Born in New Orleans, Powell is, perhaps, best known for his 12-year tenure (1951-63) with Count Basie, and for his eight-bar contribution to the Count's all-time big hit, April in Paris. But more than that, Powell, in his all-too-rare solos with the Basie band, displayed a blues-laced, story-telling approach to improvisation. Check out, for instance, his masterfully balanced two-chorus statement on Blues Backstage from 1954, or In a Mellotone, recorded in a live performance five years later.
After leaving Basie, Powell embarked upon a rich, diverse musical career. A versatile and accomplished player, he has worked extensively on Broadway, television, and on numerous recordings.
During the 1960s and '70s, Powell graced the trombone sections of Duke Pearson's fine New York big band and the renowned Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. (His four-chorus solo on Jones'Fingers is a master class in modern jazz trombone improvisation.) He also began-and continues-to make his name as a leader in his own right, a respected teacher, and a dedicated activist in the cause of rights for jazz artists.
After a decade in Hollywood, where he worked on The Merv Griffin Show, Powell returned to New York in the early 1980s and connected with two visionary instrumentalist-composers, the late clarinetist John Carter and pianist Randy Weston, with whom he performed for over 30 years.