Revision note: We have added some background on Muhal Richard Abrams and his work with a King Fleming-led rehearsal band in the mid-1950s, added a little more about John Neely's later career, and included a previously unknown King Fleming demo acetate from 1955.
Pianist Walter Fleming was born on the North Side of Chicago, in the Sedgwick/Wells neighborhood, on May 4, 1922. (The date comes from a card file of Musicians Union Local 208 members now kept in the Chicago Public Library). He began to learn music from his older brother Fred when he was 8 years old; after some years of playing by ear, he got formal instruction in classical and religious music. He graduated from McKinley High School on the West Side; McKinley was not famous for its music program, but George "Sonny" Cohn, long-time lead trumpeter for Red Saunders and Count Basie, was one of his classmates. Fleming recalls that he first learned about jazz chord progressions from a friend named "Butch." He played trombone in the high school band but felt that it was never really his instrument. Later on, he studied at the Midwest College of Music.
Sonny Cohn explained the origin of the "king" as follows: "His real name is Walter and I still call him Walter, although he prefers to forget that now. He's about my age and when he started out he wanted to be called 'Keen' but everybody just seemed to take it for 'King' so he adopted that name" (See Peter Vacher, The Sonny Cohn story, Jazz Journal, September 1963, p. 4).
The first King Fleming band that we know of was in operation in 1939, the year that Fleming graduated from McKinley. According to Sonny Cohn in the Peter Vacher interview, "The personnel of the band was Johnny Thompson, alto and clarinet (he plays tenor now), James Couch, alto, who acted as our business manager (he's very prominent in Chicago today: he has two or three liquor stores and apartment buildings), James 'Tom' White, tenor, Harold Tyler and myself, trumpets, Wilbur Hathaway, trombone and also piano (he lives in California now, still in the music business). Our drummer was Leroy, I forget his surname: he was from the same side of Chicago as the rest of us but he was replaced by a fellow named Dan Deans, who was pretty good. King Flemming [sic] played the piano" (Vacher article, p. 4). Sonny Cohn was just 14 years old at the time; Johnny Thompson was probably 13.
Cohn described the band as follows: "This was one of the best up and coming bands in Chicago, and working with it really convinced me that music was going to be my life. This was around 1939 and I was still in high school. Although it was a small band it felt like a big band. We had two trumpets, a trombone, three saxes, piano and drums. Bass was added later. We used to work at the Edie Park Theatre House as a steady job, every Wednesday from 7 to 12. All the kids from the different high schools would come along and pay their 15 cents admission; at the end of the evening we'd split the take among all the fellows in the band. When we first started, we'd usually go home with 15 to 25 cents. But it grew and we'd end up with 2 or 3 dollars for each guy, which was good when you were going to school" (Vacher, p. 4).
King Fleming first appears in the Chicago Defender on September 27, 1941, in an announcement for a get-together on October 3 by the Steel Mill Aces, a social club that would meet for drinking and eating at the Greater Fort Dearborn Hall (3902 South State). "Good music will be played by King Fleming's Band." Obviously, he had not graduated to night clubs yet. As Cohn noted, "The band continued to work together for a couple of years and then it broke up because some of the guys wanted to join the Union and some didn't. I didn't join because I felt I wasn't ready; I was still in high school and I felt a little afraid of the idea" (Vacher, p. 4).
In the Fall of 1942, King Fleming began leading a Swing band that quickly became a powerful draw locally. According to Jay Peters in an interview with the late Otto Flückiger, the lineup was James Robertson, "Fip Fortunato" (i.e., Fortunatus Paul "Fip" Ricard), Arthur Reed (trumpets); Charles Hathaway (trombone); Richard Overton, Leroy ... (alto sax); James Peters, Tom White [later replaced by Johnny Thompson] (tenor sax); King Fleming (piano); "Hog" Mason (bass); and Dan Parker (drums). This was the same size as Fleming's high school band. However, King Fleming has said that his new band grew over time to 18 pieces; he still has the arrangements.
The first Chicago Defender advertisement for the band appeared on September 5, 1942, when the band was playing Martin's Corner (1900 West Lake Street); an "indefinite" contract for Walter King Fleming was accepted and filed by Local 208 on October 1. Every week through the December 12 issue, there was a Martin's Corner ad: "dance to the music of King Fleming and His Swing Band." The September 5 ad ran "King Fleming and His Swing Band" in the same size type as the other performers on the bill. By December 12, his name was appearing in a font size four times bigger than any of the others (Oliver "Gingerale" Street, the MC; Johnny Mosely, a boogie pianist; Lilly Mae "Kerkmond," blues singer; and Jackie and Virgil, dance team). By this time, the club clearly thought he had developed into quite a draw. Also on December 12, the first Defenderstory appeared concerning a dance that Fleming's band was working for the Beau Brummells Club, an organization newly founded by McKie Fitzhugh (who would later become famous in Chicago as a DJ and proprietor of McKie's Disc Jockey Lounge). This dance, billed as a "Midnight Ramble," took place in Union Park on the West Side.
The Defenderran many ads for the King Fleming band during 1943, all for events under McKie Fitzhugh's sponsorship. On January 10, 1943, a Sunday dance took place at the Parkway Ballroom, 45th and South Parkway; it was sponsored by the Beau Brummells Club and featured King Fleming's Orchestra. On February 5, a "Coronation Ball" at the Parkway Ballroom featured Dyett's DuSableites ("King of Local Bands") and King Fleming's Band ("Runner-up") "In A Battle of Jazz-nocracy". Another staged "battle of jazz" took place at the same venue on February 21. On March 5, King Fleming's Orchestra played the "All Hi-School Nite" dance at the Parkway; a blurb in the Defender declared that "The 'King' is extremely popular with the jitterbugs of Chicago." On March 14, King Fleming was again the headliner for the Beau Brummells' regular Sunday dance. On March 27, the band handled the Saturday Spotlight Dance for the Bronzevilleites at the Parkway. On Friday April 9, the band returned for the Beau Brummells' 2nd Annual Sport Dance.
On Saturday April 10, King Fleming's Orchestra took second billing at a Beau Brummells' affair, after Jay McShann and His Decca Recording Orchestra featuring Walter Brown. For a Beau Brummells' Easter dance on April 25, and again for the Mother's Day Ball on May 9, King Fleming and Dyetts' DuSableites shared the bill. One of the ads styled the band "King Fleming's Kings of Swing." On May 15, King Fleming, the DuSableites, and George Rhodes participated in the "Saturday Nite Band Parade," and on May 18, the White City Ballroom (63rd and South Parkway) put on a "Swingsational Dance and Cabaret Party with a Parade of Bands": Count Basie, King Fleming, and Dyett's DuSableites. On Sunday May 23, the Beau Brummells sponsored King Fleming's Birthday Ball. On Saturdy June 19, the Beau Brummells crowned "Miss Hi-School Grad"; King Fleming had to be content, on this occasion, with the undercard to Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.
Over the Fourth of July weekend at the Parkway Ballroom, King Fleming's Orchestra played the Twilight Sport Dance on Monday July 5 (the Sunday dance was handled by the DuSableites and the Dukes of Swing). On July 17, the Defender ran a photo of King Fleming signing an agreement to play 3 more Sunday dances at the Parkway Ballroom; McKie Fitzhugh, president of the Beau Brummells, appears to Fleming's left.
King Fleming was about to be inducted into the Army, changing "his civies to the army khaki for the duration," as the Defender announced on July 24. On July 25, King Fleming's Orchestra played another Blackout Dance at the Parkway, and on Friday July 30, King Fleming and His Orch. played "His Very Last Engagement." However, the band continued to work the Parkway Ballroom under his name while Richard Overton (alto sax) took over the leadership. The Fleming band played dances at the Parkway on August 15, September 5, and October 3 ("Wear Your Zoot Suit"). On October 29, King Fleming's Stompers under Richard Overton's leadership went into the Rhumboogie Club (343 East Garfield) where they shared a show with Rhythm Willie, Ross & McClain, the Edwards Sisters, Lillian Fitzgerald, and Joe "Ziggy" Johnson; their contract was accepted and filed by Local 208 on October 21. According to Jay Peters, this band broke up soon afterward because so many of the musicians were drafted in the Army. As nearly all of King Fleming's musicians were replaced, Carroll Dickerson was put in as the leader by Local 208 and the aggregation evolved into the ill-fated Rhumboogie "Dream Band," which lasted until June 1944 (see our Tom Archia page for its history). Overton was out and Dickerson in as the leader by November 24, 1943.
After his discharge from the Army, King Fleming spent some time in Los Angeles (late 1945 through the fall of 1946). He got his first recording opportunities accompanying R&B singers for small labels, as well as a few "good jazz singers." Here are four sessions that we know of; there may be others.
Wynonie Harris (voc); Jimmy Moorman (tp -1); Johnnie Alston (ts); Walter "King" Fleming (p); Herman "Tiny" Mitchell (eg); Clarence Jones (b); Al "Cake" Wichard (d).
Los Angeles, December 1945
|S 1182||Playful Baby (Miller) -1||Apollo 372, Route 66 [Swe] KIX-30, Delmark DD-657 [CD], Delmark DD-683 [CD]|
|S-1183||Take Me out of the Rain (Harris) -1||Apollo 381, Route 66 [Swe] KIX-30, Delmark DD-683 [CD]|
|S 1184||Papa Tree Top (Harris)||Apollo 372, Route 66 [Swe] KIX-30, Delmark DD-683 [CD]|
|S-1185||Young and Wild (Harris) -1||Apollo 381, Delmark DD-683 [CD]|
Apollo 372 and 381 were 78-rpm singles released at the time. Route 66 KIX 30 was a Swedish LP from the 1980s. All tracks were reissued in 1996 on Delmark CD DD-683, Everybody Boogie. "Playful Baby" previously appeared on the various-artists CD Delmark DD-657, West Coast Jive. Thanks to Dave Penny and Mario Schneeberger for information about this session.
"Playful Baby" includes a solo by King Fleming. Otherwise Johnny Alston is the dominant soloist, though Moorman is heard on trumpet on "Young and Wild" and Mitchell has a guitar solo on "Take Me out of the Rain."
King Fleming recalled making this session. He told us that "Tiny" Mitchell was a good guitarist who, of course, weighed around 340 pounds.
Jack Wilson (tp); Jack Lake (cl, ts); Johnnie Alston (ts); King Fleming (p); Charles Cook (eg); Addison Farmer (b); Al "Cake" Wichard (d); Jeanne De Metz (voc); unidentified male (voc).
Los Angeles, late 1945
|MM-243-1||Everything'll Be Allright (De Metz)# [JDM, ens voc]||Modern Music 140 A, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|MM-244-1||Brooklyn Jump ("Taub")||Modern 20-824, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|MM-245-1, MM-265-1^||Ecstasy (Alston)# [Blue Nocturne (Alston)^]||Modern Music 140 B#, Modern 20-824^, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|MM-263-1||Mr. Fine (Marcel La Mayes) [JDM voc]||Modern Music 144B, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|MM-267-2||Red Light (Red Callender) [JDM, unidentified male, ens voc]||Modern Music 144A, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
Our basic information comes from Leadbitter and Slaven's Blues Records 1943 -1970 Volume 1, the 1987 edition (under Johnny Alston, Tom Lord's Jazz Discography lists only Modern 824 and gives no details on it). Modern Music 140 and 144 were singles released at the time; Modern 20-824 followed in the late 1940s.
The label for MM-267-2 gives Jeanne De Metz as the vocalist; our check of a copy of Modern Music 144 in Otto Flückiger's collection reveals an unidentified male vocalist as well. There are no vocals on Modern 20-824.
Our thanks to Dani Gugolz for catching the fact that "Blue Nocturne" and "Ecstasy" are the same performance. The Bihari brothers, who owned Modern, weren't above issuing numbers with different titles in the hope of coaxing more sales out of them. Thanks also to Gugolz for the composer credits on Modern Music 144 and Modern 20-824.
Note the pseudonym "Taub" for one of the Bihari brothers on "Brooklyn Jump"; this was a routine device at Modern for funneling composer royalties into the owners' pockets.
Blue Moon BMCD 6049, Juke Box R&B 1945-1946, was released in June 2005. The other tracks on this CD feature the complete works of Cal Lucas, Sylvester Scott and Ollie Jackson for Art Rupe's first label, Juke Box.
On "Ecstasy" (retitled later as "Blue Nocturne"), there is an intro by King Fleming and solos by Johnny Alston, Jack Wilson, Fleming, and Jack Lake (on clarinet). "Everything'll Be Allright" features a piano intro by Fleming and a 12-bar tenor sax solo (probably by Alston) plus a tenor obbligato behind Jeanne De Metz' vocals (there is also some handclapping by members of the band). "Brooklyn Jump" has solos by King Fleming, Charles Cook, and Johnny Alston. "Mr. Fine" features Alston only. "Red Light" has an intro and two solos by Fleming; there are also solos by Alston and Cook, and a drum break at the end for "Cake" Wichard.
Jack Wilson (tp); Johnny Alston (ts); unidentified (as, bars); King Fleming (p); Charles Cook (eg); Addison Farmer (b); Al "Cake" Wichard (d); Jeanne De Metz (voc -1); George Vann (voc -2); ensemble (voc -3).
Los Angeles, late 1945 or 1946
|AT-220||Weary Blues-1||Atlas 139, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|AT-221||Found a New Baby||Atlas 138, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|AT-222||Sam the Boogie Woogie Man -1, 3||Atlas 139, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
|AT-223||Careless Love -2||Atlas 138, Blue Moon BMCD 6049|
Our basic information comes from Leadbitter and Slaven 1987, although they miss the ensemble vocal on AT-222 and give its title as "Saw the Boogie Woogie Man." Atlas 138 and 139 were 78-rpm singles released at the time; the company was an LA-based forerunner to the much better known Specialty label. Existing discographies leave out the second saxophonist, who doubles on alto and baritone; King Fleming did not recall his name. The only instrumental solo on "Weary Blues" is by the altoist. "Sam" has solos by King Fleming and Johnny Alston.
Blue Moon BMCD 6049, Juke Box R&B 1945-1946, was released in June 2005. The other tracks on this CD feature the complete works of Cal Lucas, Sylvester Scott and Ollie Jackson for Art Rupe's first label, Juke Box.
King Fleming next moved over to a Swing-oriented combo led by a musician who had recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Norman Bowden (tp); George "Happy" Johnson (tb); Oliver "King" Perry (cl -1, as -2, voc -3); Walter "King" Fleming (p); Wesley Prince (b); Joe Harris (d).
Los Angeles, c. April 1946
|30716||Laughing at Life -1, 2, 3||Melodisc 1007, Classics 5081 [CD], Acrobat ADDCD 30666|
|30721||Till the Very End of My Days -1, 2, 3||Melodisc 1007, Classics 5081 [CD], Acrobat ADDCD 3066|
|30722||Voot Rock -1||Melodisc 1006, Classics 5081 [CD], Acrobat ADDCD 3066|
|30724||Mellow Reeni Riff -1||Melodisc 1005, Classics 5081 [CD], Acrobat ADDCD 3066|
|30726||Baby Baby Blues -1, 3||Melodisc 1006, Classics 5081 [CD], Acrobat ADDCD 3066|
|30728||Puttin' You Down Blues -1, 2, 3||Melodisc 1005, Classics 5081 [CD], Acrobat ADDCD 3066|
Thanks to Dave Penny for information about this session. Melodisc 1005, 1006, and 1007 were 78-rpm singles released at the time. King's name is spelled "Flemming" on the labels to Melodisc 1005 and 1006.
All of the released sides from this session were reissued in January 2004 on Classics 5081, King Perry 1945-1949. There is probably no way to trace the missing matrix numbers—Melodisc went out of business after its warehouse burned down. Classics credits Perry with playing tenor sax and clarinet on this session, but the only saxophone that can be heard is an alto (an occasional gritty passage in the bottom register—for instance, around halfway through "Voot Rock"—could mislead the listener into thinking that Perry had switched to tenor).
Acrobat ADDCD 3066 is a 2-CD set, issued in Britain in 2010 under the title Melodisc Records of Hollywood 1945-46.
King Perry was basically a Swing musician, as can discerned from "Laughing at Life," which features his alto sax and clarinet solos along with a Swing vocal. The sentimental ballad "Till the End of My Days" allows Perry to do his Hodges thing on the alto sax; he croons the vocal rather drearily. "Rock" and "Riff" are jump-band instrumentals; "Riff" in particular is reminiscent of some of Hodges' small band sides. "Baby Baby Blues" is well played but partly undermined by the inane lyrics that Perry sings. On "Puttin' You Down," the lyrics are much improved, and the leader does a passable Louis Jordan impression. King Fleming is prominent on all six sides, and gets brief solos on "Mellow Reeni Riff" and "Baby Baby Blues."
Oliver "King" Perry was originally from the Chicago area, where he had no doubt met Fleming before he was drafted. Perry was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1920. His first instrument was the violin; he later learned how to play trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. He took up the alto sax in the mid-1930s, under the dual inspirations of hearing Johnny Hodges and joining a band, the Steel City Melodians, that needed a saxophonist. After studying piano and arranging at Storr College in West Virginia, he returned to Chicago to lead his own combo. According to Detroit newspaper articles cited by Jim Gallert, King Perry and his band were brought from Chicago to open Club Congo in Detroit on July 5, 1941.
The King Perry group was on the Chicago scene in 1943 and 1944. On June 17, 1943 he posted a contract with Local 208 for 2 weeks with options at the Barrel of Fun. In April 1944, he surfaced at the 1111 Club (2 week contract, with options, posted on April 6). On July 6, 1944, his contract for 19 days at the Band Box (a Loop nightclub that featured jazz) was accepted and filed by Local 208; he must have gone over well with the patrons there, because on August 3 he posted another "indefinite" contract. Then in early September Perry moved to Cafe de Society for 2 weeks (contract accepted and filed September 7). Perry and his quintet then took a long engagement accompanying the Ice Capades.
In 1945, they joined a package tour that took them (along with Dorothy Donegan, Scatman Crothers, and the King Cole Trio) to Los Angeles, where they were stranded. Perry's band quickly established itself in Southern California, first recording for Melodisc in July 1945; the session that Fleming participated in was the band's second for the label. After Fleming moved back to Chicago, Perry continued to record for such companies as Excelsior, DeLuxe, Specialty, Dot, and RPM. But recording opportunities dried up after 1954, and in the late 1950s, Perry left music to became a real estate agent. He also operated a record company called Octive. After retiring from real estate sales in the early 1980s, King Perry returned to playing part-time around Bakersfield, California.
King Fleming seems to have returned to Chicago in November 1946. A note in Otto Flückiger's files, source unknown, gives the personnel of King Fleming's Four in Chicago, November 1946 through August 1947, as King Fleming (piano), Jay Peters (tenor sax), "Hog" Mason (bass), and Tommy Hill (drums).
On January 16, 1947, King Fleming had his "indefinite" contract with the Macomba Lounge accepted and filed with Musicians Union Local 208. This particular gig seems to have lasted about a month; the Fleming combo was replaced by Tom Archia's trio. The Chicago Defender for February 15, 1947 included an ad for Frank's New Caravan Club (at 218 West Oak). King Fleming and His Trio were featured at a big black and tan show presented at this near North Side club. The show was called "Variety in Jazz"; it also featured Dallas Bartley (headliner), Dovie Williams (blues singer), another singer, and two dance acts. Down Beat for June 18, 1947 mentions King Fleming's Four with Jay Peters on tenor sax. On July 3, 1947, King Fleming's "indefinite" contract with the Oasis Club was accepted and filed by Musicians Union Local 208.
On August 7, 1947, Fleming posted an "indefinite" contract with the Ritz Lounge. On December 4, 1947, Fleming posted a contract for 2 weeks plus an option at Club Playtime.
On February 19, 1948, King Fleming posted a 1-week contract with the Tailspin Lounge. He was either out of town or working for another leader for several months. On September 16, 1948, he resurfaced with an indefinite contract at the Red Moon Lounge. During 1949, King Fleming was on the road most of the time, as he is absent from the Local 208 contract lists. He reappeared on the South Side scene in December 1949.
He was the sole performer at the 1949 Christmas Eve Ball sponsored by the Rib Joint, which took place at the Union Temple (Washington Boulevard and Union Avenue)—see the Defender for December 17, 1949. Just a little earlier, Fleming went into Jimmy's Palm Garden, in a group led by Dallas Bartley (Bartley signed a contract for 6 weeks, with an option for 6 months; it posted on December 15, 1949). We learn from the March 24, 1950 issue of Down Beat who was in the Dallas Bartley Quartet, still at Jimmy's Palm Garden in Chicago on that 6-month contract: Dallas Bartley (bass), Johnny Thompson (tenor sax), King Fleming (piano), and Oliver Coleman (drums). Fleming and Coleman stayed on the gig for several more months; Dallas Bartley was fired from the job in late May 1950, after failing to show up for work on three occasions. (The action was upheld by the Musicians Union Local 208 Board on June 1, 1950.) King Fleming also appeared as a session pianist with the Dozier Boys in their recording session for Chess in the summer of 1950.
unidentified (tp -1); Harlan "Booby" Floyd (tb -1); unidentified (ts -1); King Fleming (p); Bill Minor (lead tenor, d); Eugene Teague (tenor voc, eg); Cornell Wiley (lead tenor/baritone voc, b); Benny Cotton (bass voc, tipple).
United Broadcasting Studios, Chicago, c. August 1950
|UB50-817||You Got to Get It (Dave Smith) -1 [Listen to You Got to Get It]||Chess 1436, MCA 380-596 [CD]|
|UB50-818||Pretty Eyes||Chess 1436|
Matrix numbers, titles, and original release from Lord. Cornell Wiley and Benny Cotton identified the session pianist and trombonist (see the Dozier Boys page for the history of this vocal group. The session trumpeter and tenor saxophonist took no solos and remain unidentified.
Chess 1436 was a single released in September 1950. It was the first vocal group record to be issued on the new label, and is a very rare item on the collectors' market today. "You Got to Get It" was reissued for the first time in 1999 on Chess MCA 380-596, a 15-CD extravaganza titled The Chess Story 1947-1975. Bill Minor sings the lead on "Pretty Eyes"; he and Benny Cotton alternate on "You Got to Get It." King Fleming knew the uncle of one of the Dozier Boys.
The Defender on October 28, 1950 ran a photo of Oliver Coleman's Palmaires at Jimmy's Palm Garden, 804 Oakwood Boulevard. The group by this point consisted of Nelson Berry (tenor saxophone), King Fleming (piano), Sylvester Hickman (bass), and Oliver Coleman (drums). According to the blurb, the Palmaires had been "pulling them into" the club since May, when Coleman took over from Dallas Bartley (Coleman was identified as the leader on a new contract for 6 months, which posted on July 6). The Coleman group was indeed pulling them in; on January 18, 1951, Coleman's contract for 3 more months at the Palm Garden was accepted and filed by Local 208. We will assume that King Fleming remained in Coleman's combo after it left Jimmy's Palm Garden; Fleming does not show up as a leader on the Local 208 contract lists for the next several months. In late April, Coleman took up at the 6312 Tavern (contract for 3 weeks with option accepted and filed on May 3; an indefinite contract followed on June 7). Around the end of June, the Coleman combo took a gig at the Hi Hat Club (indefinite contract posted on July 5).
On November 1, 1951 King Fleming was definitely back out on his own: he posted an indefinite contract with the Cotton Club (while his erstwhile employer took a job at the Cork Club). Fleming and the Cotton Club followed up with another contract on November 15.
King Fleming told us that between 1952 and 1955, he spent more time in Los Angeles. He was still in Chicago in the Spring of 1952, signing a 7-week contract with the 125 Club (accepted and filed March 20, 1952). In May Fleming posted contracts with the 125 Club (for an indefinite period) and the Brass Rail (also indefinite; both were accepted and filed on May 15). But we are not sure how much longer he remained in town; he does not show up again on the Local 208 contract lists for the rest of the year.
King Fleming was also recorded live at the Pershing Lounge in April.
King Fleming (p); Russell Williams (b); George "Stardust" Green (d); Ethel Duncan (voc); others unidentified.
Pershing Lounge, Chicago, April 30, 1952
|unidentified titles||private recording|
According to Art Zimmerman, Dr. Jerome Love, a physician in Chicago, recorded many hours of live jazz in Chicago from 1952 to 1959. Love used a dummy head with microphones mounted at the "ears" to make binaural recordings. Each reel of tape in the Love archives holds up to thirty minutes of music. There are two tapes from this gig, with up to 1 hour of music. Personnel, location, and date as noted in the Love archives.
George "Stardust" Green was born in Chicago on September 6, 1923, growing up on the West Side. He served in the Army in World War Ii, returning to Chicago in 1943 to perform in clubs. He divided his career between serving as a drummer in jazz combos and fronting bands as a standup nightclub singer. By the early 1950s, he was known as "Stardust," most likely because he often sang that standard in the clubs. He would next move to Jimmy Binkley's trio, recording in February 1953 for Chance and singing two blues on the date. The Love archives don't credit Green with any vocals, however.
Both Green and Ethel Duncan would work with Fleming again.
King Fleming seems to have returned from Los Angeles in the Fall of 1953. He reappears on the Local 208 contract list on November 19, 1953, when his contract for 2 weeks with options at the new Club Relax was accepted and filed. In December he moved to Club Bagdad (contract posted on December 17). Early in the next year, King Fleming finally got to make a session under his own name, in Chicago for Blue Lake.
King Fleming (p, voc); John Neely (ts); Russell Williams (b, voc); Aubrie Jones (d, voc); Lorez Alexandria (voc).
unidentified location, Chicago, c. March 1954
|BL-54107||William's Blues (Williams)||Blue Lake 104, Empire Musicwerks CD-N1|
|BL-54108||One O'Clock Jump (Basie)||Blue Lake 104, Empire Musicwerks CD-N1|
Tom Lord's Jazz Discography gives matrix numbers (those shown on the label) and release information. But he provides no personnel besides Fleming, who is playing a funky old upright. The session was definitely not made at Universal Recording; we wonder, in fact, whether it was recorded by Fleming himself, in an empty club or theater, and released as submitted by Al Benson. We got the rest of the personnel from King Fleming.
"William's Blues" (as it is rendered on the label) was written by Russell Williams. Blue Lake 104 was a 78 and 45 rpm single, released in Spring 1954. For more on Parrot and Blue Lake, see our Parrot discography; the recent rediscovery of a list of Parrot and Blue Lake master tapes in the hands of Chess Records (as of 1958 or 1959) allows us to get more precise about the recording date. In December 2002, both sides were reissued, for the first time ever, on Empire Musicwerks CD-N1, a collection of Parrot/Blue Lake jazz sides titled Jukebox Jazz! From the Southside of Chicago.
The vocalists are into bebop. Fleming did not recall the names of the three men, but said they were assembled for the studio date. (As it sounds to us, King Fleming, Russell Williams, and Aubrie Jones were the male vocalists—Fleming, many years later, was still adverse to publicizing his own vocal efforts). Lorez Alexandria sings the lead on "William's Blues" and one of the men has the lead on "One O'Clock." The excellent tenor saxophonist, John Neely, has a light sound in the Lestorian mode, almost like Brew Moore.
Since we haven't devoted a separate page to John Neely, we'll say a little more about him here. Neely was born in Chicago on January 29, 1930. After leaving King Fleming's group, he gigged with various leaders in Chicago. In the late 1950s, he worked with Bronzeville's top society band, which was led by Morris Ellis. A photo in the Defender showed Ellis and Neely at a formal dance.
In 1960, John Neely made at least one side in Chicago for the Formal label, under the leadership of pianist Earl Washington: other band members were Johnny Avant (trombone), Herbert Brown (bass), and Walter Perkins (drums). He also appeared on a Billy Emerson session that was recorded for Vee-Jay on March 24, 1960, but ended up being released on Mad and later on Emerson's own Tarpon label.
Later that same year, Neely joined the Lionel Hampton band. Down Beat (February 2, 1961) claimed that "John Neely, 30 year old Chicagoan, is being hailed by his fellows as 'one of the baddest acts in the country and the next BIG man on tenor.'" At the time, Neely's functions in Hamp's aggregation were tenor soloist—occasionally tenor duelist (with Andy McGhee)—and arranger, in a style that was quite "modern" for that band. According to the late Otto Flückiger, he is on Hamp at the Metropole and other recordings from 1960-1961, though it is not known at present whether any solos are preserved. Neely can also be seen and heard with the Hampton Orchestra in the film America di Notte, which was made in Italy in 1960 or 1961.
We have very few data points from Neely's career after he retuned home from the Hampton tour. We happen to know of one gig from 1975, because George Lewis mentioned it in a footnote to his massive volume on the AACM, A Power Stronger than Itself. Lewis describes a concert that Neely produced on the near North Side, featuring "sprightly bebop-based music." On the occasion, Neely was working with Billy Brimfield (trumpet), George Lewis (trombone), a pianist Lewis couldn't remember, Thomas "Tiaz" Palmer (bass), and Steve McCall (drums). At a gig featuring three members of the AACM, it was no great shock that Richard Abrams dropped by during intermission—but then, "as we were all talking, Sun Ra came in, dressed as those who were familiar with him might expect" (p. 553 n. 147). By the late 1980s Neely must have been seriously ill or disabled, because the March 9, 1988 Chicago Tribune noted a benefit concert for him at Andy's (11 East Hubbard Street); participants included Von Freeman, Eddie Johnson, guitarist George Freeman, pianist John Young, and others. John Neely died on October 8, 1994 in Richton Park, Illinois. (Our thanks to Eric LeBlanc for finding John Neely's dates.)
King Fleming next surfaces at the Pershing Lounge; he signed an indefinite contract that Local 208 accepted and filed on March 18, 1954. On May 2, he opened at Harry's Show Lounge (the contract was posted on April 15). A private recording has been discovered; it appears to come from the Pershing.
King Fleming (p); others unidentified.
Live recording, probably Pershing Lounge, Chicago, April 30, 1954
|unidentified titles||private recording|
Another binaural recording from the Love archives. This one consists of a single reel of tape—no more than 30 minutes of music. The Love archives do not specify the location, but Fleming was yet to open at Harry's when the tape was made.
King Fleming's first engagement at Harry's was greeted with a blurb in the Defender:
To give the patrons something new and something different at all times Harry's Show Lounge 432 E. 63rd st will present one of the greatest entertaining bands ever to appear in a nite spot, King Fleming and his band Four Men and a Girl who are really tops. They open Monday May 2 for a limited engagement before starting on a nation wide theatre tour. (King Fleming's Band for Harry's Hot Spot, May 1, 1954, p. 14)
The Four Men and a Girl lineup was presumably the same one that we hear on the Blue Lake session: John Neely (tenor sax), Russell Williams (bass), Aubrie Jones (drums), and Lorez Alexandria (vocals).
King Fleming filed another contract with Harry's on July 15, 1954. Around the end of the month, he moved to the Strand Lounge (contract for 3 weeks filed on August 5). He moved his group to the Brown Derby, then took a 2-month engagement at the Normand Lounge (both contracts posted October 7, 1954).
Early in 1955 King Fleming went to work at the Kitty Kat Club. The King Fleming Four was first advertised there on January 29, replacing a combo led by Tommy Mason. The group was held over for months at the Kitty Kat; the Chicago Defender of July 16, 1955 still had the King Fleming Four working Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights at the club. This put Fleming in pretty good company; Robert "Prince" Cooper's trio had preceded Fleming at the venue, and Ahmad Jamal and John Young's trios would hold sway after he left. Vernel Fournier, who worked with Fleming on Lorez Alexandria's King albums (see below) said that the singer regularly appeared with Fleming at the club.
The Kitty Kat, which opened in early 1953 at 611 East 63rd, was a favorite venue for Sonny Stitt and other more art-oriented jazz musicians. It was not a big place; quartets were the largest combos we have heard were booked. According to drummer Charles Walton, quoted in Robert Pruter's book Doowop: The Chicago Scene, "The Kitty Kat was a gay bar; it was predominately gays there. But everyone went there. When it was prominent, some scenes from Raisin in the Sun were filmed there." McKie Fitzhugh, Fleming's sponsor back in the days of the Beau Brummells Club and now a prominent DJ, broadcast live from the Kitty Kat for a time.
On July 7, Fleming posted another indefinite contract with Harry's Show Lounge; by August 13, Ahmad Jamal had replaced him at the Kitty Kat. But this would be his last stand at Harry's. On October 6, 1955, he posted an indefinite contract with the Down Beat Room (he remained there until mid-December, when Claude Jones took over). At the Down Beat, Fleming usually worked with singer Ethel Duncan; meanwhile, Lorez Alexandria resurfaced at the Kitty Kat with John Young's trio.
During his run at the Down Beat Fleming was able to pick up another recording opportunity, this time for Chess. In this case, we have been able to locate King Fleming's actual demo disk, so we know Leonard Chess paid to rerecord the numbers in the studio.
King Fleming (p, voc); Ethel Duncan (voc); unidentified (ts on -1); Russell Williams (b, voc); Aubrie Jones (d, voc).
unidentified location, Chicago, 1955
|You're Gone (Fleming) -1||unissued demo|
|Please Come Back (Fleming)||—|
Apparently one of the record companies that King Fleming was trying to interest in his group was Club 51, because an Audiodisc lacquer, with penciled indications on one side ("You've [sic] Gone" and "King Fleming Combo"), ended up in the possession of Jimmie Davis. The balance on the sides is a little rugged, vocals dominate, drums are recessed, and "You're Gone" ends with a cut-off bit of chatter, but the sonics are better than we would expect from Davis's back room studio.
"You're Gone" (a phrase repeated several times in the song, so we know it's the correct title) is a droopy ballad on which a female singer who is not Lorez Alexandria and King Fleming alternate leads. "Please Come Back" has a bouncy vocal bass line and a lead by the same female vocalist, who we are reasonably sure is Ethel Duncan.
It's hard to replace members in a vocal/instrumental group, as the Dozier Boys could attest, so we'll assume, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, Russell Williams and Aubrie Jones continued to contribute to Fleming's vocal group records. The tenor saxophonist appears only on "You're Gone."
The Strollers (vocal group) -1; Ethel Duncan (voc *) and unidentififed (female voc *); King Fleming (p, voc on *); Cliff Davis (ts); unidentified (bars -1); unidentified (eg -1); Russell Williams (b, voc on *); prob. Vernel Fournier (d).
Universal Recording, Chicago, c. October 1955
|7923||False Love [voc S] -1||Power Vine CD 7093|
|7924||Baby Sweets [voc S] -2||Power Vine CD 7093|
|U7925||You're Gone (Fleming)*||unissued|
|U7926||Please Come Back* (Fleming)||Chess 1633|
Lord lists this session (7925 and 7926 only) but gives an incorrect date. The approximate date was estimated by interpolation in Michel Ruppli's Chess Discography. We added the tracks by The Strollers because they immediately precede the two known Fleming tracks, The Strollers (whose personnel remains unidentified) needed accompaniment, and King Fleming was used to accompanying group vocals.
The label to "Please Come Back" notes the presence of a vocal group. "Please Come Back" (to Me) is an R&B number; the singers are two women and two men in a tightly arranged ensemble. The tenor saxophonist is highly prominent throughout, and there is no baritone sax. We haven't heard "You're Gone," which we hope is still extant, but from the evidence of the demo we are quite sure that the same vocal forces were involved.
Chess 1633 was a 78 and 45-rpm single released in 1956. It is quite rare but a copy has turned up in the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth. Meanwhile, the sides by The Strollers were never issued on Chess at all. Power Vine CD 7093, More Windy City Harmonizers: Unreleased & Rare Chicago R&B Vocal Groups-The Second Round is a bootleg CD, purportedly from Indonesia, and released in 1999. It consists of material by the more obscure doo-wop groups who recorded for Chess, most of it previously unreleased.
We have identified Cliff Davis (note the solo on "Baby Sweets") and Vernel Fournier by ear from 7923 and 7924. The drummer on 7926 also sounds like Fournier; the tenor saxophonist is less rough in tone, but we'll assume it was Cliff Davis in more of a jazz mode.
The next two matrix numbers in the Chess series are by the doowop group The Five Notes: 7927, "Park Your Love" and 7928, "Show Me the Way." The Five Notes sides were released on Chess 1614. The musicians on the Five Notes session have not been identified, but appear to be a different group.
King Fleming posted another contract with the Kitty Kat Club on February 2, 1956. Around the end of April he took a gig at the Sutherland Hotel Lounge (the contract was posted on May 3, and he was identified as Walter "King" Fleming). At the Sutherland, he led a quartet featuring singer Ethel Duncan.
We previously thought that King Fleming appeared on a session for Vee-Jay (matrix numbers 56-458 through 56-461, mid-May 1956) with Sonny Til and the Orioles. A photo of the session in the Scotty Piper collection includes a pianist who looks somewhat like King Fleming. However, Albert "Diz" Russell, who sang baritone for the Orioles, had seen the photo and identified the pianist as Paul Griffin, who worked and toured with the group. Our thanks to Marv Goldberg for checking this point and correcting our error. See the Al Smith page for details concerning this session.
Fleming was invited back by the Chess brothers during this period. The next session looks intriguing, as it features King Fleming compositions and (on the one track that was released) great tenor sax work by John Neely. But apparently the Chess brothers couldn't see a market for this kind of material on singles.
King Fleming (voc on -1, p); vocal group: Lorez Alexandria (lead voc); 3 unidentified males -1; John Neely (ts); Russell Williams (voc on -1, b); Aubrie Jones (voc on -1, d).
Universal Recording, Chicago, c. July 1956
|U8180||Story of a Starry Night||unissued|
|U8181||One Stop Below||unissued|
|U8182||Stompin at the Savoy (Sampson-Goodman-Webb) -1||Chess 1633|
The session is mentioned in Lord but he is way off on the date, which he gives as March 1954 (!). Ours is based on interpolation in Michel Ruppli's Chess Discography; the session immediately preceding this one in the U7000 series was cut by Howlin' Wolf on July 19, 1956. Lord also truncates the title of U8182 to "Savoy." Chess 1633 was a 78 and 45-rpm single released in 1956. By all accounts, it is very rare, but we are fortunate to be able to rely on a copy in Dr. Robert Stallworth's collection.
A listen to "Stompin" indicates a jazz number performed in a similar spirit to "One O'Clock Jump" from the Blue Lake session; King Fleming even does his Count Basie impression at the keyboard. Since the lead work sounds like Lorez Alexandria's, and she was not yet signed to a label, we have no doubt that she participated in this session. The prominent tenor sax part, which amounts to a solo line all the way through the piece, can be securely added to John Neely's limited representation on disk. The well-recorded bassist, and the drummer, who stays with brushes throughout, sound like Fleming's regulars from 1954, Russell Williams and Aubrie Jones.
We of course have no way to know whether the other tracks featured group vocals, but we suspect they did.
King Fleming's association with pianist, composer, and arranger Muhal Richard Abrams dates from this period. Born in Chicago on September 19, 1930, Richard Abrams was the second of nine children. He attended Forrestville school, then was sent for a time to Moseley, a reform school near 16th Street and Michigan Avenue. At DuSable High School, he knew many of the musicians who took Capt. Walter Dyett's band classes, but was more interested in sports at the time. Then, in 1946, Abrams dropped out of DuSable, first taking private piano lessons and then enrolling at the Metropolitan School of Music while working a day job at a printing company. Gaining experience on a wide variety of gigs, from stage shows to church socials, Abrams left the Metropolitan School, after the keybard harmony instructor asked him to show "a friend" the changes to "April in Paris." By the mid-1950s, he was a regular participant in the jam sessions held at the Cotton Club. (See George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 5, 6, 8, 11-13, 14, 17-18).
Abrams first shows up on the Local 208 contract list on April 21, 1955, when his indefinite contract with El Mambo Lounge was accepted and filed. That same year, Abrams recalled, he was introduced to Fleming by Will Jackson, a trumpet player and composer who had played with Jimmy Lunceford; Jackson had been giving Abrams informal lessons in arranging. Abrams told George Lewis that at this time he still had a lot of learning ahead of him. With King Fleming's big band, "Every so often they would let me sit in at the piano, until I would make a mistake and they would tell me to get up. But they would put me back down there until I was ready to do it" (A Power Stronger than Itself, p. 58; Lewis interviewed Abrams on multiple occasions.).
Note the joint composition on Fleming's next session for Chess (which, unfortunately, remains unissued and barely documented).
In October 1956, King Fleming landed a week at the Brass Rail in the Loop (contract posted on October 4, 1956). Late the same month, he picked up more work at the Sutherland (indefinite contract accepted and filed on November 1).
King Fleming (p); others unidentified.
Universal Recording, Chicago, c. January 1957
|8423||Don't Worry about Me||unissued|
|8425||The Big Lie||unissued|
|8426||Great Life (Fleming-Abrams)||unissued|
Our information comes from Lord, who does not venture an opinion as to studio or date. Since 8393 was "Got My Mojo Workin'," by Muddy Waters, recorded December 1, 1956, the recording date has to be after that. Chess Studios opened in the summer of 1957. In light of the vocal group presence on the previous session, we wonder whether vocalists might have been included on this one as well.
"Great Life" was part of a significant collaboration between King Fleming and Chicago-born pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams.
Abrams was keeping a low profile at the time, taking no gigs as a leader that we have been able to trace. His first studio recording would be Argo LP 621, titled simply MJT+3. This was the first and most obscure LP by the jazz quintet anchored by the Modern Jazz Two, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Walter Perkins; the group was originally assembled by jazz DJ Daddy-O Daylie. On the LP, recorded in August 1957 before the MJT+3 had taken any club gigs, Paul Serrano played trumpet, Nicky Hill played tenor sax, and Richard Abrams played piano, also contributing several compositions. Still, "Great Life" showed up on this LP as "No Name," credited to Abrams only (Lewis, p. 58, p. 539 n. 13.)
When the band started an engagement at the Blue Note in the Loop, on September 4, 1957, George Coleman had replaced Nicky Hill (Chicago Defender, September 14, 1957, p. 18; a photo of this group can be seen in A Power Stronger than Itself, where it is on the first of the unnumbered pages after p. 216). Abrams seems to have left the MJT+3 in 1958; he is not on any of the group's later recordings.
An article in the Chicago Reader (April 9, 1999, Section 3, p. 1) declares that out of all of his experiences as a working musician in Chicago, "More than anything, [Abrams'] experiences with pianist King Fleming's orchestra, to which he contributed some of his first professional arrangements, presaged the work he would do with his early 60s workshop group, the Experimental Band, and later with the AACM."
Lorez Alexandria (voc); Ronald Wilson (ob -1, fl); King Fleming (p, arr); Wilbur Wynne (eg); Russell Williams (b); Vernel Fournier (d); Aubrie Jones (bgo -2); unidentified vocal group -3.
Chicago, February 25, 1957
|F547||Penthouse Serenade (Jason-Burton)||King LP 542|
|F548||And There You Are (Alexandria-Fleming)||King LP 542|
|F549||Thou Swell (Rodgers-Hart) [RW out]||King LP 542|
|F550||Snow Storm (Fleming)||King LP 542|
|F551||I'm Glad There Is You (Madeira-Dorsey) -1, 3||King LP 542|
|F552||I Thought about You (Mercer-Van Heusen)||King LP 542|
Our session information comes from Lord (which in turn relied on Michel Ruppli's discography of the King label). The LP title can be found in Neal Umphred's Goldmine's Price Guide to Collectible Jazz Albums, 1949-1969 (2nd ed., 1994). Umphred says that the LP was released in 1958. The label credits the LP to "Lorez Alexandria and King Fleming."
The liner notes to This Is Lorez indulge in the usual show-biz practice of shaving some years off Lorez Alexandria's age, giving a birth date of August 14, 1930 instead of the honest-to-goodness 1925. Otherwise they credit her with 8 years in church choirs and a cappella groups and an appearance at Blair House for President Harry Truman.
Chicago, March 5, 1957
|F553||You Stepped out of a Dream (Brown-Kahn) -3||King LP 542|
|F554||The Sky Is Crying (Carter-Herrick)||King LP 542|
|F555||You Made Me Feel So Young (Myrow-Gordon) [RW out]||King LP 542|
|F556||I'm Making Believe (Gordon-Monaco)||King LP 542|
|F557||Baltimore Oriole (Carmichael-Webster) -2||King LP 542|
|F558||Necessity (Lane-Harburg) [RW out]||King LP 542|
The notes to King LP542 mention "two of Chicago's top young photographers, Torrell Mason and Tom Tatum," who did a series of action shots from the session. Except for the cover photo of Lorez Alexandria (not in the best condition on our copy) the only published trace of this activity is the three indifferently reproduced photos of the musicians that appeared on the back of the original release. Do any of the original session photos survive?
Our session info on this LP comes from Ruppli via Lord. There may be a 1980s reissue of King 542 on the Sing label; to be researched. There is still no reissue of this meticulously programmed LP on CD—definitely an omission.
On April 18, 1957 King Fleming posted a 4-week contract with the Sutherland Lounge. As "Walter" Fleming, he posted a contract with the Bar o' Music on June 6 (it ran for 2 weeks with options). In August he was back at the Sutherland (contract for "one week only" accepted and filed on August 15). On September 5, he posted a new indefinite contract with the Kitty Kat Lounge, as it was referred to on that occasion.
Lorez Alexandria (voc); Paul Serrano (tp); Cy Touff (btp); Charles Stepney (vib); King Fleming (p, arr); Eldee Young (b); Vernel Fournier (d).
Chicago, November 6, 1957
|F585||There Will Never Be Another You (Dubin-Warren)||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F586||Easy Living||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F587||D. B. Blues (Young)||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F588-1||Polka Dots and Moonbeams (Burke-Van Heusen) [PS and CT out]||King LP 565, Federal 12313, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
The LP is said to have been taped at a club; if it was done where King Fleming was working, that was of course the Kitty Kat. But when applause is heard it is rather light, the tell-tale sound of a few invitees to the recording studio.
Our basic information comes from Lord (derived ultimately from Ruppli); both leave out the 45-rpm single on Federal 12313. Neal Umphred says that the LP was released in 1958. Thanks to Ken Ellzey for a dub of the LP, and a Xerox of the back liner. Although discographies list F589, "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid," with this session, Lorez Alexandria mentions Earl May on bass while singing on that piece, so it has been moved to the next session. Thanks to Dennis Whitling for pointing out the discrepancy.
Same personnel, except Earl May (b) replaces Eldee Young. Unidentified male (announcement -1).
Chicago, November 13, 1957
|F589||Jumpin' with Symphony Sid (Young)||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F590||You're Driving Me Crazy||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F591||Fooling Myself||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F592-1||This Year's Kisses (Berlin) [PS and CT out]||King LP 565, Federal 12313, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F593||Fine and Dandy -1||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
|F594||No Eyes Blues (Young)||King LP 565, Sing LP 565, King KCD-565|
The basic information is from Lord. Lord, however, omits the 45-rpm release on Federal 12313, which was obviously coordinated with King LP 565 (the label copy on the 45 mentions that it is taken from the LP). Both F588 and F592 carry the suffix -1 in the trail-off vinyl to the single. Federal 12313 identifies the artists as "Lorez Alexandria with King Fleming Sextet."
The liners to King LP 565 and King KCD-565 incorrectly switch "No Eyes Blues" with "There Will Never Be Another You." "No Eyes Blues" is listed as the second tune on Side B when actually it's the fourth. And "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid" appears to come from this session instead of the preceding one.
Sing LP 565 was a straight reissue of King LP 565; it was released in 1988. The Sing label was a subsidiary of Official. King KCD-565 was released in 1987 and remains in print; it was part of a bare-bones CD reissue series. The front cover is reproduced in the CD leaflet, but the LP liner notes were left out.
On February 20, 1958, King Fleming posted another indefinite contract with the Kitty Kat. On March 6, he posted an indefinite contract with the Thunderbird Lounge (the engagements may have run concurrently, as we doubt that either was for the Local 208 mandated maximum of 5 days a week). Fleming was replaced at the Kitty Kat by Andrew Hill, who posted a contract on September 18. In fact, on October 2, Local 208 posted Fleming's indefinite contract with the Boston Nocturne Club. But he was soon back in residence at the Kitty Kat, filing another indefinite contract on November 20, 1958. This residency at the Kitty Kat Club probably ended in June 1959; the last Defender ad to mention him there appeared in May, and on July 2 he posted a contract with Local 208 for 3 weeks at the Lake Meadows Lounge.
From the end of July 1959 through May 1960, Fleming drops off the Local 208 list; he was either on the road or working non-Union venues (which were becoming more common by this time). King Fleming spent some time in New York City during this period, and said that he made some recordings there behind singers (we have not traced these yet).
Meanwhile, Lorez Alexandria made more LPs for King in Chicago, recording with strings in 1959 and 1960, but King Fleming was not involved in these efforts.
On May 19, 1960, the King Fleming Trio posted an indefinite contract with the Dondi Theater Lounge. On October 6, his contract for one month at Swing City was accepted and filed; it came with an option for another two weeks. The Chess brothers signed Fleming and recorded his trio during the waning days of the Dondi enagagement or the beginning of his gig at Swing City.
King Fleming (p); Rail Wilson (b); Royce Rowan (d); Aubrie Jones (cga -1).
Chess Studios, Chicago, Fall 1960
|Overt (Fleming)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Should I? -1 (Brown-Freed)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Teach Me Tonight (DePaul)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Oooo, Those Blues (Fleming)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Misty Night (Fleming)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|When Your Lover Has Gone (Swan)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Walk Softly -1 (Fleming)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Moonlight in Vermont (Suessdorf-Blackburn-Goldsen)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Loveliness of You -1 (Fleming)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
|Imported Blues (Fleming)||Argo LP 4004, MCA [J] 733812|
Basic information from Lord; however, Lord leaves out "Overt" and lists "Misty Night" as the first track. And he renders another title as "Ooo Those Blues." The LP was released in 1961. Composer credits are taken from a copy in Armin Büttner's collection. There is a Japan-only reissue on CD, MCA 733812; this was released in 1999.
King Fleming may have exited Swing City around the end of October; in any event, Jump Jackson's group was brought in then, posting a 2-week contract on November 3, 1960. After a long absence from the Kitty Cat Club, King Fleming returned to his old home base around New Year's Day 1961; he posted a contract for 8 weeks on January 5. Toward the end of February, he moved to Danny's Hideaway for a long stay (contract for 3 months accepted and filed on February 16; an extension for another 8 weeks posted on April 20). Perhaps after some time on the road, he returned to the Kitty Kat once again (indefinite contract filed October 19, 1961). On March 15, 1962 Fleming posted an indefinite contract with the Prime Steak House, while Dave Green posted a contract for a week at the Kitty Kat. Fleming's next LP was recorded around the time that he started his new gig.
King Fleming (p); Malachi Favors (b); Royce Rowan (d); Charles Stepney (vib -1); three or four unidentified males (voc, African perc -2).
Chess Studios, Chicago, March 2 and 9, 1962
|Time Out (Fleming) -1||Argo LP4019|
|On Green Dolphin Street (Washington-Kaper)||Argo LP4019|
|I Didn't Know What Time It Was (Rodgers-Hart)||Argo LP4019|
|Stand By Part 1 (Fleming)||Argo LP4019|
|Then I'll Be Tired of You (Harburg-Schwartz)||Argo LP4019|
|Junction City Blues (Fleming)||Argo LP4019|
|Stand By Part 2 (Fleming) -2||Argo LP4019|
|U-11124||Lonely One (Fleming)||Argo LP4019, Argo 5410|
|Song of Paradise (Fleming) -1||Argo LP4019|
|Gipsy in My Soul (Clay-Moe)||Argo LP4019|
|U-11125||Between the Toes (Fleming)||Argo LP4019, Argo 5410|
Our basic information is from Lord, who mentions only the LP release. Argo LP4019 was released in 1962; Argo 5410, a 45-rpm single, presumably came out around the same time. Charles Stepney, who plays vibes on two tracks, was identified by King Fleming. Three or four male voices can be heard chanting African style on Part 2 of "Stand By." King Fleming shouts "Between the Toes!" on the last item.
Stand By is a meticulously programmed LP that includes jazz arrangements of standards, blues, New Orleans R&B, and even (in "Stand By Part 2"), elements of West African music. Muhal Richard Abrams told Gene Santoro, "Look at all the different themes [Fleming] used on Stand By. In Chicago, most musicians were like that. That's why you could have an AACM and a Sun Ra come out of there" (from Santoro's book Dancing in Your Head). In fact, Malachi Favors (1927 - 2004) was the bassist in Fleming's trio at the time, and this LP is one of the last recordings he participated in before he became a mainstay of the AACM.
In late 1962 or early 1963, a King Fleming group accompanied George Green on a session for the highly obscure Mac-An label, which was owned by one Peter P. Macon Jr. So far as we know, Mac-An was responsible for just one 45-rpm single, but released it twice, with different labels, label copy, and release numbers.
Green already knew Fleming well, having worked in his trio in 1952 and 1955 He had also performed with society bandleader Moris Ellis and with Eldee Young and Redd Holt before Ramsey Lewis joined them.
George Green (voc); acc. by King Fleming (p, arr, ldr); unidentified (ts); unidentified (eg); unidentified (eb); unidentified (d); unidentified (bg voc).
Chicago, late 1962 or early 1963
|Holdin' On (Green)||Mac-An 1001 A, Mac-An 1002-A*|
|Blowin' in the Wind [Blowing in the Wind*] (Dylan)||Mac-An 1001 B, Mac-An 1002-B*|
This is an R&B session. It is not heavily produced by the standards of its day, but it does have backing vocalists. Rockin' tenor sax and electric guitar dominate the proceedings. "Holdin' On" is a proto-soul number with the period tag made infamous by "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To." "Blowin' in the Wind," though this is hard to believe in 2014, was new and fresh at the time. Bob Dylan had introduced it in May 1962, publishing the tune in June of that year, and probably recording it for Columbia in July. The album on which the song appeared wasn't completed until early 1963 and released in the middle of that year. However, Green could have gotten hold of the tune before Dylan's LP was released. He sings it with a mildly Caribbean inflection.
The initial release, on a gold label, gave top billing to King Fleming. It was followed by a release giving top billing to George Green (though the labels do credit King Fleming as the arranger), on a green label, with a special printed sleeve. This might have just depended on whose appearances the 45s were being sold at.
By the time he made his Mac-An session, Green had been working off on since 1956 in the Amazzing Trio, with Bob Knowles at the piano and Dolphus Dean on bass. Probably some months later, he recorded a lounge LP for M&M as a vocalist, singing standards with the trio. He also landed a gig demonstrating songs for another small Chicago-based label; King Fleming again handled the studio band.
George "Stardust" Green (voc); King Fleming (p, dir, arr); other musicians unidentified.
MBS Studio, Chicago, August 26, 1963
|63-8-26-A||Did You (Giampa)||Rivlyn EP-713-A|
|Love Has Had Its Holiday (Giampa)||Rivlyn EP-713-A|
|63-26-8-B||Torchee (Cieslak)||Rivlyn EP-713-B|
|The Casanova Song (Cieslak-Seals)||Rivlyn EP-713-B|
A curious 45-rpm EP an otherwise unknown label, Rivlyn, uses George Green to demonstrate four middle-of-the-road pop songs by two aspiring tunesmiths, Joseph Giampa and Art Cieslak. The EP label provides much more detail about the songs, their composers, and the music publisher than it does about the performers.
However, a 7-inch 33 1/3 rpm lacquer of the two Art Cieslak songs has surfaced (with full composer and publisher information duly typed on the label). It bears the imprint of MBS Recording Studios at 228 South Wabash Avenue and credits "King Fleming Orch." on both sides. Somebody made a nontrivial investment in getting the songs recorded, because on this occasion, King got a large studio band (brass, saxes, rhythm, and strings) to work with.
Our thanks to Dan Ferone for turning up this rare artifact. The matrix numbers are incised in the trail-off vinyl on each side.
In 1963, Sonny Cohn commented about Fleming, "He's doing very well today with a group of his that both sings and plays.... You know, it's a funny thing about Chicago but you can drop out of the public eye and still be working steady. King's one of these" (Peter Vacher, "The Sonny Cohn Story," Jazz Journal, September 1963, p. 4.) Cohn's comment applies more to the late 1960s through the 1980s than to 1963, when he probably didn't realize that Fleming had a recording contract.
Fleming picked up further work as a studio arranger during his years with Argo.
Johnny Nash (voc) accompanied by: unidentified (fl); unidentified (p); unidentified (g); unidentified (b); unidentified (d); unidentified string section similar to the one from the next session; King Fleming (arr, cond); Will Jackson (arr, cond).
Universal Recording Studio, Chicago, June 12, 27 and 29, 1964
|One for My Baby||Argo LP4038|
|Someone to Watch over Me||Argo LP4038|
|Come to Me Bend to Me||Argo LP4038|
|By Myself||Argo LP4038|
|Last Night When We Were Young||Argo LP4038|
|Speak Low||Argo LP4038|
|Smoke Gets in Your Eyes||Argo LP4038|
|13286||Always (Berlin)||Argo LP4038, Argo 5479|
|If There Is Someone Lovelier than You||Argo LP4038|
|In the Still of the Night||Argo LP4038|
|The Inch Worm||Argo LP4038|
|Spring Is Here||Argo LP4038|
The LP is so called because pop (later reggae) singer Johnny Nash is singing favorites that famous Broadway composers chose from their own oeuvre. The liner, written by Chicago Defender theatrical editor Dave Potter, describes King Fleming and Will Jackson as putting "their heads together" and coming up "with the swinging and inventive arrangements". We doubt that Jackson and Fleming actually collaborated on them.
"Always" also saw release on Argo 5479, a 45-rpm single. The arrangement on this Irving Berlin composition is attributed to "King Fleming & Will Jackson" on the label, but again we are not sure this should be taken seriously. The matrix number is taken from the single. The other side, "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," is from a session a few weeks later, with arrangements by Johnny Pate.
During the same period, King Fleming was tapped to arrange some numbers for a Ramsey Lewis album. (Ramsey Lewis's first Christmas album had been arranged and conducted by Riley Hampton, and several other albums using larger orchestras and strings had been arranged and conducted by Richard Evans.)
Ramsey Lewis (p); Eldee Young (b); Isaac "Red" Holt (d); with Johnny Avant (tb); Sol Bobrov, David Chausow, Henry Ferber, Irving Kaplan, Mark Konorad, Harold Kupper, Abe Meltzer, Albert Muenzer, Harold Newton, Theodore Ratzer, Everett Zlatoff-Mirsky (strings); Pete Eagle (harp); King Fleming, Will Jackson (arr).
Chess Studios, Chicago, October 14, 1964
|13477||Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer||Argo LP745, Cadet 5553|
|13479||The Twelve Days of Christmas||Argo LP745, GRP GRD 9796 [CD]|
|13480||Little Drummer Boy||Argo LP745|
All information from Tom Lord's Jazz Discography. Lord does not indicate which titles were arranged by King Fleming and which by Will Jackson.
Argo 745, More Sounds of Christmas, was an LP released in December 1964. Cadet 5553 was a 45-rpm single released some time later (after the Argo label had its name changed to Cadet). GRP GRD 9796 was a various-artists Christmas CD probably released in 1997; it wrongly gave the recording date as October 1966.
Lord lists five more titles recorded the next day, but these were apparently made by the Ramsey Lewis Trio with some help from Cleveland Eaton (who played bass on one number while Eldee Young switched to cello) and did not involve trombone, strings, or harp.
King Fleming (p, arr); Melvin Jackson (b, arr); William "Bugs" Cochran (d).
Chess Studios, Chicago, April 1965
|Dearly Beloved||Cadet LP4053|
|Weary Traveler||Cadet LP4053|
|Snow Bound||Cadet LP4053|
|Taking a Chance on Love||Cadet LP4053|
|Green Leaves of Summer||Cadet LP4053|
|I Remember You||Cadet LP4053|
|Riff a Plenty||Cadet LP4053|
|Walk Softly||Cadet LP4053|
|One O'Clock Jump||Cadet LP4053|
|Darn It||Cadet LP4053|
All information from Lord. Cadet LP4053 was released in 1966. Again, a variety of approaches were used on this LP: for instance, "Snow Bound" is essentially a classical piece.
Fleming teamed up one more time with George Green, on a single for the F-M label. (In the meantime, Green had made a single without Fleming for Gateway, around 1964). Judging from the inclusion of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," a song that got its premiere in a 1969 film, an approximate date can be established.
George Green (voc); King Fleming (p, arr, dir); unidentified (eb); unidentified (d); unidentified (string section).
Universal Recording, Chicago, c. 1970
|For the Sake of Love (A Child Is Born) (Sanders-Lawson)||F-M 468|
|What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life (Bergman-Bergman-Legrand)||F-M 469|
F-M 468/469 was a 45-rpm single released on a small Chicago label. There is no reference to Floyd Morris, who owned FM & PM, on the record, so there was probably no connection to that outfit. The main point of the release was to present Matt Sanders' soul ballad "For the Sake of Love"; Sanders is also credited as the producer on both sides. The 468 side carries the credit "Music by King Fleming."
Despite the string section (small, recessed, and used sparingly), King Fleming's piano is well recorded and can be heard to advantage on this release. The other musicans sound like members of Fleming's working trio. Green becomes rather overripe in his rendition of the durable ballad "What Are You Doing," but redeems himself on the gospel-inflected "For the Sake of Love."
George Green's last recording, a 45 rpm single from 1975 or later on FM & PM 1111, slogs its way through an awful version of Morris Albert's "Feelings," as arranged by Floyd Morris (well, all right, has anyone ever done a good version of "Feelings"?).
Suffering from heart trouble, George Green retired from performing in the early 1990s. He died in his home in Henderson, Nevada, on March 11, 2007.
In the late 1960s, recording activity in Chicago began to ebb; Vee-Jay folded in 1966 and the Chess labels did not long survive the death of Leonard Chess in 1969. King Fleming would not make another record for 25 years. He continued to lead a trio, as well as an octet and even a big band on occasions.
Fleming formed an enduring trio with Clifford Griffin (bass, electric bass) and William "Bugs" Cochran (drums) in 1983. Clifford Griffin had previously worked with Nancy Wilson and Erroll Garner, among others. Bugs Cochran grew up at 54th and Prairie, in the same neighborhood as Sun Ra and John Gilmore; he recorded with the Sun Ra Arkestra from 1956 to 1959, worked with Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Cozy Eggleston, Willie Jones, and the John Young Trio, and had already spent some time in the King Fleming Trio of the mid-1960s.
The Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1985, reported on the Seventh Annual Chicago Jazz Fest, where the King Fleming Trio was featured with "guest" tenor sax players Boots Robinson and E. Parker McDougal. (McDougal was a regular at the Chicago Jazz Festival during the 1980s.)
The Chicago Tribune for June 27, 1986 had the King Fleming Trio performing at Taste of Chicago on June 30. The King Fleming Trio worked regularly at Pops for Champagne in Chicago from 1987 through at least 1996; for instance, on March 14, 1996 King Fleming was included in a week-long celebration of pianists.
King Fleming undertook a bigger project when he composed the jazz score for "A New Leaf," a new black musical by Warren St. James, which had its premiere May 24-26, 1991 at the New Regal Theater, 1645 East 79th Street (announced in the Tribune, May 9, 1991).
The Tribune for December 31, 1993 had the trio at Carlucci's (6111 North River Road, in Rosemont). During 1996 the trio continued to appear at Carlucci's and was also working at Philander's in the Carlton Hotel, Oak Park, Illinois (where they had recently begun an engagement). The King Fleming Trio continues to play at Philander's every Friday night.
King Fleming (p, comp); Clifford Griffin (eb -1; b -2); Bill Cochran (d); Joanie Pallatto (voc); April Aloisio (voc).
Sparrow Sound Design, Chicago, April 23, 1995
|Once Is Enough -1||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Time Out -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Bypass -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|You and Only You -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Rive Gauche -1||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|That's Tough -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Prelude in C Minor -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Eastgate -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|A Fallen Leaf -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Loving You -1||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|With All My Love -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Great Life -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Our Love -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Misty Night -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Little Caesar -1||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
|Have a Merry Christmas [JP, AA voc] -2||Southport S-SSD 0041 [CD]|
King! was released in September 1996. All of our information is from the liner notes to this CD—except that Clifford Griffin switches to electric bass on some tracks. All compositions by King Fleming, except "Great Life" by King Fleming and Muhal Richard Abrams. Joanie Pallatto did the vocal arrangement for "Have a Merry Christmas."
For several years, the King Fleming Trio worked Friday nights at Philander's in Oak Park. Robert Pruter attended a night of music by the trio on July 9, 1999. The King Fleming Trio typically played from 8:30 pm to 1:30 am, in three sets of 12 or 13 tunes each.
King Fleming's club appearances feature his secret weapon—his singing. Vocal numbers on this occasion included "I've Got You under My Skin," "Red Sails in the Sunset," "To Each His Own," and "After the Loving." His basic vocal style somewhat resembles Bobby Short's, but he also performed "Kansas City" in a Joe Williams manner, and did the inevitable Satchmo impression on "What a Wonderful World."
The instrumentals included "An Affair to Remember," which the trio played straight, versions of "People," "I Got Rhythm," and "Satin Doll" with some improvisation, and numbers with adventurous improvisation such as "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and Fleming's own "Between the Toes." The band also has an exact replica of "The In Crowd" in its repertoire.
Joanie Pallatto (voc); Bobby Lewis (tp -1; flg -2); Von Freeman (ts -3); Rich Fudoli (fl -4; ss -5); King Fleming (p, voc); Clifford Griffin (b); William "Bugs" Cochran (d).
Sparrow Sound Design, Chicago, March 29, March 30, and May 31, 2000
|You're Driving Me Crazy (Donaldson) -3 [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Moody (Fleming-Pallatto) [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Somebody Loves Me (Gershwin-DeSylva-McDonald) -1 [JP, KF voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Opportunity for Love (Fleming-Pallatto) -4 [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Eastgate (Fleming-Pallatto) [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|My Very First Love (Fleming-Alexandria) -3 [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Overt (Fleming) -5||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Bypass (Fleming) [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Snow Storm (Fleming-Pallatto) -2 [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Oooo, Those Blues (Fleming-Pallatto) -3 [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Pen Point (Fleming)||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|A Beautiful Friendship (Kahn-Styne) [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|You, and Only You (Fleming) [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
|Adios (Madriguera-Woods) -4 [JP voc]||Southport S-SSD 0084|
King Fleming's second CD, Southport S-SSD 0084, was released on October 21, 2000. Ten of the tunes are King Fleming compositions (5, in turn, have new lyrics by Joanie Pallatto). Our information from the CD leaflet. King Fleming's one vocal outing on the CD, like others going back many years, is a stealth appearance—not mentioned or credited in the notes!
King Fleming's old collaborator Lorez Alexandria died in Los Angeles on May 22, 2001.
We are indebted to Larry Smith's liner notes to King Fleming's first Southport CD for some biographical details. Most of our other information about King Fleming's career is drawn from his conversations with Robert Campbell and Robert Pruter, and from Peter Vatcher's article "The Sonny Cohn Story" (Jazz Journal, September 1963). Thanks also to the late Vernel Fournier for his comments, and to Dan Ferone for alerting us to the George Green singles on Mac-An and F-M.
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