960 Art Blakey The Big Beat Blue Note
1960 Art Blakey Like Someone in Love Blue Note
1960 Art Blakey A Night in Tunisia Blue Note
1960 Art Blakey Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, Vol. 1 Blue Note
1960 Art Blakey Meet You at the Jazz Corner of the World, Vol. 2 Blue Note
1961 Art Blakey Tokyo 1961 Somethin' Else
1961 Art Blakey Pisces Blue Note
1961 Art Blakey The Witch Doctor Blue Note
1961 Art Blakey The Freedom Rider Blue Note
1961 Art Blakey Roots & Herbs Blue Note
1961 Art Blakey Art Blakey!!!!! Jazz Messengers!!!!! Impulse!
1958 Kenny Burrell Blue Lights, Vol. 1 Blue Note
1958 Kenny Burrell Blue Lights, Vol. 2 Blue Note
1959 Kenny Burrell On View at the Five Spot Cafe Blue Note
1960 Arnett Cobb More Party Time Prestige
1960 Arnett Cobb Movin' Right Along Prestige
1956 Kenny Dorham 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia Blue Note
1956 Kenny Dorham 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 2 Blue Note
1956 Kenny Dorham 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 3 Blue Note
1962 Kenny Dorham Matador United Artists
1959 Art Farmer Brass Shout United Artists
1957 Maynard Ferguson Boy with Lots of Brass EmArcy
1957 Curtis Fuller The Opener Blue Note
1958 Benny Golson Benny Golson and the Philadelphians Blue Note
1969 Dexter Gordon L.T.D.: Live at the Left Bank Prestige[26]
1969 Dexter Gordon XXL Prestige
1960 Johnny Griffin The Big Soul-Band Riverside
1960 Sam Jones The Soul Society Riverside
1960s Gloria Lynne Live at Leo's Casino Collectables
1962 Johnny Lytle Nice and Easy Jazzland
1957 Hank Mobley Hank Blue Note
1956 Frank Morgan Frank Morgan Gene Norman Presents
1957 Lee Morgan The Cooker Blue Note
1960 Lee Morgan Lee-Way Blue Note
1956 Anthony Ortega Jazz for Young Moderns (reissued with two 1955 tracks as Earth Dance) Bethlehem (Fresh Sound)
1960 Dizzy Reece Comin' On! Blue Note
1961 The Riverside Jazz Stars A Jazz Version of Kean Riverside
1957 Sonny Stitt Personal Appearance Verve
1960 The Young Lions The Young Lions Vee-Jay



  1. ^ See Playing style and influence section for examples.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kernfeld, Barry "Timmons, Bobby". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd edition). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved July 29, 2013. (Subscription required.)
  2. ^ a b c Panken, Ted "For the 78th Birthday Anniversary of Bobby Timmons (1935–1974), a Liner Note and Five Interviews Conducted for It". (December 19, 2013) Transcript of interview with Tootie Heath. tedpanken.wordpress.com
  3. ^ a b c d e Pagones, John (February 16, 1964) "Timmons Shuns Composer Role". The Washington Post. p. G4.
  4. ^ Taylor, Leon (June 5, 2000) "Elsie Wright Loved Kids, Fussed at Their Noisy Play". philly.com Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Panken, Ted. In The Best of Bobby Timmons [Liner notes]. Fantasy. Reprinted at "For the 78th Birthday Anniversary of Bobby Timmons (1935–1974), a Liner Note and Five Interviews Conducted for It". (December 19, 2013) tedpanken.wordpress.com
  6. ^ a b c d e Feather, Leonard; Gitler, Ira (1999). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 646–647.
  7. ^ Williams, Martin (1992) Jazz Changes. p. 108. Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas "Curtis Fuller: The Opener: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
  9. ^ "Hank Mobley: Hank: Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
  10. ^ Yanow, Scott "Lee Morgan: The Cooker: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
  11. ^ a b McMillan, Jeffery S. (2008) DelightfuLee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan. University of Michigan Press.
  12. ^ a b c d Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (eds.) (2002) The All Music Guide to Jazz. p. 1245. Backbeat Books.
  13. ^ a b Sheridan, Chris (2000) Dis Here: A Bio-Discography of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. pp. 81–83. Greenwood Press.
  14. ^ a b Myers, Marc (January 7, 2008) "This Here Is Bobby Timmons" Archived 2013-12-25 at the Wayback Machine. JazzWax.
  15. ^ a b c d Cook, Richard, and Morton, Brian (2004) The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (7th edition). Penguin.
  16. ^ Mathieson, Kenny (2012) Cookin': Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954–65. Canongate Books.
  17. ^ Walker, Jesse H. (September 30, 1961) "Theatricals" New York Amsterdam News. p. 19.
  18. ^ a b Panken, Ted "For the 78th Birthday Anniversary of Bobby Timmons (1935–1974), a Liner Note and Five Interviews Conducted for It". (December 19, 2013) Transcript of interview with Ron Carter. tedpanken.wordpress.com
  19. ^ a b Iverson, Ethan (November 2009) "Interview with Albert "Tootie" Heath" Archived December 12, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. dothemath.typepad.com
  20. ^ Pagones, John (January 25, 1963) "Timmons Holds Sway at Jazz Mecca". The Washington Post. p. B13.
  21. ^ Pagones, John (March 12, 1965) "Cocktail Lounges Come into Their Own". The Washington Post. p. B15.
  22. ^ a b "Jazz Pianist, Composer of 'Moanin'". (March 3, 1974) The Washington Post. p. D4.
  23. ^ West, Hollie I. (November 5, 1967) "A Disc Company Fights the Trend". The Washington Post. p. K4.
  24. ^ a b c Giddins, Gary (March 7, 1974) "Bobby Timmons, 1935–1974" The Village Voice. pp. 45, 50.
  25. ^ West, Hollie I. (July 3, 1969) "Sparkling Jazz Group" The Washington Post. p. C6.
  26. ^ a b Bogle, Dick (July 11, 2001) "Dick's Picks". The Skanner. p. 11.
  27. ^ Novod, Eric "The Dozens: Dexter Gordon" Archived 2009-07-08 at the Wayback Machine. Jazz.com Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  28. ^ West, Hollie I. (July 21, 1969) "Great Jazz of Etta Jones". The Washington Post. p. B6.
  29. ^ Bush, Dera (January 31, 1970) "Jamaica and Queens Report". New York Amsterdam News. p. 26.
  30. ^ Wilson, John S. (November 30, 1970) "4 Jazzmen Trade Pianistic Curves". The New York Times. p. 54.
  31. ^ "Bobby Timmons plays for MJS concert Sun.". (December 18, 1971) Chicago Daily Defender. p. 21.
  32. ^ "Jazz/Rock/Folk/Pop". (February 25, 1973) The New York Times. p. 119.
  33. ^ a b c Heath, Jimmy, and McLaren, Joseph (2010) I Walked with Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath. p. 162. Temple University Press.
  34. ^ a b "Bobby Timmons, 38, Jazz Pianist, Dead". (March 2, 1974) The New York Times. p. 34.
  35. ^ "Bobby Timmons Buried in Pa.". (March 16, 1974) New York Amsterdam News. p. B7.
  36. ^ a b Fulton, Champian (September 2011) "The Transcendent Aesthetics of the Block Chord Language". Down Beat. p. 60.
  37. ^ Yanow, Scott (2003) Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years. p. 487. Backbeat Books.
  38. ^ Yanow, Scott "Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  39. ^ Maita, Joe, and Giddins, Gary (January 5, 2004) "Conversations with Gary Giddins: On Underrated Jazz Musicians, Part One". Jerry Jazz Musician.
  40. ^ Anderson, Sheila E. (2003) The Quotable Musician: From Bach to Tupac. pp. 75–76. Skyhorse Publishing.
  41. ^ Levy, Devra Hall (May 16, 2011) "Ron Carter: NEA Jazz Master (1998)". Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
  42. ^ Yanow, Scott "Bobby Timmons: From the Bottom: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  43. ^ "Bobby Timmons Discography Project". jazzdisco Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  44. ^ Fitzgerald, Michael "Bobby Timmons Leader Entry". JazzDiscography.com Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  45. ^ "Bobby Timmons: Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved December 24, 2013.

External links[edit]