Wednesday, May 30, 2012


A Cazenovia native, in his early years Chris Powell studied and attended Nottingham High School and later Syracuse University. Following his military service during World War II he followed a career in music. He became nationally known jazz drummer who recorded for such popular record labels as  Columbia, Okeh, Grand and Groove Records. Chris's fifteen record releases are still highly sought after by collectors today. The lead vocalist on his recording of "Blue Boy" was Joe Van Loan, later to become a member of The Ravens one of the top rhythm and blues groups of the 1950's.  Chris was brought back to Syracuse during one of his many tours, and decided to make it his home. A few years later he would become partners in the Jazz Corner a small club that featured such greats as Stan Getz, Joe Williams and Harry "Sweets" Edition.

In 1949, Chris Powell's Five Blue Flames a local jive band based out of Philadelphia signed with Columbia Records. Then played a three week engagement in Syracuse at Andre's 700 Club on So. Salina Street.  They followed with an appearance on the Milton Berle TV Show broadcast from New York City. Band members consisted of Harold "Duke" Wells ( piano), Eddie Lambert (guitar), Danny Turner (sax), Leonard "Red" Spencer also on sax (replaced by Vance Wilson in 1950) James Johnson (bass), and Powell on drums.

In 1951, the band switched to the Okeh label and legendary trumpeter Clifford Brown joined the band later that year. Brown left after just six months to pursue a spectacular career in the jazz field. Brown died in an auto accident in June 1956, he was only 25.

The final sessions at both Columbia and Okeh listed label credit to lead singer as Johnnie Echo. In fact it was in reality Joe Van Loan, lead tenor with The Ravens. His recording of "My Love is Gone" on Columbia in May 1951 (currently $2,000 on e-Bay) and "Blue Boy" on Okeh in September 1952 are rock industry classics. Their 1952 musical lineup included- Clifford Brown, Vance Wilson, Duke Wells, Eddie Lambert, James Johnson, Osie Johnson and Chris Powell. During the late 1940's and through out the 50's Chris Powell and his Five Blue Flames made frequents stops in Syracuse to play at Andre's,  P.L.A.V., Brown Jug, and the Marine Room of the Hotel Syracuse.

Powell signed with Philadelphia's Grand Record label in 1954 and released eight national single between 1954-55. It was then on to Groove Records (1955-56) for his final four recordings.

Chris Powell returned to Syracuse and managed a local club called the Jazz Corner (located on Forman Street) and helped manage the legendary Syracuse vocal group the Rhythm Cadets (Otis Smith & Bebo Singleton). In 1962, he headed the Chris Powell Jazz group that included Marcus Curry, Frank Pazzullio and a young Otis Smith. In 2005, a  French label Classics Records released a 24-track compact disc of Chris's recording titled "The Chronological Chris Powell 1949-52" Two of Chris Powell recordings are also heard in the 2006 Dual Cd box set "Rock Before Elvis" (Rock the Joint & That's Right).

In later life Chris Powell co-founded the "Hometown News", owned his own Jazz Club, while residing at  1901 E. Genesee Street. Sadly Chris passed away on June 24, 1970 at the young age of 48.

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