Tenor saxophonist who had begun in jazz before finding more opportunity by honking away as a rocker, cutting some records of his own in the field but largely subsisting on session work around New York for a wide array of labels.

Jesse Powell was born in Texas in 1924, one of countless practitioners from the state who became widely known for their full rich sound on the tenor. In 1946 he replaced one of the more famous among them, Illinois Jacquet, in Count Basie’s band after doing time with jazz vocalists/trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Hot Lips Page.

In 1948 he went out on his own but despite the tenor’s popularity as the primary rock instrument that year he was thwarted by the recording ban that wiped out nearly twelve months of studio dates and as a result he went back to being part of a larger ensemble, this time with Dizzy Gillespie in 1949.

He moved to New York in 1950 and in addition to his jazz playing he found himself in demand for session work for blues and rock sides for a variety of small independent labels. In late 1951 he played briefly with Loumell Morgan, a jive group pianist who had been one of the more popular club and radio acts for a decade, and who at the time was working with female vocalist Fluffy Hunter.

The act caught the attention of Federal Records who saw in Powell and Hunter the kind of music that would appeal to rock listeners and signed them both. Powell led a makeshift band which included the rhythm section of Morgan’s group and Hunter sang on the records put out under Powell’s name with Hunter as the vocalist.

He got two singles of his own on the label in late 1953 and early 1954 before joining Jubilee and Josie Records as their in house bandleader where he really came into his own backing vocal groups like The Cadillacs while also getting another opportunity to release some records of his own.

In addition he was one of the more frequent tenor horns hired for session duty for Atlantic Records, playing on many of their late 1950’s and early 1960’s classic sides by everyone from The Drifters to Solomon Burke.

Powell’s recording career hit its artistic high point with a full length album in 1961 but his opportunities after that dwindled as the brand of tough tenor rock and jazz he preferred had gone out of style and he died far too young at the age of 58 in 1982.

Though never a star, Jesse Powell was a key contributor to rock of the 1950’s and if few people knew his name then, they definitely knew his sound.

JESSE POWELL DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Federal 12056; February, 1952)
A schizophrenic arrangement on what ostensibly is a torch song as Powell feels the need to add some peppy transition in between the vocal lines which along with some in-your face guitar work alters the mood while Fluffy Hunter gamely tries to adjust her singing to compensate. (3)

(Federal 12056; February, 1952)
Though he gets the lead artist credit Powell is the weakest part of this, almost trying to downplay the blatantly sexual lyrics with something more tame in order to downplay their seriousness rather than ramping up his playing to match the racy theme as was called for. (7)

(Federal 12060; March, 1952)
A perfectly suitable arrangement for a slightly suggestive rocker but one that doesn’t add too much fire of its own to the proceedings making this a better than average example of going through the motions to give it just enough of what it needs, but nothing more. (6)