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Charles Bell

Third Stream Jazz Pianist, Composer, Music Educator and Columbia and Atlantic Recording Artist
Charles Bell was a pianist, composer, recording artist, conductor, bandleader, arranger, and music educator.  The Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet released acclaimed recordings on the Columbia and Atlantic labels and toured Europe.  His compositions were also recorded by Alex Burgnon, George Howard, Long John Balldry, and Vinnie Vin.  Influenced by Bela Bartok and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet Bell was a proponent of  "Third Stream" jazz movement which is a synthesis of classical music and jazz improvisation.  The Pittsburgh Symphony commissioned Bell to compose a three movement jazz symphony called “Concerto in Miniature of Jazz Quartet and Orchestra” that was performed by the PSO and conducted by Dr. William Steinberg in concert at the Syria Mosque in 1963.  He wrote and performed other pieces for the Baltimore Symphony, the Harlem Youth Symphony Orchestra, and symphony orchestras.  In the late 1960's Bell became a music educator teaching at Hunter Collete, Lehman College, and the New York City public schools. 

"Charles Bell made some solid records in the early and mid-'60s. Influenced by the then emerging soul-jazz and funky schools, Bell's playing was vibrant, often exciting and full of blues licks, gospel phrases and inflections, plus some bop tinges."Ron Wynn All Music Guide

Music Education at Carnegie Tech

Charles Bell was born in Pittsburgh.  His mother Ada worked as a stenographer at Carnegie Tech.  As a teen Bell studied classical piano.  He graduated from Schenley High School.  At Carnegie Tech he studied piano and composition under famed Russian romantic music composer/pianist Bell Nicholai Lopatnikoff.  At Carnegie Tech Bell's early compositions were for chamber orchestra and string quartet.  He became interested in jazz compositions at age 20.  Bell received his undergraduate degree in 1958.  He received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to continue his studies.  He received a Masters in Composition from Carnegie Tech in 1960.  After his graduation Bell taught music in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet

While Charles attended Carnegie Tech he founded the Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet.  The jazz ensemble made its debut appearance in a concert at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in October of 1958 performing Charles Bell's original compositions.  The members of the quartet for that initial performance were vibraphonist Chuck Leroy, bassist Dicker Hiller and drummer Cecil Brooks.   Allen Blairman replaced Brooks on drums later in 1958.  They went onto perform two week engagements at the Crawford Grill, other area jazz clubs, the Three Rivers Arts Festival and appeared in concert again at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in January and October of 1959.

The Charles Bell Quarter won the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival in 1960.   The quartet was comprised of Charles Bell on piano, Bill Smith on guitar, bassist Mike Trafficante, and Allen Blairman on drums. They were named the winner by a jury Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Jack Plies and John Hammond Jr. As winners of the Jazz Festival the group received a recording contract with Columbia Records, an engagement at the famed Birdland club and an invitation to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival.  But the Newport festival was cancelled that year due to a riot.

Recordings and Eurpean Tour

Released on Columbia Records in 1960 the album “The Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet” was produced by John Hammond.  The recording received a rare five star rating from Downbeat Magazine.  Neushi Ertegeun signed the quartet to the Atlantic Records label. A second Charles Bell Quartet album titled “Another Dimension” with Ron Carter on bass was released on Atlantic Records in 1962. The Quartet toured Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Scotland in 1962. 

Bell released his next two recordings with a trio.  The music on his trio albums emphasized dense harmonies.  The album "Charles Bell in Concert was issued by Gateway Recording in 1963 featuring Bell, Thomas Sewell on base and William Harris, Jr. on drums. It was recorded at Carnegie Lecture Hall, on November 9, 1963.  It was released as "Charles Bell In Concert With Thomas Sewell & William Harris Jr" in 2007 by the Freshsound label..His second trio release, also on Gateway, was the 1964 recording "The Charles Bell Trio in Concert"

Bell's compositions have been recorded by other artists. His song "Soul Purpose" was the title track of Alex Bugnon's 2001 release and he wrote two cuts on Bugnon's 1993 This Time Around.   George Howard, Long John Balldry, and Vinnie Vin also recorded compositions by Bell.  

Symphony Commissions

Charles Bell received a commission from the Pittsburgh Symphony in June of 1962 to write an original work for the symphony and a jazz combo.  As a member of th Charles Bells Quartet Blairman performed the "Concerto in Miniture" with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Syria Mosque in December of 1962. They were conducted by William Steinberg. 

In 1964 Bell performed his "Concerto I for Jazz Quartet and Symphony at Groningen Holland.  "A Concerto for Piano, Drums, and Orchestra" was performed by Charles Bell, his 8 year old son Charles Jr. (Poogie) and the Harlem Youth Symphony Orchestra. It was written for the orchestra and performed at Columbia University in April of 1969. Bell performed his compositions with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra accompanied by the Morgan State Choir in 1973.

Piano Workshop with Jazz Greats

On Sunday afternoon June 20th 1965 a piano jazz workshop was held a the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival featuring jazz piano great Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Taylor, Charles Bell and Willie "The Loin' Smith. Charles Bell performed his composition "Whisper Not".  A live recording of the entire piano workshop entitled "The Jazz Piano" was released by RCA on vinyl with 10 tracks in 1965 and reissued with 19 tracks of the entire concert on CD by Mosaic Records.  On the longer Mosaic release Charles Bell performs the song "Bluesette". 

Music Educator

Charles Bell moved to New York City in 1968 where he became a college music professor.  He taught at Hunter College, Lehman College, and the New York City Public Schools.

According to an interview with Nathan Davis of the University of Pittsburgh Charles Bell reportedly declined an opportunity to head the University of Pittsburgh’s jazz
studies program when it was being inaugurated at the end of the 1960s.

Bell continued to perform with his quarter in New York.   In May of 1967 the Charles Bell Double Bass Quartet performed at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York. The concert featured virtuoso performance by Ron Carter and Richard David playing composition by Charles Bell.

Charles Bell passed away in 2012.

Poogie Bell

Charles Bell's son Poogie Bell became a noted drummer, composer, arranger, record producer and band leader.  He grew up watching his father jam with Max Roach, Ornette Coleman , Allen Blairman and bassist Paul Chamber is the Bell's living room.  Poogie performed and recorded his Poggie Bell Band and with Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, David Bowie, David Sanborn, Al Jarreau, Stanley Turrentine and many more.  
The Music of Charles Bell
Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet
Charles Bell at Pittsburgh Jazz Festival Piano Workshop
with Charles Bell, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Billy Taylor and Willie “The Lion” Smith. 
Whisper Not from The Jazz Piano live recording
Bell at Work