(ROCHESTER, NY) — Hello from The Flower/Flour City (Rochester goes by both nicknames). Although I’m originally from Massachusetts, and have moved more than 40 times, I still somehow managed to live in upstate NY for a lot of my life. I’m here now visiting my sister, who is fabulous, so I thought I’d talk about some of the musicians who hail from this area.
The first music I ever bought with my own money was Chuck’s An Evening Of Magic: Live At The Hollywood Bowl. I bought it on double cassette at a record store in a local mall. I adore Chuck Mangione. He makes music that crosses from the jazz world into the pop world, but it’s not smooth jazz. It’s still got interesting harmonies and melodies and fabulous improvising, and his bands have been filled with some of the top talents from both the jazz and rock worlds. I saw two amazing Mangione concerts, one with the band from An Evening Of Magic, and another that was a retrospective of his career featuring everyone who’d ever been in his band who was still alive at the time. I was also acquaintances for years with his brother, Gap Mangione, a pianist in the Rochester area.
PEE WEE ELLIS
Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis wasn’t born in Rochester but he did go to high school there. Even as a young man he was already playing with jazz luminaries, but most drive listeners will know him for the job he got after high school as part of James Brown’s horn section. Pee Wee co-wrote and arranged “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud — I’m Black And I’m Proud,” among others. After Brown, Pee Wee spent years working with Van Morrison. He also got back together with various members of the James Brown Horns in later years to record several studio and live albums.
Lou Gramm had some minor hits with his band Black Sheep before getting hired as the lead singer of Foreigner, a band named because its members were a mix of Americans and Brits. If someone ever asks you which band was the next after the Beatles to have its first eight singles in the top 20, the answer is Foreigner, and Gramm sang all of them. He also had a solo hit with “Midnight Blue” after his departure from the band.
There are too many famous people from Rochester to list them all, but here are some others who’ll be familiar to Drive listeners:
- Cab Calloway
- Gene Cornish of The Rascals
- Joe English of Wings
- Steve Gadd, drummer on half the albums we play on the Drive
- Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis & The Playboys
- Gerry Niewood, sax player with Chuck Mangione and Simon & Garfunkel