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PASSINGS

Gordon Powell, 85; jazz drummer who played for CBS

September 23, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Gordon "Specs" Powell, 85, a jazz drummer who played with some of the biggest names in jazz and was one of the first black jazz musicians hired by a national radio network, died Sept. 15 at a care center near his San Marcos, Calif., home of complications from kidney disease, his son said.

In 1943, Powell was hired by CBS for its in-house orchestra. Moving from radio to television, he later helped provide music for such CBS programs as "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Jackie Gleason Show" and "Candid Camera."

Powell is credited with helping to develop the first bongo stand that allowed him to play standing up so he wouldn't have to slow down to settle the bongos between his knees while performing on the Sullivan show.

Over the years, Powell worked with Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins and other jazz names. He was the drummer on a celebrated 1945 recording session, led by Red Norvo, that was among the first to feature modern-jazz pioneers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Born in New York on June 5, 1922, Powell played piano early in his career but rose to fame as a drummer during the swing era, when he was a fixture in the 52nd Street jazz scene in New York.

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