Jazz Portraits K – P

Mel Powell

One of the great mysteries and “what ifs” in jazz was Mel Powell, one of the most remarkable teenage jazz musicians make his mark in jazz history in the late 1930s and war years. In 1939 he astounded Benny Goodman who hired him as his pianist, as well as composer/arranger. He won all the jazz polls throughout the war years while he worked with Glenn Miller overseas, only to return, win a few more polls, make a handful of records and then vanish into the world of academia and musical composition that was more akin to Anton Webern than Fats Waller. I convinced him to dip his toe back into jazz in 1985, which he did with reluctance but brilliance and, a year or so later, to allow some of his paintings to be exhibited. I journeyed to Van Nuys, California to pick up the paintings and while there photographed him in his music workroom, surrounded by manuscripts and musical instruments. He was probably the most intelligent person I ever met.