Bud Powell

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Bud Powell
Earl Rudolph Powell.jpg
Background information
Birth nameEarl Rudolph Powell
Born(1924-09-27)September 27, 1924
Harlem, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 31, 1966(1966-07-31) (aged 41)
New York
GenresJazz, bebop
Years active1944–1965
LabelsRoost, Blue Note, Mercury, Norgran, Clef, Verve
Associated actsArt Blakey, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins

Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell (September 27, 1924 – July 31, 1966) was an American jazz pianist. Though Thelonious Monk was a close friend and influence, his greatest piano influence was Art Tatum.[citation needed]

Along with Charlie Parker, Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie, Powell was a leading figure in the development of modern jazz, or bebop. His virtuosity led many to call him the Charlie Parker of the piano. Powell was also a composer, and many jazz critics credit his works and his playing as having "greatly extended the range of jazz harmony."[1]

Early life[edit]

Powell's father was a stride pianist.[2] Powell started classical piano lessons at the age of five.[3] His teacher, hired by his father, was a West Indian man named Rawlins.[4] At ten, Powell showed interest in the swing music that could be heard all over the neighborhood. He first appeared in public at a rent party,[5] where he mimicked Fats Waller's playing style. The first jazz composition that he mastered was James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout".[6] Powell's older brother, William, played trumpet and violin, and by the age of 15 Powell was playing in William's band.[7] Powell heard Art Tatum on the radio and tried to match his technique.[6] Powell's younger brother, Richie Powell, was also a noted be-bop pianist.

Later life and career[edit]

Early to mid-1940s[edit]

In his youth Powell listened to the adventurous performances at Uptown House, a venue near his home. This was where Charlie Parker first appeared as a solo act when he briefly lived in New York.[8] Thelonious Monk played at Uptown House. When Monk met Powell[9] he introduced Powell to musicians who were starting to play bebop at Minton's Playhouse. Monk was a resident pianist, and he presented Powell as his protégé. Their mutual affection grew, and Monk became Powell's greatest mentor. Powell eagerly experimented with Monk's idea. Monk's composition "In Walked Bud" is a tribute to their time together in Harlem.[10] Powell was engaged in a series of dance bands, his incubation culminating in becoming the pianist for the swing orchestra of Cootie Williams. In late 1943 he was offered the chance to appear at a nightclub with the quintet of Oscar Pettiford and Dizzy Gillespie, but Powell's mother decided he would continue with the more secure job with the popular Williams.[11]

Powell was the pianist on a handful of Williams's recording dates in 1944. The last included the first recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight".[12] His job with Williams was terminated in Philadelphia in January 1945. After the band finished for the night, Powell wandered near Broad Street Station and was apprehended, drunk, by the private railroad police. He was beaten by them and incarcerated briefly by the city police. Ten days after his release, his headaches persisted and he was hospitalized at Bellevue, an observation ward, and then in a state psychiatric hospital sixty miles away. He remained there for two and a half months.[13]

Powell resumed playing in Manhattan after released.[11] In 1945–46 he recorded with Frank Socolow, Sarah Vaughan, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, and Kenny Clarke.[14] Powell became known for his sight-reading and his skill at fast tempos.[14] On January 10, 1947, Powell recorded his first session as a leader, which included 8 pieces for De Luxe Records with Max Roach and Curly Russell as accompanists. The recordings were unreleased until 1949, when Roost Records bought the masters and released them on a series of 78 rpm records. Musicologist Guthrie Ramsey wrote of the session that "Powell proves himself the equal of any of the other beboppers in technique, versatility, and feeling."[15]

Charlie Parker chose Powell to be his pianist on a May 1947 quintet recording session with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach; this was only studio session in which Parker and Powell played together.[16]

Hospitalization (1947–1948)[edit]

The Parker session aside, Powell performed on two other records and seldom appeared at nightclubs in 1947. In November, he had an altercation with a customer at a bar in Harlem. In the ensuing fight, Powell was hit over his eye with a bottle. When the staff at Harlem Hospital found him incoherent and rambunctious, they sent him to Bellevue, which had a record of his previous confinements. He was sent to Creedmoor State Hospital, where he spent eleven months.[17] Powell adjusted to being in the hospital, though in psychiatric interviews he expressed feelings of persecution founded in racism.[18] From February to April 1948, he received electroconvulsive therapy[11] after an outburst which may have been prompted by learning from his girlfriend that she was pregnant with their child.[19] The electroconvulsive therapy was considered ineffective, so the doctors gave him a second series of treatments in May. He was released in October 1948.[11]

Solo and trio recordings (1949–1958)[edit]

After a brief hospitalization in early 1949,[11] Powell made several recordings, most of them for Blue Note,[20]Mercury, Norgran, and Clef.[21] The first Blue Note session in August 1949 included Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, and the compositions "Bouncing with Bud" and "Dance of the Infidels". The second Blue Note session in 1951 was a trio with Curley Russell and Max Roach and included "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Un Poco Loco".[14] The latter was selected by literary critic Harold Bloom for his short list of the greatest works of twentieth-century American art.[22] Sessions for Granz included Ray Brown, George Duvivier, Percy Heath, Roach, Russell, Lloyd Trotman, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Osie Johnson, Buddy Rich, and Art Taylor.[14]

Powell's rivalry with Parker led to feuding and bitterness on the bandstand.[23] Contributing factors were Powell's worsening mental and physical health.[24] Powell recorded for Blue Note and Granz throughout the 1950s, interrupted by another stay in a mental hospital from late 1951 to early 1953 after being arrested for possession of marijuana. He was released into the guardianship of Oscar Goodstein, owner of the Birdland nightclub. A 1953 trio session for Blue Note with Duvivier and Taylor included Powell's composition "Glass Enclosure", inspired by his near-imprisonment in Goodstein's apartment.[25] On May 15, 1953 he played at Massey Hall in Toronto with the quintet, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. The performance was recorded and released by Debut Records as the album Jazz at Massey Hall.[14] After being released from the hospital, his piano playing was negatively affected by the Largactil he was taking as treatment for schizophrenia.[25] In 1956 his brother Richie Powell and trumpeter Clifford Brown were killed in a car crash.[26]

Paris (1959–1963)[edit]

After several more periods in the hospital, Powell moved to Paris in 1959 with Altevia "Buttercup" Edwards, whom he had met after an incarceration in 1954.[27] The couple moved into the Hotel La Louisiane.[28] She managed his finances and his medicine. Powell continued to perform and record.

Last years (1964–1966)[edit]

In 1963, Powell contracted tuberculosis. During the next year, he returned to New York with Paudras to perform at Birdland with drummer Horace Arnold and bassist John Ore. His performances during these years were adversely affected by his alcoholism.[16] His emotions became unbalanced, and he was hospitalized in New York after months of erratic behavior and self-neglect. On July 31, 1966, he died of tuberculosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism.[29]

Musical style[edit]

Jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe said Powell was "the first pianist to take Charlie Parker's language and adapt it successfully to the piano."[30] His melodic lines were influenced by Billy Kyle[31] and his accompaniment of horn solos was influenced by Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, and stride piano.[32] His comping often consisted of single bass notes outlining the root and fifth. He used voicings of the root and the tenth or the root with the minor seventh.[33] He was influenced by Monk and Art Tatum.[34] His solos imitated the attack of horn players, with frequent arpeggios punctuated by chromaticism[16]. This was, in part, due to his desire to see the pianist get the adulation usually reserved for the saxophonist or trumpeter.[35] Powell freed the right hand for continuous linear exploration at the expense of developing the left.[36] Powell dictated the time when he played, in particular throughout the eight-notes in his right hand, participating in the time-keeping with the bassist and drummer. This is reminiscent of recordings of Charlie Parker.[37]


In 1986 Paudras wrote a book about his friendship with Powell, translated into English in 1997 as Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell.[38] The book was the basis for Round Midnight, a film inspired by the lives of Powell and Lester Young, in which Dexter Gordon played the lead role of an expatriate jazzman in Paris.[39] In February 2012 a biography titled Wail: The Life of Bud Powell by Peter Pullman was released as an ebook.[11]

Powell influenced countless younger musicians, especially pianists. These included Horace Silver,[40] Wynton Kelly,[41] Andre Previn,[42] McCoy Tyner,[43] Cedar Walton,[44] and Chick Corea.[45]

Bill Evans, who described Powell as his single greatest influence,[46] paid the pianist a tribute in 1979: "If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell. He was in a class by himself".[47]

Herbie Hancock said of Powell, in a Down Beat magazine interview in 1966: "He was the foundation out of which stemmed the whole edifice of modern jazz piano".[48]


Years listed are years recorded (not years released).

Studio recordings[edit]

Live and home recordings[edit]

  • 1944–48: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 1: Early Years of a Genius, 44–48 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1953: Winter Broadcasts 1953 (ESP-Disk)
  • 1953: Spring Broadcasts 1953 (ESP-Disk)
  • 1953: Inner Fires (Elektra)
  • 1953: Summer Broadcasts 1953 (ESP-Disk)
  • 1953: Autumn Broadcasts 1953 (ESP-Disk)
  • 1953: Live at Birdland (Queen Disc [Italy])
  • 1953–55: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 2: Burnin' in U.S.A., 53–55 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1957–59: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 3: Cookin' at Saint-Germain, 57–59 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1959–60: Bud in Paris (Xanadu)
  • 1959–61: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 5: Groovin' at the Blue Note, 59–61 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1960: The Essen Jazz Festival Concert (Black Lion)
  • 1960–64: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 11: Gift for the Friends, 60–64 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1961: Pianology (Moon [Italy])[69]
  • 1961–64: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 4: Relaxin' at Home, 61-64 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1962: Bud Powell Live in Lausanne 1962 (Stretch Archives)
  • 1962: Bud Powell Live in Geneva (Norma [Japan])
  • 1962: Bud Powell Trio at the Golden Circle, Vols. 1–5 (Steeplechase)[70]
  • 1962: Budism (SteepleChase)
  • 1962: Bouncing with Bud (Sonet)
  • 1962: 'Round About Midnight at the Blue Note (Dreyfus Jazz)
  • 1962–64: Bud Powell at Home – Strictly Confidential (Fontana)
  • 1963: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 6: Writin' for Duke, 63 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1963: Americans in Europe (multiple groups, Impulse!)
  • 1964: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 7: Tribute to Thelonious, 64 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1964: Blues for Bouffemont aka The Invisible Cage (Fontana)
  • 1964: Hot House (Fontana)
  • 1964: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 8: Holidays in Edenville, 64 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1964: The Return of Bud Powell (Roulette)
  • 1964: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 9: Return to Birdland, 64 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1964: Earl Bud Powell, Vol. 10: Award at Birdland, 64 (Mythic Sound)
  • 1964: Ups'n Downs (Mainstream)

Notable compilations[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Art Blakey

With Dexter Gordon

With J. J. Johnson

With Charles Mingus

With The Quintet (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Max Roach)

With Frank Socolow

With Sonny Stitt

With Cootie Williams


  1. ^ Grove
  2. ^ Gitler, p. 112.
  3. ^ Perkins, Bob. "The Demons of Bud Powell". Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  4. ^ Siek, Stephen (November 10, 2016). A Dictionary for the Modern Pianist. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-0-8108-8880-7. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  5. ^ Crawford, p. 12.
  6. ^ a b Pullman, chapter 1.
  7. ^ Dicaire, David (January 27, 2015). Jazz Musicians, 1945 to the Present. McFarland. pp. 51–. ISBN 978-0-7864-8557-4. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  8. ^ Patrick, pp. 159–161.
  9. ^ Hentoff p. 16.
  10. ^ Jazz: The First 100 Years. Henry Martin and Keith Waters. Cengage Learning, 2005. ISBN 0-534-62804-4. p. 215.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Pullman, Peter (2012). Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. Peter Pullman. ISBN 978-0-9851418-1-3.
  12. ^ "1941-1944 [Classics] - Cootie Williams & His Orchestra". AllMusic. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  13. ^ Pullman, p. 50.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Bud Powell Discography". www.jazzdisco.org. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  15. ^ Ramsey, Guthrie P. (2013). The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop. University of California Press. p. 69. ISBN 9780520243910.
  16. ^ a b c Ramsey, Guthrie P. (May 28, 2013). The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop. University of California Press. pp. 75–. ISBN 978-0-520-24391-0. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  17. ^ Pullman, Peter. Wail: The Life of Bud Powell. Bop Changes. pp. 84–5.
  18. ^ Geoff Dyer (June 24, 2014). But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 219–. ISBN 978-1-4668-6985-1.
  19. ^ Pullman, chapters 4,5.
  20. ^ "Alfred Lion, 78, the Founder of the Blue Note Jazz Label". The New York Times. February 9, 1987. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  21. ^ Davis, Francis (October 24, 2002). Like Young: Jazz, Pop, Youth And Middle Age. Hachette Books. pp. 58–. ISBN 978-0-306-81186-9.
  22. ^ Modern Critical Interpretations: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
  23. ^ Martin, Henry; Waters, Keith (January 1, 2015). Jazz: The First 100 Years, Enhanced Media Edition. Cengage Learning. pp. 207–. ISBN 978-1-305-54503-8. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  24. ^ Reisner, Robert (August 22, 1977). Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker. Hachette Books. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-306-80069-6.
  25. ^ a b Davis, Francis (January 1, 1996). "Bud's Bubble". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  26. ^ Catalano, Nick (2001). Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter. Oxford University Press. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-19-514400-0.
  27. ^ Pullman, chapter 10.
  28. ^ Wilmer, Val (1989). Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This: My Life in the Jazz World. Womens Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-7043-5040-3.
  29. ^ "Powell, Earl 'Bud' (1924–1966)" at blackpast.org.
  30. ^ "A Fireside Chat With Bill Cunliffe". All About Jazz. February 29, 2004. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  31. ^ "Happy Birthday Billy Kyle!". National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  32. ^ Gitler, Ira (February 18, 2009). The Masters of Bebop: A Listener's Guide. Da Capo. pp. 119–. ISBN 978-0-7867-4524-1. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  33. ^ Owens, Thomas (May 23, 1996). Bebop: The Music and Its Players. Oxford University Press. pp. 148–. ISBN 978-0-19-535553-6. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  34. ^ "NPR's Jazz Profiles: Bud Powell". npr.org. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  35. ^ Bishop, p. 41.
  36. ^ Morrison, p. 69.
  37. ^ Harris, Barry; Weiss, Michael (1994). The Complete Bud Powell on Verve (Liner notes, booklet). Verve. pp. 105, 106.
  38. ^ Paudras, Francis (March 22, 1998). Dance Of The Infidels: A Portrait Of Bud Powell. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306808161.
  39. ^ Jazz, All About. "Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell". All About Jazz. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  40. ^ Silver, Horace (1994). The Complete Bud Powell on Verve (Liner notes, booklet). Verve. p. 98-100.
  41. ^ Bogdonov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris (2002). All Music Guide to Jazz. Backbeat Books. p. 709. ISBN 978-0-87930-717-2.
  42. ^ Bogdonov, p. 1364.
  43. ^ Turner, Richard Brent (2003). Islam in the African American Experience. Indiana University Press. p. 140. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  44. ^ Deardra Shuler, "Cedar Walton and Barry Harris to play Jazz at Lincoln Center", Archived June 24, 2013, at Archive.today New York Amsterdam News, June 20, 2013.
  45. ^ Diliberto, John. "Jazz Profiles from NPR: Chick Corea". npr.org. NPR. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
  46. ^ Evans
  47. ^ Paudras 1998, p. ix
  48. ^ Reed, Leonard (November 13, 1994). "Bud Powell Gets His Long Overdue Due". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  49. ^ 10-inch LP release of January 1947 recording session. Roost RLP-401. Later re-issued together with Bud Powell Trio, Volume 2 on a single 12-inch LP, Bud Powell Trio (Roost RLP 2224 / RST 2224).
  50. ^ 10-inch LP release of February 1949 and February 1950 sessions. Mercury MG 35012 (Clef MGC 102 / Clef MGC 502 / Mercury MGC 502). Re-issued together with (most of) Piano Solos No. 2 as Jazz Giant (Norgran MGN 1063 / Verve MGV 8153).
  51. ^ 1951 release of August 1949 and May 1951 sessions. Blue Note BLP 5003, BLP 1503.
  52. ^ 10-inch LP release of February & July 1950 sessions. Mercury MGC 507 (Clef MGC 507). All but the two July tracks re-issued together with Piano Solos as Jazz Giant (Norgran MGN 1063 / Verve MGV 8153).
  53. ^ July 1950 session in trio; February 1951 session solo. Mercury MGC 610 (Clef MGC 610 / Clef MGC 739 and, as The Genius of Bud Powell, Verve 8115) Not to be confused with the Norgran release Bud Powell's Moods.
  54. ^ 1954 release of August 1953 session. Blue Note BLP 5041, BLP 1504 / Blue Note BST 81504 (pseudo stereo).
  55. ^ 10-inch LP release of September 1953 recording session. Roost RLP-412. Later re-issued together with Bud Powell Trio on a single 12-inch LP, Bud Powell Trio (Roost RLP 2224 / RST 2224).
  56. ^ June 1954, January 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1064 (Verve MGV 8154) Not to be confused with the Mercury / Clef release Bud Powell's Moods.
  57. ^ 1955 release of December 1954 and January 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1017 (and, as Bud Powell '57, Norgran MGN 1098 / Verve MGV 8185).
  58. ^ January and April 1955 sessions. Verve MGV 8301.
  59. ^ April 1955 sessions. Norgran MGN 1077 (Verve MGV 8167).
  60. ^ September 1956 session. Verve MGV 8218.
  61. ^ October 1956 session, RCA Victor LPM 1423.
  62. ^ February 1957 session, RCA Victor LPM 1507.
  63. ^ August 1957 session. Blue Note BLP 1571 (Blue Note BST 81571, CDP 7 81571-2).
  64. ^ October & December 1957 and January 1958 sessions only released in 1997.
  65. ^ May 1958 session. Blue Note BLP 1598 (Blue Note BST 81598, CDP 7 46820-2).
  66. ^ December 1958 session. Blue Note BLP 4009 (Blue Note BST 84009, CDP 7 46529-2).
  67. ^ a b December 1961 session in Paris, produced by Cannonball Adderley.
  68. ^ February 1963 session in Paris, produced by Duke Ellington.
  69. ^ April 1961 live recording in Milan, Italy (Moon MCD 055-2). The album is split between the Powell session and unrelated 1966–70 European sessions by Thelonious Monk.
  70. ^ April 1962 live recordings at the Gyllene Cirkeln, Stockholm, Sweden. With Torbjörn Hultcrantz on bass, and Sune Spångberg on drums. 5 volumes available as individual discs. Rare Powell vocals on "This Is No Laughin' Matter".


  • Bishop, Walter (1994), Complete Bud Powell on Verve, New York City: Polygram Records
  • Crawford, Marc (1966), Requiem for a Tortured Heavyweight, Chicago: Down Beat
  • Fichet, Jean-Baptiste (2017), La Beauté Bud Powell, Paris: Bartillat
  • Gitler, Ira (1966), Jazz Masters of the Forties, New York: Macmillan, ISBN 0-306-76155-6
  • Hentoff, Nat (1956), Just Call Him Thelonious, Chicago: Down Beat
  • Morrison, Allan (1953), Can a Musician Return from the Brink of Insanity?, Chicago: Ebony
  • Patrick, James (1983), Al Tinney, Monroe's Uptown House, and the Emergence of Modern Jazz in Harlem, New Brunswick, NJ: Annual Review of Jazz Studies, IJS, ISBN 0-87855-906-X
  • Paudras, Francis; Monet, Rubye (trans.) (1998), Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell, New York: Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80816-1
  • Pullman, Peter (2012), Wail: The Life of Bud Powell, Brooklyn, NY: Peter Pullman, LLC, ISBN 978-0-9851418-0-6
  • Spellman, A B (1998), Four Jazz Lives, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, ISBN 978-0-472-08967-3

External links[edit]