Onzy Matthews

Birth name Onzy Durrett Matthews, Jr.
Born January 15, 1930
Fort Worth, Texas, US

Died November 13, 1997 (aged 67)
Dallas, Texas
Genres Jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, hard bop, jazz fusion
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, arranger, actor
Instruments Piano, singer

Onzy Durrett Matthews, Jr. (January 15, 1930 – November 13, 1997) was an American jazz pianist, singer, arranger and composer as well as a television and movie actor. He is best known for the big band arrangements done for the Lou Rawls albums Black and Blue and Tobacco Road, as well as arrangements for several of Ray Charles’ 1960s releases. He had his own big band for many years and recorded numerous tracks for Capitol Records, including two albums released under his own name. He later had a close relationship with the Duke Ellington orchestra, working as a pianist, arranger and conductor through the late 1960s and 1970s.

Onzy Durrett Matthews, Jr. was born on January 15, 1930 to Onzy Matthews and Leola Jones in Fort Worth, Texas. He grew up in Dallas until his early teens when his mother moved to Los Angeles seeking better paying work. His early exposure to music was through singing in a church gospel choir.

Matthews knew early on he wanted to be a musician: “music was his calling.” He graduated from high school early, at the age of 16, and primarily wanted to be a singer. “I taught myself to accompany myself on piano and then I found out you had to have arrangements.” In the early 1950s he enrolled in the Westlake College of Music in Hollywood and studied voice, ear training and harmony; much like Berklee School of Music they were proponents of the Schillinger System. He auditioned for band leader Les Brown as an arranger; Brown helped Matthews focus on what to keep in an arrangement that works, and what to discard.

Onzy Matthews Big Band

Matthews’ group in the early 1960s was finding work as a big band in Los Angeles; most of his players were shared, alternating with Gerald Wilson’s big band (another mixed race big band) every other weekend at the Metro Theatre in Los Angeles. The group also had a long running gig on Monday nights at the Virginia Club in Los Angeles.

Players for Matthews’ big bands and recordings in Los Angeles included Bud Brisbois, Curtis Amy, Bobby Bryant, Dick Hyde, Teddy Edwards, Earl Palmer, Jay Migliori, Conte Candoli, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes, Horace Tapscott, Gabe Baltazar, Joe Maini, Ollie Mitchell, Herb Ellis, Carmell Jones, Sonny Criss, and Jack Nimitz. These included both black and white studio musicians, which presented a problem until Matthews signed to Capitol Records and worked with the much younger producer Nick Venet. Singers that Matthews featured and wrote for, on their regular live gigs, included Ruth Price, Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Miller, and June Eckstine.

During the mid-1960s Matthews was able to parlay his earlier arranging success into being offered numerous arranging assignments with singer Ray Charles. All these tracks were recorded for ABC-Paramount Records. March and June 1965 saw two arrangements of Matthews recorded on Charles’ LP Country & Western meets Rhythm & Blues. He had one arrangement on the 1966 album Ray’s Moods, and three more on Charles’ Cryin’ Time. Both these 1966 LPs were quite successful, and charted with Billboard. One last chart completed for Ray Charles was done for the single “That’s All I Am To You”. Matthews arrangement of Driftin’ Blues on Cryin’ Time is noted as a standout that features a guitar solo by Ray Crawford. More writing assignments during this time include arranging for television shows such as the June 29, 1965 CBS special, It’s What’s Happening, Baby! featuring numerous contemporary pop acts.

Onzy Matthews had a last set of tours and concerts in Europe and Dallas, conducting his own music and that of Duke Ellington in 1996-97; an interview by the Dallas Observer three months before his death outlined his musical career. Matthews died at the age of 67 on November 13, 1997 in his Dallas apartment, of heart failure brought on by arteriosclerosis.

Discography, television, film

As leader

[1963] Non-stop Jazz Samba (Capitol)
1964 Blues With A Touch Of Elegance (Capitol)
1964 Lefty Louie/Blues Non-Stop (7″, Single) (Capitol)
1966 Sounds For The ’60s! (Capitol)
2007 Onzy Matthews: Mosaic Select 29 (Mosaic)

As composer, arranger, and/or conductor

1956 Maurice Meunier & His Orchestra Maurice Meunier (Barclay, FRANCE)
1960 Memorial Album, Kenny Dorham (Xanadu)
1961 Meetin’ Here, Curtis Amy (Pacific Jazz)
1962 Break Through, Gene Shaw (Argo)
1962 Way Down, Curtis Amy (Pacific Jazz)
1962 Black and Blue, Lou Rawls (Capitol)
1963 Tobacco Road, Lou Rawls (Capitol)
1963 Judy Henske, Judy Henske (Elektra)
1964 Book of the Blues, Vol. 1, Richard “Groove” Holmes (Pacific Jazz)
1964 Balanced for Broadcast: June 1964, Various artists (Capitol – promotional)
1965 Gettin’ Around, Dexter Gordon (Blue Note)
1965 Country & Western meets Rhythm & Blues, Ray Charles (ABC-Paramount)
1965 The Sounds of Broadway/The Sounds of Hollywood, Curtis Amy (Palomar Records)
1966 Ray’s Moods, Ray Charles (ABC-Paramount)
1966 Cryin’ Time, Ray Charles (ABC-Paramount)
1966 A Bowl Of Soul, Richard “Groove” Holmes (Pacific Jazz)
1970/1976 Confessin’ the Blues, Esther Phillips (Atlantic)
1975 Mystic Voyage, Roy Ayers (Polydor)
1977 Jazz Is His Old Lady and My Old Man, Earl Hines (Catalyst Records)
1989 Music Is My Mistress Duke Ellington (Musicmasters)
1980 Landslide, Dexter Gordon (Blue Note)
1994 I’m Glad There Is You: A Tribute to Carmen McRae, Vanessa Rubin (RCA-Novus)
1996 Only God Can Make A Tree, Mercer Ellington (Musicmasters)

Television and film (actor)

1965 Kraft Suspense Theatre: Connery’s Hands
1966 Run for Your Life: In Search of April
1991 Dingo
See also