Marjorie "Marjie" Hyams (August 9, 1920 – June 14, 2012) was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, and arranger. If Marjie Hyams had not retired prematurely, she would have been much better known in the jazz world. A talented vibraphonist able to play in both bop and swing settings, Hyams was an important musician during the second half of the 1940s
Born in Queens, N.Y., Marjorie was inspired by her older brother Mark, who played with bands in the mid-1930s led by Will Hudson and Spud Murphy. Marjorie began playing piano at age 6 after falling in love with recordings by jazz pianists and classical composer Igor Stravinsky.
In the early 1940s, Marjorie was featured regularly in a quintet on NBC—when radio was required by the musicians' union to use live musicians rather than records to entertain listeners. But instead of playing the piano, Marjorie was asked to play the vibes, an instrument that was completely knew to her. The group already had a pianist.
In 1944, with World War II being fought on two fronts, many big bands faced a shortage of seasoned male musicians who had been drafted. Some bands turned to female talent to fill empty chairs. One of those band leaders was Woody Herman, who discovered Marjorie playing in Atlantic City and hired her immediately. Though she admired Herman, Marjorie said she found the juvenile pranks and sexist needling by male band mates tiresome.
In 1948, Marjorie found herself on her own. The musicians' union that had begun at the top of the year—prohibiting members from recording in an effort to pressure record companies to pay royalties—forced changes in the size and work schedules of bands.
Bands that had been financially dependent on recording were forced to shrink for touring at a time when musician-veterans were seeking their old jobs. Marjorie left Herman and became a solo act in 1948—singing and playing show tunes on the piano in New York's Greenwich Village. A fortuitous encounter two years earlier with Leonard Feather at a club would come in handy in '48.
During one of Marjorie's breaks between sets, Feather asked her if she wanted to play vibes in a quintet being formed by Shearing. Marjorie jumped at the chance.
Shearing's decision to add a vibraphone in late 1948 came in wake of a personnel change. His working quartet had just lost clarinettist Buddy DeFranco , who decided to sign a record deal with Capitol. Shearing was signed to MGM. Fortunately for Marjorie, she had Buddy's book of arrangements, which she transcribed for a quintet. Which means Marjorie was first to orchestrate the Shearing sound based on Shearing's direction.
The George Shearing Quintet began recording in January 1949 and had a swinging, elegant sound—akin to fist-full of ice cubes being dropped into a crystal tumbler at a private club. Voiced carefully so all members appeared to moving in the same direction in swinging unison, the quintet was the first working jazz combo to be integrated by race and sex. Shearing, guitarist Chuck Wayne and Marjorie were white, while bassist John Levy and drummer Dezil Best were black.
After 32 recordings with the George Shearing Quintet—many of them hits—Marjorie decided to leave the group in 1950 to start a family in Chicago. In the decades that followed, Marjorie taught locally but never again recorded.
She died after a long illness in Southern California in June 2012 of renal failure at Arcadia Methodist Hospital, Monrovia, at the age of 91. (Compiled mainly from jazzwax.com)