Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jazz in Italy: Dado Moroni

- Steven A. Cerra, [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Every Jazz fan knows the experience. You're listening to some artist for the first time. All at once, you hear something in the choice of notes, the phrasing or the attack which catches your attention. You begin to listen more closely and a new passion is born. The artist has spoken to you through the music. You've become a fan.

Such was the case for me with the music of Dado Moroni. My first contact with Dado's wonderful approach to Jazz piano came in 1995 while listening to Ray Brown’s Some of My Best Friends Are … The Piano Players [Telarc CD-83373] that features a number of prominent Jazz pianists, all of whom I was familiar with except Dado. The cut from the disc which really got my attention was Dado's rendition of Coltrane's Giant Steps. I was hooked; I wanted to hear more of Dado's recordings with their intriguing concepts and hard-driving style.

But where to find them? [remember this was in the mid-1990’s before really set sail] Having a friend who owned a CD store in San Francisco immediately got me access to a computer database with the quick result that there were no discs catalogued for a "Dado Moroni." While continuing my search, an edition of the Jazz Times magazine arrived which contained, of all things, a very favorable review of a new disc by none other than the Dado Moroni Trio, entitled Insights. Mercifully, the review listed the disc as JFCDO07 on the Jazz Focus as well as the contact information for the label which was located in Calgary, Alberta.

Jazz Focus president, Philip Barker kindly sent along instructions for ordering a copy of Insights and also informed me that Dado was featured on Tribute, another Jazz Focus disc under the leadership of George Robert (JFCD004) [and which contains a terrific version of Kenny Barron’s splendid tune – Voyage]. After receiving and listening to both recordings, I was even more convinced that Dado was a very special talent and one deserving of more exposure in this country. I wanted to know more about this creative Jazz pianist who opens his Jazz Focus Insights disc with a beautiful and haunting rendition of Blossom Dearie's rarely heard Inside a Silent Tear instead of the usual burner, plays Stompin' at the Savoy as a solo piano slow ballad, and gives Old Saint Nick the image of a swinging hipster with his version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.
Through an initial telephone introduction formed by Philip Barker and as a result of a series of follow-up conversations, Dado was a very willing participant in a running dialogue aimed at affording me some background about his Jazz growth and development. Fortunately, we did not have to rely on my spotty Italian as Dado speaks excellent English.

When asked the usual question about when his interest in Jazz began, Dado shared that his earliest memories of Jazz are while bouncing to its rhythms suspended in a baby jumper hanging from a door jamb. Dado's father developed a liking for Jazz from the Allied servicemen stationed in Italy after World War II and would bring home copies of V-discs and play them on the family phonograph. Dado was captivated by the sounds of Jazz he heard as a child and at the age of three he would ask his father to put on records by Earl "Fatha" Hines, Erroll Garner and Thomas "Fats" Waller.

There was a piano in the house which his parents had brought in for Dado's sister, Monica. Dado would climb up on the piano bench and, curling the last two fingers under each hand, pick out the melodies and phrases he had heard on these recordings.
Dado recalls: "The Fats Waller record was called Smashing Thirds. I had no idea how to play thirds. I just heard happy sounds which I mimicked with major triads in my left hand and sad sounds which I represented with minor triads in my left hand. I just tried to copy by ear the sounds I heard on the records. Of course," laughs Dado, "by copying Garner's style with its four beats to the bar in the left hand, I had no need for a rhythm section!"

As he grew older and became more serious about Jazz, Dado commented that his parents "didn't want to force me but at the same time continued to encourage me." His father would take him out to hear the music being played in local Jazz clubs in Genoa and Milan. It was during one of these excursions when Dado was about eleven that he met a Jazz pianist in a local Genoa club who agreed to give him lessons.

"He recognized that I had evolved a very unorthodox technique by being largely self-taught and decided not to try and change it." Instead, he worked ideas and information into Dado's intuitive understanding of the music and like every good teacher answered his student's questions, realizing that this was where the real learning was taking place.
Dado recalls that "at this time I was having trouble learning the bass clef. My teacher suggested that I buy a bass. By learning Ray Brown bass lines from records and playing them on the bass, I was able to teach myself bass clef." He further extended his bass clef technique by listening to piano masters like Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. Another instrumental influence is evident in Dado's style of playing which is very hard-driving and full of rhythmic accents in the bass line. When I asked him about this he noted that "I've always had an interest in jazz drumming; maybe that's where this feeling comes from."

During high school, his father continued his Jazz lessons with frequent trips to clubs in Milan where he was able to sit in. "My father gave me a lot of freedom to explore my interest in the music. He said, "do whatever you want - as long as you finish high school."

High school was followed by two years of law school where one day Dado realized that "I was either going to be a terrible, frustrated lawyer or a happy Jazz musician." When I asked Dado what he thought was the most important element in creating Jazz he said: "you've always got to be honest." His decision to leave law school and to pursue a career in jazz is certainly a reflection of that ethos.

Since that fateful day, Dado has over the years been found in the company of Ron Carter, Clark Terry, Ray Brown, George Robert, Tom Harrell, Al Grey, Bill Goodwin, Jon Faddis and Lee Konitz. When I asked him about Jazz pianists he admired on the current scene, he shared that he had "great respect for the work of McCoy Tyner because of his integrity over the years. I also enjoy listening to Kenny Barron, Steve Kuhn and Herbie Hancock."

Compositionally, "we have so much to choose from - such a rich heritage," commented Dado. His selections on the Jazz Focus Insights disc are certainly reflective of this treasure chest, ranging as they do from standards like If I Should Lose You, through some Ellington/Strayhorn compositions, and Jamal an original piece Dado wrote as a tribute to one of the giants of Jazz piano.

Dado Moroni is an example of learning the Jazz tradition by intuition and by training the ear to benefit from the contributions of those who have gone before. It is the way most of the early Jazz masters learned their craft. Judging by the manner in which he has matured as a Jazz pianist since I first heard him almost 15 years ago, it would seem that Dado has matriculated rather well though his courses in jazz education.”

Before moving on to specific reviews of Dado’s recordings, Philip Barker, owner of Jazz Focus and with whom I would co-produce Dado’s next CD – Out of the Night [Jazz Focus JFCD032] - had a similar epiphany upon first hearing Moroni as he recounts in his insert notes to Insights.
“It is June 25th, 1994 and the 15 Calgary International Jazz Festival is in full swing. The George Robert Quintet arrives to play a concert. I knew of their Italian pianist, Dado Moroni, but I wasn't prepared for what I heard when he played. The performance of the quintet was outstanding but Moroni stood out even among the wonderfully talented musicians with whom he was teamed.

Fast forward to Montreal and Sunday, July 3rd, 1994. The Robert Quintet is in the studio recording material for a JAZZ FOCUS CD. Once again the playing of the pianist is amazing. Here, clearly, is a major talent, yet one who is not yet widely known in North America. So I ask him if he is willing to record his own CD for JAZZ FOCUS. He says he is, and you have the result right here.

Dado is no newcomer to the recording studio. Over the last 15 years he has appeared on at least 24 albums/CDs in company with such musicians as Jon Faddis, Clark Terry, Lee Konitz, Al Grey, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Lewis Nash, Peter Washington and, of course Tom Harrell and George Robert with whom he has both toured and recorded widely. The list of jazz musicians he has played and recorded with is much longer than this and includes many of the foremost American and European jazz artists.
Unfortunately for us in North America, most of the recordings on which he has appeared have been on European labels that have not had wide distribution in North America. The time was ripe for him to lead his own group on an internationally distributed North Ameri­can label.

It has been said that you can tell a musician by the company he keeps. By that standard, Dado Moroni would seem to be one of the best. Jimmy Cobb is surely one of the greatest of all jazz drummers; he underpinned such classic recordings as Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and John Coltrane's "Coltrane Jazz". JAZZ FOCUS is honored, and also rather humbled, to have him on one of its releases.

Compared to Jimmy, Peter Washington is a relative newcomer to the jazz scene but he has established himself as one of the best bass players around, much in demand and widely recorded. Indeed his many recording credits include one with Dado - a 1994 date on which both were members of the Jessie Davis Sextet.

On one track of the present CD, the trio is joined by singer Adrienne West, who recorded a duo album with Dado in 1987. Among many other accomplishments, she has toured Africa for the U.S. State Department and starred in the "Fats" Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin"'.
The program on this CD consists mainly of standards, though Moroni contributes one original composition. It starts gently with a little heard but attractive Blossom Dearie piece Inside A Silent Tear. The tempo picks up with a sprightly version of Billy Strayhorn's All Day Long. This leads, logically enough, to the Duke's Come Sunday. On Stompin' At The Savoy Dado plays solo; Stompin' is usually performed as an up-tempo swinger, but Moroni gives it a slow, thoughtful treatment which explores every aspect of the venerable piece. The next track is a piano-and-bass duet, Moroni's tribute to another great pianist, Ahmad Jamal. Jimmy Cobb returns for another nod to the Duke. and there follows a gorgeous version of If I Should Lose You. The trio is then joined by Adrienne West who provides a flawless reading of the lovely but too seldom heard Kenny Dorham tune Fair Weather.

The Milt Jackson standard Bluesology is a real swinger, illustrating well Moroni's complete command of the piano keyboard, with able support and solos from Washington and Cobb. Next up is Santa Claus. This was recorded with a view to its inclusion in the Christmas CD JAZZ FOCUS plans to release in 1996 but Dado was so pleased with it that he asked that it be included on this CD also. Santa has seldom swung like this! (But don't worry, another "take" is safely stored in the JAZZ FOCUS vaults ready for the Christmas CD when it is put together!) The program ends with two more trio pieces, the reflective Demoiselle and Ray Noble's classic Cherokee, which - despite the myriad times it has been performed - Dado and his colleagues have no difficulty making into something new, even while playing at breakneck speed. A rousing finish to a varied program!

Listening to the master tape, I am delighted with the outcome of this session. I hope and believe you will be too.

Philip Barker.”

In an effort to make more of Dado’s music more readily available in North America, Philip Barker and I joined forces and co-produced the aforementioned Out of the Night which was recorded for Jazz Focus in March, 1998.
As I wrote in my insert notes to the recording:

“The context for this second Dado Moroni disc on Jazz Focus Records was a day-long, Monday recording session in Seattle, WA that followed a weekend Jazz Party held in the Pacific Northwest. The New York-based trumpet and flugelhorn player, Joe Magnarelli, joined Dado, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Bill Goodwin for the prior weekend’s festivities, and it was with much anticipation that we welcome this group into the recording studio fresh from the exhilaration and energy of recently playing together.”

Before moving on to a description of other recordings by Dado, in order to address what I find so appealing in Dado’s approach to Jazz pianist, here is a descriptive excerpt from these same insert notes:

“Dado has brought together a style which is both personal and unique and, at the same time, indebted to the piano giants who have gone before him. It is an approach that is very much reflective of his nature and his personality: passionate, intense, hard-driving and, above all, always swinging in the sense that it is marked by a pronounced feeling of rhythmic forward motion.”
Here’s Ken Dryden’s review of Out of the Night from
“Italian pianist Dado Moroni is better known to European jazz fans because most of his work has been recorded and distributed on the continent, but this second disc for the Canadian label Jazz Focus should help to expose him to American audiences. This wide-ranging 1998 session, with trumpeter and flügelhornist Joe Magnarelli, bassist Ira Coleman, and drummer Bill Goodwin, finds Moroni exploring music from several decades, including standards (two takes of "Embraceable You"), classic jazz works from the 1930s and 1940s (Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and Duke Ellington's "Black Beauty"), and more recent fare like the high-energy "Seven Steps to Heaven" and Joe Henderson's strutting "Out of the Night." Moroni's compositions are also a delight. His funky "Ne-Ne" is easily the most intense selection of the date. His blues tribute to Count Basie, affectionately called "Basie-Cally," is a swinger that features a choice muted trumpet solo by Magnarelli. The horn player's bossa nova "Bella Carolina" showcases his rich flügelhorn. Highly recommended.”
And to tack back for a moment about what was initially so appealing and engaging about Dado’s two cuts from the Ray Brown tribute album to pianists he admires, here’s Donald Elfman description of Dado’s performance:
“Italian pianist Dado Moroni, who is in the process of settling in New York [Dado lives in Genoa, Italy and maintains an apartment in New York], provides one of the album’s truly unusual delights. For his first recording with Ray Brown, the pianist does an all-out impersonation/tribute to Erroll Garner, complete with grunt. Compounding the wackiness is the fact that it’s a Garner take on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps! Ray starts with a slow statement of the theme on bowed bass with Moroni commenting quietly behind. Then, from out of a delirious nowhere, comes the Garner stuff which, after several loopy minutes, shifts gears into an up-tempo excursion more in keeping with the original tone of the piece. But with another shift, we’re back to Garner and Ray’s Arco bass. Moroni is clearly not awed by tradition new or old, and he and Ray just smile all the way through. The trio is up and cooking for My Romance, which demonstrates that the romance still has sparks.”
While Benny Green would be the pianist in Ray Brown’s trio during most of the decade of the 1990’s, shortly after this recording was made, Ray would use Dado on piano whenever his trio played in Europe.

Although the point has been made that much of Dado’s discography, especially his earlier recordings, were produced on European labels that have limited or no distribution in North America, he does have a rather substantial body of work from the past 15 years or so that is readily obtainable.

These CDs breakdown into three categories: [1] his recordings made as a sideman with Jesse Davis, George Robert, Tom Harrell, Mark Nightingale and Clark Terry, much of this from the late 1980s and early 1990s, [2] his piano trio works, then and now, and [3] his more recent performances as a “ranking elder statesman” as a member of Jazz groups based in Europe, particularly Italy.

I have selected a few examples from each of these categorizes to describe in an effort to reveal more about the developing technical and expanding creative qualities in Dado’s playing.
Beginning with Dado’s early sideman dates, and concentrating on the ones he made as a member of the quintet co-led by George Robert – Tom Harrell, these are among some of the best Jazz recordings made in the 1980s. This point is re-emphasized by Dan Morgenstern, the well-respected Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, and the writer of the insert notes to all of the groups recordings beginning in 1987 with Sun Dance [Contemporary CCD-14037-2]:

"At this moment in time, nothing is more important to jazz than the presence of gifted young players who know and love the true language of the music and ire committed to its continuation. The list of such musicians, happily, has been growing of late, and on the evidence of this splendid record, we can safely add to it the name of George Robert.
What this young man has put together here is a band - not just a bunch of guys who met in a studio and went through the motions, but a musical collective made up of players who think and feel together, listen to each other and make their own music.

A finely matched blend of seasoned veterans and young comers is what we have here, and there may be something symbolic in the fact that the former are Americans and the latter Europeans - though the time when you could tell most European jazzmen by their accent is long since past, they still take their inspiration from this side of the pond.
Yet, for Swiss-born George Robert, jazz is something that came quite naturally, from his home environment.. His American-born mother's love for jazz was shared by his father, five brothers and two sisters; the boys all played instruments, and formed a family band. George started piano at 8, took up clarinet at 10, and studied with Luc Hoffmann at a distinguished conservatory in his native Geneva.

'I would always hear jazz records at home," he said, "and I feel that my ears got a solid foundation from that, at a very early stage. Later on, I met a lot of American musicians passing through Geneva and played sessions with them at my home. Among them, Jimmy Woode, Sam Woodyard, and Billy Hart really encouraged me when I was just 13 or 14. And studying classical clarinet gave me discipline, control and technique that were most helpful when I picked up the saxophone.”

Among the alto players who influenced young George were Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, and Cannonball Adderley. 'They all had an influence,' he recalled, "but when I was about 14, a Phil Woods album, Alive & Well in Paris, really caught my ear - his gorgeous sound was the first thing that attracted me.”…

The group heard here was formed in the Spring of 1987 and toured in Switzerland and France; the album was recorded in Lausanne during the tour.
[Of the musicians in the band, George commented]: 'I've always admired Tom, both as a player and a composer, to have him next to me is a great inspiration', the leader said. The two horns get a beautiful blend, and have a very special way of interacting, notably in the interludes of collective improvisation that are a feature of the band. "Jimmy Woode introduced me to Dado in 1985, and since then, I've always worked with him. He's a wonderful pianist. His touch is just superb, and the way he comps is a rare gift." This young man moved to Amsterdam in 1986, and I've not the slightest doubt that we'll hear much from and about him. Bassist Reggie Johnson, with whom George had worked before, was the perfect choice. 'Reggie is an exceptional musician and the ideal bassist for us - we love him. And Bill has been a friend for a long time. I think he's one of the most musical drummers around." Goodwin's outstanding solo on the title cut proves that statement, and his experience as a record producer came in handy as well.
In a varied program of uniformly excellent originals by Robert and Harrell, the band strikes a happy balance between ensemble and solo strength. The leader gets a fine, full sound from both his alto and soprano (he handles the latter with a fluency that reflects his clarinet training) and tells a story when he plays. So does Harrell, surely one of the most underrated and under-publicized trumpeters of our time (and quite a flugelhorn player, too). The rhythm section is a delight, with a real feeling for not only time but also dynamics, and works hand-in-glove with the multihued horns. …

When you sound as good as these five guys, there's no need for artifice. This music speaks for itself, it swings and sings and it's always alive. We look forward to hearing more from George Robert and company - a new branch on the tree of jazz with exceptionally solid roots.”Two years later in 1989, the Robert-Harrell group was back with Lonely Eyes this time on GRP [1002]. Dan Morgenstern offered these insights about the band on this recording:

“This is the second album by what is unquestionably one of the best groups on the contemporary jazz scene. This is music that radiates togetherness and reflects George Robert's statement that the quintet, together since the spring of 1987, "is like a family; everybody loves working with one another.. the chemistry is there".

Indeed it is, and the music here surpasses the excellence of the quintet's impressive debut on records (Sun Dance: Contemporary C- 14037), which received critical acclaim from all comers of the jazz spectrum.

As on that first record, the quintet here presents its own music. All the compositions are originals from within the group-five by Robert, three by Harrell, and one by the band's youngest member, pianist Dado Moroni-and they are not just sketches on blues or "Rhythm" changes, but genuine pieces of music with an impressive variety of moods and textures. The quintet achieves its own identity and freshness, but it does so without artifice or self-conscious striving for novelty or effect. Clearly, there is a shared language among all its members, a language solidly rooted but never mired in the jazz tradition. The music flows with a natural ease that is a pleasure to hear.

The horns of the co-leaders are splendidly matched, both in ensemble and solo roles. Doubling and skillfully varied writing allow for a textural variety quite amazing for a small group. Harrell, who finally seems to be getting some of the credit long due him as one of the most original and consistently excellent creative improvisers of our time, plays trumpet and flugelhorn and gets his own sound, at once warm and brilliant, from both. Robert's main born is the alto sax, from which he gets a strong, personal sound, but he also has mastered the soprano and the clarinet (the latter his first horn after starting music on the piano, and heard here with the quintet for the first time on record). These two have marvelous rapport; truly together in ensemble unison, harmony or interplay, and feeding off each other in solo excursions.The rhythm section is always finely attuned to its supporting tasks, which are far from routine this group deals with subtle rhythmic as well as harmonic demands-but it seems inaccurate to describe this dynamic triumvirate as a mere "rhythm section". The greatly gifted Moroni is not only a wonderfully sensitive and alert accompanist, but adds solo strength (his modal ballad Adrienne reveals talent as a composer as well). Reggie Johnson's impeccable intonation and rhythmic strength would be enough, but he also steps out as a soloist, and when he does, it's not in the obligatory manner of giving the bassist some, but with lucidly musical (and never over-long) statements. Master percussionist Bill Goodwin is always there, adding colors and textures to the quintet's overall sonic meld and providing the kind of absolute rhythmic security that allows everyone to relax and play without fear of falling off the wire.”
And just so the impression isn’t formed that the Robert-Harrell quintet was the only group that featured Dado as a sideman during these relatively “early years” in his career, in 1994, he teamed up with Ray Brown on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums to form a rhythm section for the young English trombonist Mark Nightingale on his recording entitled What I Wanted to Say [Mons 874 763].
And with the album’s title in mind, here’s what Johnny Dankworth wanted to say about Dado as contained in the CD’s insert notes:

“Dado Moroni contributes both brilliant support playing and solo moments; he has an incredibly facile technique which he utilizes with admirable restraint.” [paraphrase]

Dado’s solo on Alone Together will swing you into next week and he provides the album with so much forceful energy and excitement with his excellent comping, throughout.
As we approach the second [2] category of Dado’s recordings – his trio work – it is interesting to observe that while he made his recording debut in 1979, he did not make his first trio Jazz recording until 1992. The occasion was the release of What’s New? on Splasc(h) records [CDH 378.2], and Italian based label. Interestingly, as of this writing, the recording was still available through Amazon.
Carl Baugher finished his insert notes to the CD with the following, telling conclusions:

“Dado Moroni is clearly a musician with a wealth of talent. His improvising prowess is convincingly displayed on What’s New? and there is no reason not to expect further development from this still youthful artist. Stylistically, he offers a blend of new and old that’s irresistible. His polished technique, taste and solid musicality serve him well. The disc you hold in your hand provides an irrefutable answer to the question, ‘What’s New?’ The answer is an emphatic: Dado Moroni!”
And Thom Jurek offered the following review in

“As a pianist and composer, Dado Moroni is an elegant stylist whose post-Ahmad Jamal voicings and Gil Evans-styled arrangements — even for small ensembles — are singular in their subtle, suave grace and their quiet musical expertise. This trio date with a young rhythm section (Rosario Bonaccorso on bass and Gianni Cazzola on drums) is an amalgam of the familiar and ambitious for Moroni. His own compositions, which make up half the album, tend toward the inherently melodic side of his nature: There's the charming ostinato aplomb in "The Duck and the Duchess" and the multi-faceted chromatic gracefulness of "African Suite," which loops three different strains of rhythms around a complex harmonic structure that examines all the tones between B and D. And then there's the adventurous improviser who tackles the outrageously difficult melodic line in Ornette Coleman's "When Will the Blues Leave," which extrapolates a 12-bar blues and pours it into a fugue-like structure of flatted ninths. To temper the two poles, there are readings of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" — done as an exercise in intervallic interplay and mode-shifting melodic exchange — and a solid post-bop reading of Robin & Rainger’s "Easy Living." This is piano trio jazz at its lyrical, exciting best.”
In 1995 with Heart of the Swing [Music Corner MPJ 1000 CD], Dado initiated what was to become a series of trio recordings with Massimo Moriconi on bass and Stefano Bagnoli on drums. On their respective instruments, Moriconi and Bagnoli are two of the most technically gifted musicians in Italy, and in combination with Dado, these three ultimately formed what has become known as the Super Star Triok, an album that was released in 2003 on [abeat AB JZ 015].
Heart of the Swing is swing personified as it abounds with delightful arrangements of standards such as Just in Time, There is No Greater Love and Charlie Parker originals such as Anthropology and Barbados which provide the listener with ample opportunity to hear Dado’s finger-popping inventions, Moriconi’s huge, booming bass sound and Bagnoli crisp and lighting fast technique. Moroni-Moriconi-Bagnoli play a repertoire that is exciting and engaging while producing an album of swinging piano trio Jazz.
There’s more of the same by this exquisitely matched, powerhouse trio on Super Star Triok with a burning up-tempo version of What is This Thing Called Love, as well as, interesting treatments of standards including You’ve Changed and Love for Sale along with well-crafted versions of Jazz classics such as So What, Oleo and Ray Brown’s FSR [“For Sonny Rollins”]. There is even the tasteful introduction of Fender Rhodes electric piano and electric bass on a couple of tracks, a reflection of the interest in bringing different sounds into the music by the current generation of Jazz musicians.
Let’s begin the third category of this piece with its focus on Dado’s more recent recordings as both leader and sideman, most of these occurring in his native Italy, by focusing on Ken Dryden’s review of three of them in :

“Pianist Dado Moroni is essentially a self-taught player who learned by listening to a variety of artists and styles. His discography as a leader is still fairly small, though he has recorded extensively as a sideman on European CDs in addition to appearances with Americans like trumpeters Tom Harrelll and Clark Terry and alto saxophonists Lee Konitz and Jesse Davis. Below are three examples of his work, including a live duo piano concert and two sessions as a sideman with up-and-coming European players.
Saxophonist Rosario Giuliani is a fast-rising star in European jazz. For his fourth Dreyfus CD
Anything Else [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 46050 366982], he composed 9 of the 12 songs and is accompanied by Moroni, trumpeter/flugelhornist Flavio Boltro, bassist Remi Vignolo and drummer Benjamin Henocq. "Blow Out" is a percolating uptempo blues line showcasing the leader's fiery alto and Moroni's intense McCoy Tyner-like solo, followed by the relaxing samba "Danae." "Backfire" is reminiscent of the Phil Woods Quintet with Tom Harrelll because of its energy, though this propulsive bop vehicle has a soulful edge in spots. Giuliani's constantly shifting solo is driven by Moroni and the rhythm section's high-octane accompaniment. The ballad "A Winter Day" opens with Moroni's dreamy piano solo, then Giuliani and Boltro (on flugelhorn) trade choruses in this engaging, nostalgic theme. Giuliani switches to soprano sax for his lively AfroCuban-flavored "Conversation" and the sentimental ballad "My Angel." The two horn players breeze through Ornette's challenging "Invisible," though Moroni's fiendish "Three Angels" is almost as demanding. The pianist also contributed the lyrical "Hagi Mystery," another piece with a Caribbean flavor, featuring Boltro's rich flugelhorn and Giuliani's impassioned alto sax.
Moroni and Enrico Pieranunzi are two of Italy's top keyboardists, so a duo concert like
Live Conversations [abeat AB JZ 039] makes sense. Both men have tremendous technique, yet also have big ears, able to complement each other's improvised lines while avoiding the train wrecks that often occur when there's a personality mismatch. Their interpretation of Miles' "Solar" is unusual, incorporating a bit of stride and a long closing vamp to spice up this bop favorite. There's a brief bit of confusion as Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" is introduced with a bit of the standard "Someday My Prince Will Come" and their wild romp through this calypso favorite has a decidedly humorous air. The aforementioned Disney tune is up next, transformed from a quiet waltz into a turbulent blend of dissonant harmonies and Stravinsky-like chords topped by a surprise ending.
A dazzling duo improvisation gradually leads into a stunning, somewhat ominous setting of "All the Things You Are," which segues into a more conventional version of "What is This Thing Called Love." The final track is a bit misleading: "Autumn Leaves" (the only tune listed), gradually unfolds from a dark improvisation into a bright performance with hints of Bill Evans. But this selection is actually a medley that detours into a dramatic workout of "Caravan" (yet also adding a brief, light-hearted lick from "Sweet Georgia Brown"), returning to the first theme and then engaging in an extended fast blues before gliding to a finish with a sly chorus of "Blue Monk."
Magone [Dreyfus Jazz FDM 46050 369112] marks the debut recording as a leader for Belgian trumpeter/flugelhornist Bert Joris, a veteran member of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. His potent rhythm section includes Moroni (who provides intuitive support for the leader in addition to his top drawer solos), bassist Philippe Aerts and drummer Dre Pallemaerts. Joris primarily focuses on his originals, delving into many moods. The brooding title track (an abbreviation of "Mother is Gone") is an emotional work; the trumpeter's solo is backed by dark, sparse piano and a rock-steady rhythm like someone pacing the floor, though Moroni's free- flowing bluesy solo steals the spotlight. Joris adds his mute for "Triple," a snappy, playful vehicle dedicated to his cat. The soft, lush ballad "Anna" (named for a young girl Joris once met) showcases his rich-toned flugelhorn. The perky bop line "King Kombo" evolved from two separate commissioned works. Moroni is heard on electric piano on two numbers, including his mellow "The Mighty Bobcat" and Joris' perky "Mr. Dodo." Joris is back on flugelhorn for the gut-wrenching interpretation of "I Fall in Love Too Easily." The last selection, "Benoit," comes from a 2005 concert, a Latin number showcasing the leader's muted trumpet.”
Dado has also been a long standing member of drummer Roberto Gatto’s quintet as is reflected by his appearance on two albums: Deep [CamJazz7760-2] and Roberto Gatto jazzitaliano 2006 [Palaexpo 03].
In addition to more of Dado’s sparkling improvisations, these albums under Gatto’s leadership find him in the company of some of Italy’s best musicians both old and new for as Ira Gitler, the notable and senior Jazz critic has commented: “Italian jazz musicians are the best in Europe and are world-class players.”
On Deep, the younger generation is represented by the brilliant soprano and baritone sax of Javier Girotto, who just made a solo performance with the famed Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam while the seasoned veterans are well represented by Gianluca Petrella on trombone and the rhythm section of Dado, Rosario Bonaccorso on bass and the irrepressible Gatto on drums, all of whom are engaged in nine original compositions penned by Roberto.

And listening to Roberto Gatto Quintet’s Jazzitaliano live 2006: Tribute to Miles Davis ’64-’68 [Paraexpo 03] with Flavio Boltro [trumpet], Daniele Scannapieco [tenor sax and the “newcomer” on this CD], Dado Moroni [piano], Rosario Bonaccorso [bass] and Roberto Gatto play a repertoire of tunes from the pre-electric Miles period of the 1960’s will leave little doubt in your mind about the quality of Jazz on exhibit in Italy, nor about the validity of Mr. Gitler’s view of it.

As I wrote in an earlier review of this album:

“The tunes on this recording are from Miles’ Seven Steps to Heaven Columbia album and from the period referred to by Jack Chambers in his wonderful book, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis as the “Circle, 1964-8.” Included in this period are such recordings as E.S.P, Miles Davis Quintet in Berlin, and Miles Davis Quintet at the Plugged Nickel multiple disc set.

The track selections on the Gatto quintet’s tribute CD are: [1] Joshua [2] There is No Greater Love [3] Footprints [4] Stella by Starlight [5] All Blues [6] Basin Street Blues [7] All of You and [8] Seven Steps to Heaven.

It’s obvious that these Italian Jazz musicians have been influenced by the Miles-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams group from the Circle period. Boltro acknowledges Miles’ phrasing, Scannapieco Shorter’s tone, Moroni is indebted to Feldman’s percussive approach to the piano, Bonaccorso’s big sound comes from Carter-by-way-of-Chambers, and Gatto’s approach to keeping time on drums is done in the interrupted and inflected style as first played by Tony Williams [by way of Elvin Jones].

Daniele Scannpieco is another surprising treat on this recording. His tone may be reminiscent of Shorter, but his phrasing is like no other tenor player that I’ve ever heard before. He takes so many chances and while he escapes from some of his improvisational adventures, he also crashes by placing himself in situations from which there is no extraction other than by taking a deep breath and going on to build the next sequence. What fun!

But these Italian Jazz musicians all put their own “footprint” on this music [apologies to Wayne] by making their own contributions to this portion of the Miles canon.”

Reluctantly it is time to end this review of Dado Moroni, one of the premier Jazz pianists in the world, and his recordings both old and new, heading his own trio or as a sideman, but not before we pay a visit to a duo masterpiece that he recorded in Milan on April 6, 2007 with his long-time friend, trumpet and flugelhorn player, Tom Harrell.

The album is entitled Humanity [#2 abeat Signature Series AB JZ 051].
Comprised entirely of six, exquisitely interpreted standards – The Nearness of You, Lover, I Hear a Rhapsody, Darn That Dream, Poinciana – and the title track original by Dado, Humanity is a "formidable disc which gives the listener an hour of music that is rich in intensity, lyricism and pathos.” [paraphrase of Maurizio Zerbo’s review of the disc in].

The pure music that Dado and Tom create on this recording is beautiful articulated in the following statement by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi who requested “the privilege” of being able to write the insert notes for this recording:

“I like the title of this CD very much.

It is a declaration, a good omen, a hope.

And it is wonderful that the title refers to a Jazz CD There is really no music that is more ‘human’ than jazz, of this expression of the body and imagination that speaks to life as it is happening by improvising with sounds.

Tom Harrell and Dodo Moroni tell their stories simply, authentically.

They sing their innermost being using so-called ‘mainstream’ language … but in the end this is not important.

What counts is the profound rapport there is between the two musicians, a silent and deeply felt understanding that spans the entire CD.

What counts are the thrills provided by tunes such as ‘Humanity’ or ‘The Nearness of You,’ as well as the other tracks, revealing a touching chance of beauty.

It is in cases like this that jazz reaches the point of being the most human of all expressions of art.”
If you have been a stranger to the music of Dado Moroni, I hope this review about him will convince you to remedy that unfamiliarity with a visit to his music. I promise you that you will come away from the experience justly rewarded

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Marty Paich

- Steven A. Cerra [C] Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
It is hard to disagree with Ted Gioia’s claim that “Marty Paich is one of the unsung heroes of West Coast Jazz.” [West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960: [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992]

As revealed by Charles Barber, curator of the Marty Paich website, this anonymity may in part be due to the fact that Marty “… took little interest in self-promotion, never acquired a personal agent, happily saw his business affairs managed by his capable first wife Huddy, and as soon as finances permitted decamped Los Angeles for a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara.” 

Or as Gioia’s asserts: “His personal lifestyle had none of the flamboyance and eccentricity of his long-time friend and collaborator Art Pepper’s, and his years of extended labors in the studios make it all too easy to overlook his contributions to jazz.” 

And yet, Marty Paich was a prodigious talent: a pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, producer, and musical director whose career spanned half a century, and included work with such Jazz artists as Shorty Rogers, Buddy DeFranco, Anita O’Day, Shelly Manne, Stan Kenton, Art Pepper, the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, as well as, popular music artists including Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Stan Getz, Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson, and many more. Not a bad resume for a name that is largely unknown outside of professional circles.

Born in Oakland, California on January 23, 1925, Martin Louis Paich came from a non-musical family which may explain why his first instrument was an accordion! He would be asked to play it on picnics and family special occasions. Although his earliest music lessons were on the accordion, he also took instruction on the piano.

As Charles Barber details: by age 10, Marty had formed the first of numerous bands, and by age 12 was regularly playing at weddings and similar affairs. While attending McClymonds High School, Marty also took up trumpet.

After graduating from McClymonds High School, Paich attended a series of professional schools in music, including Chapman College, San Francisco State University, the University of Southern California, and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music where he graduated (1951) magna cum laude with a Master's degree in composition.

In a 1988 interview with Ted Gioia, Marty explained that during his service career following WW II:

“There was no pianist in the band that I was attached to, an air force band. And being that I was an accordion player, closest to the keyboard, they said, ‘Paich, sit at the piano.’ My right hand was all right, but I had no left hand at all.” 
Gioia goes on to state that Marty developed into a first-rate pianist as can be heard on his Mode trio LP [105, reissued on CD as VSOP #64], “… a talent that has been overshadowed by his greater recognition as an arranger.” 

I have always thought that Marty played what musicians’ refer to as “arranger’s piano” which has less emphasis on single note runs and horn-like phrases and uses more chords played with one or both hands to develop rhythmic motifs. Or as Joe Quinn states in the liner notes to the Mode trio LP:

“Marty’s arranging and composing talents are as much in evidence in this LP as his playing technique which is an added bonus in this interpretive collection.” Joe goes on to explain that “Marty’s prominence as an arranger has grown so during the past five years [c. 1952-57] that he has had little opportunity to purvey his talents as a pianist on record. In fact, although he has worked as a sideman on several dates, this is the first recorded set [along with red Mitchell on bass and Mel Lewis on drums] which has appeared under his own name.” 

Following his discharge from military service, Marty took some classes at San Francisco State before ultimately receiving a master’s degree in composition with high honors in 1951 from the Los Angeles Conservatory of music. Additionally, he was able to use the GI Bill to study with composers outside the faculty at the conservatory and Marty applied these funds to work under Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. As told to Gioia during their interview: “I spent four years with him being my composition and orchestrations teacher. And that’s how I got ninety percent of my formal knowledge.”

And yet, the beginning of his involvement in composition and arrangement pre-date his formal study as Marty “… started arranging when I was about twelve years old. … By the time I was sixteen years old I was actually selling my arrangements, I think for about $20 or $25.” [Gioia interview] Marty sold these early charts to Gary Nottingham since his orchestra provided his earliest paying work as arranger; together with Pete Rugolo he wrote some of that band's best-known charts.

What Gioia refers to as “street smart” arranging skills probably came about in the following manner as described by Charles Barber, curator of Marty’s website:

“From the beginning of his professional career, he also learned music in the time-honored ways: he transcribed countless tunes and charts from recordings, he attended innumerable concerts, and he sat-in on a thousand jams. And from the beginning Paich had an extraordinary ear for style, and tremendously eclectic taste. These gifts would serve him well in his career and provide the opportunity to work in an amazingly large circle of musicians.”

Although most of his small group recordings with The Giants would feature either Pete Jolly or Lou Levy on piano, two of Shorty Rogers earliest quintet LPs would include Marty on piano. These were the 1953 tracks on the seminal Cool and Crazy LP [RCA BMG 74321610582] and the RCA Bluebird compilation released on CD as Shorty Rogers – Short Stops [5917-2-RB].
In addition to working with Shorty’s small group primarily in 1953, Paich took a series of jobs in the Los Angeles music and recording industry. These included arranging (and playing) the score for the Disney Studio's full length cartoon film The Lady and The Tramp, working as accompanist for vocalist Peggy Lee [who was also heavily involved in developing the music for the Disney animation], touring with Dorothy Dandridge, and providing arrangements for many local bands in Los Angeles.

In 1954, and perhaps as an extension of his time with Shorty Rogers, Marty began his writing experiments for larger small groups or what he would ultimately call “a band within the band.” Octets and dek-tettes [10-piece groups] would become the vehicle for such arranging platforms beginning with Marty Paich Octet: Tenors West Vol. No. 10, GNP-153. Paich's work on this recording reflected one of his greatest strengths as an arranger: making relatively small groups sound like full-size orchestras.
Employing Bob Enevoldsen on everything from valve trombone to vibes to tenor saxophone, Harry Klee on bass as well as alto flute using the piano’s upper register to play unison lines in the upper horn or trumpet register, Paich develops orchestral colors that are reminiscent of everything from the Woody Herman four brothers sound [from which, no doubt, the name – “Tenors West” – is derived] to the yet-to-come Henry Mancini hip, slick and cool Peter Gunn resonances. A trumpet plays under a baritone sax, a bass plays “lead” in a “choir” made up of trumpet, flute and piano, and rhythmic riffs and motifs punctuate backgrounds everywhere. On this recording, Marty is the musical equivalent of a kid in a toy store trying everything in every combination.

In addition to eight originals, Paich especially employs the “four brothers tenor sound” using three tenors and either Harry Klee’s flute or a baritone sax played by Jack Dulong to create beautiful renditions of three standards: There’s No You, Take the “A” Train, and Mulligan’s Line for Lyons, breathing new life into these familiar melodies with his intriguing arrangements. Incidentally, Conte Candoli on trumpet has never sounded better as his usual, fiery self. Also, if you’ve ever wondered what the “Chet-Baker-side” of Conte would sound like, this is the album to checkout.

Throughout the decade of the 1950's, Paich was active in West Coast Jazz performance while also working intensively in the studios. He not only played on, but arranged and produced, numerous West Coast jazz recordings, including albums by Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Terry Gibbs, Stan Kenton, Shelley Manne, Anita O'Day, Dave Pell, Art Pepper, Buddy Rich, Shorty Rogers, and Mel Tormé. His professional and personal association with Tormé, "though occasionally a difficult one," would last decades. Many jazz critics feel their work together with the Marty Paich Dektette to be the high point of their respective careers.

One of Marty enduring contributions to the “West Coast Sound” was the development of arrangements that “… are gems of control and restraint; they boot the musicians along without unduly distracting attention from the soloists.” [Bob Gordon, Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s, London: Quartet Books, 1986, p. 177]. Marty also became quite adept at voicing his arrangements to accentuate the signature sound of some of the more notable West Coast Jazz instrumentalists such as Jack Sheldon’s puckish trumpet and the full, mellow alto saxophone tone of Art Pepper.
Charles Barber described Marty’s skills as a composer arranger as follows:

“The music of Marty Paich is characterized by a wide-ranging catholicity of style, a tremendous sense of color, and impeccable taste. He was never a musical braggart, and never put himself first. His dedication was to the music he wrote and arranged, to the text it endorsed, and to the artists with whom he worked. Although notoriously perfectionist and demanding in the studio and onstage, Marty was a man of uncommon humility.

He was influenced by many forces: his classical training gave him skill and superb technique. His experience in jazz created a sense of driven pulse and easy improvisation. ...

And he was fast. What composer-conductor John Williams described as “the best ears in the business” could work with terrific speed, hearing instantly what was needed, and what was possible. He was often called upon to bail out others who had gotten stuck in muddy waters. In that regard, a fair amount of his music went un-credited.”

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the chronological emphasis for this piece, whether Marty was writing for Ray Brown, Stan Kenton, Terry Gibbs, Art Pepper or Mel Tormé, he always wrote in the context of the signature sounds of these musicians or groups.

It would be difficult to find a better example of this strength than Ray Brown’s Bass Hit [Verve 314 559 829-2] as arranged and conducted by Marty for as Don Heckman states in his insert notes :

“Bass players have rarely appeared as soloists with a big band. … Ray Brown has never been one to avoid a challenge. … Holding everything together are the arrangements of Marty Paich. … Although Paich’s charts, for the most part, have the sprightly rhythmic uplift one associates with West Coast, he also brings a Count Basie-like sensibility to several numbers, perhaps most notably “Blues for Sylvia” [co-composed by Brown and Paich].”
On Bass Hit, Paich surrounds Brown with his “small” big band, a format, as has been noted, that Paich was becoming quite expert at. This one included such distinctive soloists as trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, Herb Geller on alto sax, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre with his signature lower and mid range sound, guitarist Herb Ellis along with pianist Jimmy Rowles and the always-present-on-Marty-Paich-led-dates, Mel Lewis on drums, to round-out the rhythm section. Ray Brown and the stellar players joining him on this recording all benefited from Marty’s “gift” of writing arrangements that allowed them to put their personality into the music.

To paraphrase Don Heckman: “In a sense, the real question about Bass Hit was how well Brown would fit into the kind of orchestral context provided by Paich, in association with these soloists – both stylistically and as a lead instrumentalist. The answer, best stated by the music itself, is testimony to the great adaptability that [both Paich] and Brown have demonstrated throughout their careers.” 

During this period, Marty also prepared arrangements for what many considered the most swinging version of the Stan Kenton orchestra as co-led by lead trumpeter Al Porcino and drummer Mel Lewis. This swinging emphasis was no doubt due to the fact that the band performed arrangements written by Gerry Mulligan, Bill Holman, Johnny Richards and Marty.
In 1957, Marty contributed two charts to the Kenton book that were recorded in January of the following year for Stan’s Back to Balboa album [Capitol Jazz 7243 5 93094 2]. These were the furiously up-tempo The Big Chase and an absolutely stunning arrangement of My Old Flame. Michael Sparke, the noted expert on all-things-Kenton when its comes to his studio recordings had this to say about Marty’s association with Stan and these arrangements:

“Marty Paich was never a regular member of the arranging staff, but was one of the few writers that Stan entrusted to submit the occasional chart, and ‘My Old Flame’ became a classic in the book. In [Kenton trumpeter] Phil Gilbert’s view, ‘Marty Paich was one of Hollywood’s great arrangers. He wrote lush, rich charts for dozens of the best singers. His ballads were unique in their harmonies and extraordinary originality. I still remember the feeling I got when we first rehearsed ‘My Old Flame’ at Zardi’s [a Beverly Hills, CA supper club]. After all the moving moods throughout, came the classical climax. I said, ‘My God, that’s gorgeous. Everyone was stunned." 

… Nothing could better portray Paich’s versatility or be a stronger contrast to ‘Flame’ than ‘The Big Chase,’ which sweeps all before it in an exciting surge of sound. “Playing’ The Big Chase’ felt like the number for a circus high-wire act,’ continued Phil Gilbert. ‘Maybe Stan said, “Marty, write something at 150 miles an hour.”’ 

In 1991, Marty was to conduct The Big Chase and My Old Flame along with reprisals of his Body and Soul arrangement for the Kenton band and his original composition Neophonic Impressions 65 done in 1965 for Kenton’s 1960’s Neophonic Orchestra.
The occasion would be a four day-celebration involving alumni members of the Kenton band organized by Ken Poston, then of jazz radio station FM88.1 KLON, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kenton Orchestra’s debut at the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa Island, CA.

In the four CD Stan Kenton Retrospective [Capitol CDP 7 97351/52/53/54 2] Ted Daryll comments: “Two sessions in January of ’58 delivered, among others, Marty Paich’s gorgeous idea on ‘My Old Flame’ that featured the equally beautiful sound of Bill Perkins’ tenor [saxophone].
A few years later at another of Ken Poston’s four-day festivals dedicated to Jazz on the West Coast, this time under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, I asked Bill Perkins for his recollections about playing on Marty’s arrangement of My Old Flame and he had this to say:

“It was a wonderful work, but I really had to concentrate or I’d be swept away by all the beauty that was going on around me. Everybody on the band loved to play that chart; it was so moving and beautiful. I must have played it a hundred times and it was a relief each time it was over because I didn’t want to mess up what Marty had done with it.” Also in 1957, Marty continued his band-within-band love affair with the release of nine of his original compositions on the Cadence Records Marty Paich Big Band [CLP-3010] which was issued on CD as Marty Paich: The Picasso of Big Band Jazz [Candid CCD 79031].

According to Frankie Nemko-Graham’s insert notes for the Candid CD:

“During the past years Paich has written many small band arrangements for such groups as the Dave Pell Octet, Shelly Manne, and several vocalists, using the trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, baritone sax and the French Horn.
With this instrumentation he was able to run the gamut of color. Which gave him an idea. ‘Why not,’ he thought, ‘use this small band with a big band?’ So when Albert Marx asked him to write an album he decided to practice his theory. To the six instruments mentioned [Jack Sheldon, Herb Geller, Bob Cooper, Bob Enevoldsen, Marty Berman, Vince De Rosa] he added two trumpets [Pete Candoli and Buddy Childers], another trombone [Herbie Harper], another sax [Bill Perkins] and a rhythm section [Marty on piano, Joe Mondragon, bass and Mel Lewis on drums].

He wasn’t trying for a big band sound. He wanted, instead, to help swing and excite the small band in front. The results are something new and different. In the first track “From Now On,” for instance, the five brasses are playing the melody while the small band is supplying the harmony. When the trumpet solo starts, the background would usually be the standard sax section. Instead, Paich wrote a figure in the brass. With this he used the remaining front line to play in unison.

Paich says he can’t give enough credit to the soloists on this album. To Jack Sheldon on trumpet for his tasty conception of “From Now On.” Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone on almost every track. Bob Cooper on tenor sax playing his usual best. Vince De Rosa for his wonderful French Horn and Marty Berman on baritone.”
[All of whom are featured in a significant way to help create the trademark Paich small-band-sound-within-a-larger-band sound].”

Paralleling Marty instrumental work during the mid-1950s, Marty also employed his developing arranging skills and small band within a big band format to assist in launching the career of vocalist Mel Tormé in a new direction.

Initially this was accomplished through a series of 5 albums that Tormé and Paich made together on the Bethlehem label beginning in 1955 with It’s A Blue World [30152].

However, it wasn't until the 1956 release of two albums that the tandem of Tormé and Paich really hit it stride. These were Lulu’s Back in Town: Mel Tormé with the Marty Paich Dek-tette [CD R2 75732] and Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire [CD R2 79847].
Joe Quinn provides this background as to how the design for this recording came about in his insert notes:

“Because he is jazz oriented, one of the first sounds to attract Mel’s attention in the modern vein was the Gerry Mulligan tentet which operated on the west coast some years ago, and produced some of the freshest combinations which are in vogue today. Mel always felt that these same patterns, re-worked for the proper vocalist, would be a distinctive blending of voice and instrument to the mutual satisfaction of both.”

In his review of the recording for, Scott Yanow had this to say: 

“This Bethlehem LP (last reissued in 1978 and originally known as Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dek-Tette) is a classic. Singer Mel Tormé was matched for the first time with arranger Marty Paich’s ten piece group which was called Dek-tette. Among the sidemen are trumpeters Pete Candoli and Don Fagerquist, valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, Bud Shank on alto and flute and either Bob Cooper or Jack Montrose on tenors; in addition Paich uses both a French horn and a tuba. The arranged ensembles and cool-toned soloists match perfectly with Tormé's warm voice and there are many highpoints to this essential date. In particular "Lulu's Back in Town," "When the Sun Comes Out," "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Lullaby of Birdland" are standouts but all dozen selections are excellent. This is one of Mel Tormé's finest records of the 1950s.”

Finally, Joseph F. Laredo in his supplemental notes to the CD offered these insights about the powerful association between Tormé and Paich and why their names deserved to be linked as co-creators in these collaborative Bethlehem efforts:

“Although four decades have passed since its debut, this album, universally acknowledged to be a milestone in the history of vocal jazz, remains an electrifying listening experience. Mel Torme arrived at Bethlehem in 1955, having weathered a brief flirtation with the trappings of bobby-soxer idolatry in the late '40s, and was determined to explore the full range of his artistic potential. The most empathetic partner imaginable soon entered his life in the person of arranger Marty Paich, whose inventive charts for a group led by drummer Shelly Manne had made a forceful impression on Mel. Together, they developed the concept of a versatile ten-piece instrumental backing ensemble dubbed the "Deck-tette, " modeled along the lines of the contemporaneous Gerry Mulligan Tentet and the Miles Davis Nonet of "Birth of the Cool" fame.

In 1956, Tormé and Paich recorded this masterpiece. Mel later gleefully reflected that the opening selection, "Lulu's Back In Town," seemed to "Stick to me in a glue-like manner," and his romp through the tune became an instant signature performance. Each subsequent track shimmers with similar brilliance, although special mention must be made of an extended dissection of George Shearing,"Lullaby Of Birdland, " which features Mel improvising and interpolating like a virtuoso possessed. In the 1980s, Torme embarked on a series of enormously successful album collaborations with Shearing for the Concord label, efforts which resulted in the singer's first Grammy Awards .

The Tormé and Paich partnership flourished at Bethlehem until the label folded in late '50s, at which point it was briefly continued at Verve, and later revived on a pair of critically acclaimed outings for Concord in the '80s. The singularly gifted and prolific Marty Paich, who worked effectively with everyone from Mahalia Jackson to Michael Jackson over the years, died in 1995. A little over a year later, Mel Torme suffered a debilitating stroke that has curtailed his career to date. Fortunately, both artists were captured for posterity, at the very height of their considerable powers, on the unforgettable collection you are holding now."

-Joseph F. Laredo

The second, equally unforgettable partnership between Tormé and Paich on Bethlehem took place later in 1956 on Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire which John Bush considers to be the best of the lot as noted in the following critique that appears on
“Though it's sometimes relegated to second or third place among Tormé's best albums of the '50s (behind Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dek-Tette and It's a Blue World), it's difficult to hear how Mel Tormé Sings Fred Astaire can't be the best album of his entire career. Featuring an artist at the peak of his ability and talent, a collection of top-drawer songs from the best pop composers ever, and a swinging ten-piece that forms the perfect accompaniment, Sings Fred Astaire is one of the best up-tempo vocal albums ever recorded. Coming hot on the heels of Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dek-Tette in 1956, this tribute to Hollywood's most stylish dancer finds Tormé obliging with his nimblest and most elegant singing. Even while Marty Paich’s band takes "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Cheek to Cheek" at a breakneck pace that Astaire himself would've had trouble with, Tormé floats over the top with death-defying vocal acrobatics. He's breezy and sophisticated on "They Can't Take That Away from Me," ecstatic and effervescent on "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" (matching an exuberant solo by trumpeter Pete Candoli), and even breaks out an affectionate croon for "A Foggy Day." A collection of perfect hard-swinging pop with a few ballads thrown in for good measure makes Sings Fred Astaire a masterpiece of the vocal era.”

And once again from Joseph F. Laredo’s supplemental insert notes:

“Recorded in November of 1956, this collection forged another link in the brilliant chain of successes that Tormé would string together while at Bethlehem in collaboration with Marty Paich. … ‘Once again, Marty’s colorful writing was right on target,’ Tormé later explained while reflecting on this Astaire tribute. “He placed the tuba, the low end of the Dektette, in many positions other than the obligatory bass note. Sometimes he would write a unison line for the trumpet and alto, using the rest of the band as a bed under them. The results were sensational.’ It is difficult to disagree with this assessment.

The pleasure Tormé took in making these recordings is palpable.”

Following the demise of the Bethlehem label, Tormé and Paich kept their artistic juices following together with a move to Verve and the release of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley [821-581-2], although this time Marty had graduated to a full orchestra for the date including Art Pepper on alto sax.
In his liner notes for the album, Lawrence D. Stewart observed that:

“Geometry insists that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts; but when the proposition is Mel Tormé plus Marty Paich, the result is far more than a combination of singular talents. Tormé and Paich have made over half a dozen records together, always experimenting in the balancing of this jazz equation. But the formula they have uncovered for this set is the most astonishing yet.

Tormé does not conceive of himself as a soloist with a background accompaniment. Instead, he treats his voice as one more instrument in the band and achieves his effects by balance, counter-rhythm and even harmonic dissonances, which ring against these instrumental changes. ‘Most singers want to finish singing and then have the band come in for a bar and a half – and then they’re on again,’ observes Paich. ‘But Mel’s always saying “Let the band play – let the band play.” It’s quite unselfish from his standpoint and it doesn’t overload the album. It makes for good listening.’ It does even more than that: it gives a totally new conception to some rather traditional music.”

Richard Cook & Brian Morton had this to say about the album in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD: 6th Edition [London: Penguin, 2002]:

“This is arguably Tormé’s greatest period on record, and it captures the singer in full flight. His range had grown a shade tougher since his 1940s records, but his voice is more flexible, his phrasing infinitely assured, and the essential lightness of timbre is used to suggest a unique kind of tenderness.

Marty Paich’s arrangements are beautifully polished and rich-toned, the French horns lending distinctive color to ensembles which sound brassy without being metallic. There may be only a few spots for soloists but they’re all made to count, in the West Coast manner of the day.

It’s loaded with note perfect scores from Paich and a couple of pinnacles of sheer swing ….”
[p. 1456].

If you haven’t heard these recordings by Tormé and Paich, get them and listen to sheer genius at work.
In 1959, the year before the Shubert Alley recording, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs began fronting a big band on Monday nights [the customary off night for working musicians] at a few venues in Hollywood. Later to be called the “Dream Band,” during its initial existence is was sometimes referred to as “The Bill Holman Band” because most of the bands early charts were “loaned” by Bill as Terry could barely afford to pay the musicians, let alone, buy arrangements.

However, the band did “make a go of it” for a couple of years and Terry did commission three charts from Marty for the band. These were: Opus One, I’m Getting Sentimental Over You and Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise. Lest anyone be concerned about what Marty could do with a “full Armada under his command,” the three arrangements announce immediately that Paich could take the additional instrumentation of a larger band to new heights of power and propulsion. These charts for the Terry Gibbs Dream Band provide a microcosmic laboratory for studying a master, big band orchestrator at work.

Beyond his continuing work with Tormé and the definitive, big band arrangements for Gibbs, Marty would be involved with two more very special projects in 1959.

The first of these involved alto saxophonist Art Pepper whom Marty once described this way:

“When I first met Art he was the greatest saxophone player that I had heard. Far above anybody else. I couldn’t believe how beautifully he played. And at that time there was the battle going on: a lot of writers were writing about East Coast Jazz and West Coast Jazz. Art to me was the ‘sound’ of West Coast Jazz, that melodic style he played, rather than that hard-driving New York style that a lot of guys were playing. I just fell in love with him the first time I heard him. And then eventually we worked together.” Gordon, p.165].

At the time, Marty’s devotion to Pepper turned out to be a good thing for us Ted Gioia points out: “Between 1958 and 1960, Paich was directly or indirectly responsible for about half of the recordings in the Pepper discography.” [Gioia, p.303] 

What makes this fact even more significant is that after 1960, Pepper would spend long stretches in prison because of nefarious activities associated with his drug habit and not re-surface again on the Jazz scene until 1975.
On Art Pepper + Eleven: A Treasury of Modern Jazz Classics [Contemporary OJCCD 341-2] the Pepper- Paich mutual admiration society produced a Jazz classic with a recording that is an almost perfect representation of the skills of everyone involved: from Les Koenig, owner of Contemporary whose idea it was to put the pair together in such a setting, to Pepper’s outstanding soloing on alto sax, tenor sax and clarinet [not to mention Jack Sheldon’s as the “other voice” on trumpet]; to Marty’s scintillating and inspiring arrangements; to all of the musicians on the date in executing his charts both with accuracy, style and for infusing them with a sense of excitement.

In his insert notes to an album, Nat Hentoff explains:

“In this new, uniquely integrated set, Pepper receives a differently challenging, frame work from Marty Paich than he – or most other soloists – has yet received on records. And Art responds with consistent brilliance.

What Paich has done has been to provide more than just accompaniment for Art. He has integrated the resilient band backgrounds with Art’s playing in a way that stimulates Pepper but doesn’t obstruct the improvisatory flow of ideas. Paich was able to accomplish this fusion because he knows Pepper’s style well through several years of association, including dates on which Marty was a pianist for Art. 

“I wanted to give him,’ Paich notes, ‘a different kind of inspiration than he’s used to with just a quartet behind him. I wanted Art to feel the ‘impact’ of the band, and I thought this setting would spur him to play differently than usual – though still freely within his natural style. And it did. Art and I have always thought very much alike. I couldn’t have asked for a more compatible soloist.’ Keeping Art free and yet integrated with the band was the main challenge for Paich. ‘There are even sections here – unlike the usual big band situation – in which Art improvises with ‘just’ the rhythm section.’”

Or astutely put another way by Ted Gioia, the overriding reason for the album’s success was that:

“Paich’s sensitivity to Pepper’s distinctive talent is evident throughout ‘Art Pepper plus Eleven.’ Other arrangers had been able to capture specific sides of Pepper’s musical personality; - Shorty Rogers, for example, had created several successful settings to feature the lyrical quality in Pepper’s ballad work – but Paich was able to develop settings that wrapped perfectly around the full range of Pepper’s sound, not only utilizing his alto voice in different contexts, but also effectively exploring his seldom-heard playing on clarinet and tenor sax.” [p.304]

“The collaborations between these two artists remain among the most satisfying meetings of musical minds West Coast jazz produced.” [p.303].
And finally, after contributing full big band arrangements for others during 1959, Marty was given the opportunity to write them for his own big band when Warner Brothers records approached him to make an album which was eventually combined with an earlier 1957 recording on Cadence and issued and re-issued under a variety of titles [Moanin', The Broadway Bit, I Get A Boot ouf of You].

As usual, Marty remained loyal and employed the distinctive sounds of trumpeter Jack Sheldon, of valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, French Horn player Vince De Rosa, tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins, and drummer Mel Lewis, but he also would relinquish the piano chair to Russ Freeman and add vibist Victor Feldman whose work he greatly admired. And, of course, there’s more from Art Pepper on these tracks.
In 1959, there was also the continuing alliance with Art Pepper, although as Ted Gioia makes clear:

"The Paich big band sessions for Warner Brothers, coming only a few weeks after the recording of ‘Art Pepper plus Eleven,’ serve in many ways as a counterpoint to that work. Once again Pepper is featured prominently, and Paich, relying heavily on Ellington compositions, shows that he has also learned Duke’s technique of tailoring the arrangements to the players involved. [Emphasis mine]."

This album was a great way for Marty to close the decade of the 1950s and an ideal stopping-point for the editorial staff at Jazz Profiles to close this all-too-brief retrospective on the career of one of the most talented composers and arrangers in American popular music during the second half of the 20th century.

While compiling this piece, the editors of Jazz Profiles had the delightful experience of listening to Marty’s arranging and composing mastery in these broad settings while realizing, at the same time, that what was under review was ONLY Paich’s work during the decade of the 1950s! Marty was to go on to actively make use of his wondrous writing skills for another thirty years!! As Messer’s Barber and Gioia point out, each in their own way, a major key to Marty success during these three decades would be his continuing humility and sensitivity to the talents of others.

“As you discover Marty’s music for yourself, please consider these findings: When he was alive, his music changed by artist and occasion. Now that he is gone, the music will live within and be further transformed by musicians like yourselves.”
-Charles Barber, curator Marty Paich website
Marty Paich's arrangement of "Blue Lou" featuring, in solo order, Jack Sheldon [trumpet], Bob Enevoldsen [valve trombone], Don Fagerquist [trumpet], Stu Williamson [trumpet], Marty on piano, Buddy Clark on bass and Mel Lewis on drums.