Not to be confused with the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Modern Jazz Disciples were a noteworthy but short-lived hard bop combo that was active in the late '50s and early '60s. The Disciples, who were led by the late alto and tenor saxman Curtis Peagler (born September 17, 1930, Cincinnati, OH, died December 19, 1992, Beverly Hills, CA), did not play cool jazz -- their acoustic bop was extroverted, aggressive, and hard-swinging (although they could be lyrical on ballads). The group was formed in Cincinnati, OH, in 1958 when Peagler got together with pianist William Brown (born December 10, 1934, Harlen, KY), bassist Lee Tucker (born December 19, 1933, Cincinnati, OH), and drummer Ron McCurdy (born March 19, 1933, Belfast, Ireland). The fourth member was William "Hicky" Kelley (born March 12, 1929, Cincinnati, OH), who was employed on two instruments that are hardly prominent in jazz: One was the euphonium and the other was a normaphone (a rare, little-known type of valve trombone that was shaped like an alto sax). McCurdy, an Irish immigrant who grew up in Belfast, had moved to the U.S. in 1951 and met the other disciples when he was attending the University of Cincinnati in the late '50s. Playing locally around Cincinnati, the Disciples caught the attention of visiting tenor sax great Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (who lived in New York but was in town for a gig at a club called Babe Baker's Jazz Corner). Davis was impressed by what he heard and he encouraged the Disciples to record a demo tape for him to pass along to Prestige Records (which he was recording for at the time). After listening to the demo, Prestige shared Davis' enthusiasm and signed the quintet to its New Jazz label. In September 1959, the Disciples entered engineer Rudy Van Gelder's famous New Jersey studio and recorded their self-titled debut LP. McCurdy left the group after that album, and Wilbur "Slim" Jackson became the Disciples' new drummer. With the new lineup in place, the quintet returned to Van Gelder's studio in May 1960 and recorded their second New Jazz LP, Right Down Front. Had the Disciples stayed together longer, perhaps they would have become as well-known as Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers or the Jazz Crusaders. But regrettably, the group called it quits in 1961 and never recorded a third album. Peagler left Cincinnati for Los Angeles in 1962 and he went on to be employed by major artists ranging from Ray Charles to Count Basie. In 2001 -- nine years after Peagler's death from heart disease at the age of 62 -- Fantasy reissued the Messengers' two New Jazz albums back to back on a 76-minute CD titled Disciples Blues.
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