There is an air of mystique, an alluring attraction in jazz
circles, to those highly talented musicians who shone
brilliantly for a short duration, then slipped into obscurity.
Jazz organist Baby Face Willette is certainly one of those
Roosevelt Willette, born on September 11, 1933, was the
son of a minister who was introduced to the organ, as many
others, in church, an influence which would define his style
and direction. In the early 50’s he played with various gospel
and R&B groups, and reportedly put out a couple of singles
around this time. He worked his way to Chicago in the late
‘50’s and eventually went to New York and got involved with
the jazz scene there.
We pick up on his trail with the Blue Note releases in 1961
of Lou Donaldson, “Here ‘Tis,” and guitarist Grant Green’s
“First Stand.” This would prove to be his definitive and
prodigious period, as he in the same month, put out his now
collectable “Face to Face.” He would go back into the studio
a few months later and recorded “Stop and Listen.” This
session was again with Grant Green, and is a stellar set.
Considering Blue Note’s musician roster and reputation, this
record was right on the groove for the period, and is
By 1963 he had formed his own trio, and after signing with
the Argo label in 1964, he released “Mo-Roc,” and “Behind
the 8 Ball.”
He apparently resurfaced in Chicago, playing local gigs
from the late ‘60’s into the early ‘70’s, then seemed to
vanish, leaving only his few recordings as an enduring
legacy.Even his death remains a mystery.
There seems to be a revitalized interest in the gospel tinged
music of Baby Face Willette, and all four of his recordings
are now available on compact disc