Born in New York
in a musical family, Bud's given name was Earl. As a child Powell
received piano lessons and studied the classics. At 15 he drops
out of school and joins the band led by his elder brother (trumpeter
In a racial
incident in Philadelphia, Powell receives a blow to he head, allegedly
from a policeman. He receives inadequate hospital treatment and
spends time in Creedmor State Hospital in Long island. Treatment
thereafter is not always appropriate and he is often tranquilized
and receives ECT. Mental instability
and headaches troubles him for the rest of his life.
for two months entices him back to New York. He fails to return
to New York. A concert in Carnegie Hall in March 1965 is a disaster,
and he disappears for stretches of time.
This is the
highpoint of Powell's musical career, certainly his
recorded career. He develops his talent for composition.
He meets Thelonious
Monk and they become friends. Monk introduces him to the bebop
players at Minton's Playhouse. Powell joins the Cootie Williams
band, is first recorded in January 1944, and becomes musical director
and a featured soloist. He plays with Charlie
Parker on 52nd Street.
career takes off; his first trio recording is made in January 1947.
No prolonged time is spent with one group
- in part the musical lifestyle of 52nd Street and in part the result
of his illness and time spent in hospital.
In November he
suffers a nervous breakdown, and 11 months are spent at Creedmoor.
moves to Paris where he leads a regular trio, although his musical
skills and stamina are much reduced. He is reliant on first his
wife and then a fan, Francis
Paudras. He is treated for tuberculosis in a sanitorium.
dies of liver failure.
had the potential of a true jazz player...Because of his history,
he never got to use that potential that much, though he did plenty.
His insight and talent were unmatched in hard-core, true jazz."
Bill Evans in
Down Beat's 1966 tribute edition
Powell was influenced by Teddy Wilson,
Art Tatum, Nat
Cole and Billy Kyle, his own favourite. His talent was encouraged
by Thelonious Monk, whom he met in 1940:
but if at timesthere is a similar sparseness (particularly in his
later years)about his playing, he is much moretechnically
accomplished, if limited. His style was developed very
early on in his career, with rapid right hand lines sounding as though
they should be played on a saxophone and often ignoring the structure
of a tune; his left hand was almost redundant, with low and often
dissonant chords. His attack is brittle, with no great use of dynamics.
Powell is widely held as the most influential
of bebop pianists, and
many who followed were to sound much like him. Regrettably, much of
his output is either poorly recorded, or recorded when he was past