© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“I don’t know any Jazzman who has as good a sense of melodic development in his solos as Charlie. The lines he finds! And he’s so warm.”
- Shelly Manne
“These recordings [Charlie Mariano’s New Sound from Boston and Boston All-Stars, both on Prestige] served their professional purpose for the leader. Charlie Mariano left Boston soon after with the Chubby Jackson—Bill Harris band, a splinter group from Woody Herman's First Herd, and from there he went on to the California-based Stan Kenton orchestra (1953-55, 1958-59) and the high-profile small band known as Shelly Manne and His Men (1955-58).Then, for the next four and a half decades, he pursued an international career on a scale unprecedented in jazz or any of the other arts, taking up residencies in Japan, Malaysia, Belgium, India (where he learned to play the nagasuram, a classical Indian flute), Switzerland, the Netherlands, and several other countries.”
- Jack Chambers, Bouncin’ With Bartok, The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik
“Mariano’s reedy, slightly plaintive sound has deepened in intensity down the years, but there is a clear continuity front Mariano's cool boppish early records to his more eclectic recent work ….
Critics were quick to locate the much-underrated Mariano in the gaggle of post- Bird alto players. It's true as far as it goes. Mariano was born only three years after Parker, and his first and greatest influence remains Johnny Hodges. The wrenching intensity of his solos with Kenton’s orchestra are yet to come. On his early records, Mariano is still playing in a very linear way, without the three-dimensional solidarity and textual variations that he developed later; he was still more or less rooted in conventional bop harmony ….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
I’ve always had a special fondness for combos with a trumpet and alto saxophone “front-line.” Perhaps this was because one of the first Jazz groups I ever worked with had this configuration.
I liked the brightness of the brass and crackling sound of the higher register alto saxophone, especially when paired with a trumpet.
The combination just sounded so hip.
But I had no idea how brilliant this pairing could sound until I encountered it in the form of Stu Williamson on trumpet and Charlie Mariano on alto saxophone.
Stu and Charlie were on the first Contemporary LP that I ever bought at my neighborhood record shop. The rhythm section was Russ Freeman on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and, of course, Shelly on drums.
Entitled Shelly Manne and His Men, Vol. 5: More Swingin’ Sound [Contemporary S-7519, OJCCD-320-2], it was recorded on July 16th and August 15-16, 1956 and, as I was to learn later, it was a sequel of sorts to Shelly Manne and His Men, Vol. 4: Swingin’ Sounds [Contemporary S-3516, OJCCD-267-2].
Shelly kept this version of The Men together for a little over two-and-a-half years years until Charlie Mariano made the decision to move back to his native Boston, MA in 1958.
Nat Hentoff has described the music by this band as “ … lean, angular, rhythmically probing, and emotionally striking in a hard unsentimental way.”
The music on Vol. 5 was fresh, crisp and clean as was much of Southern California in the 1950s. To use a friend’s favorite phrase: it was “happy, joyous and free.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton writing in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th edition reflected that the recording contained – “…excellent early material from a notably light and vibrant band fronted by the underrated Stu Williamson and the always inventive Charlie Mariano. … Shelly played as soft as he ever did, and with great control on the mallets.”
Three things about the music on this album struck me immediately and forcefully:  Shelly Manne’s use of timpani mallets,  the luminous trumpet work of Stu Williamson who also plays valve trombone surprisingly well and, most of all,  the plaintive wail that was so much a part of Charlie Mariano’s alto saxophone tone.
“Soulful” would become a word that was used often in relationship to Jazz, but nothing I ever heard then or now is as soulful as Charlie’s playing on this track.
Here’s more information on the scope and span of Charlie Mariano’s career.
Charlie Mariano: jazz saxophonist
The alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano had two distinctly different musical personalities. On the one hand he was an incisive bebop soloist who extended the ideas of Charlie Parker with skill and panache, contributing to many recordings with Stan Kenton, Shelly Manne and the bands of his former wife Toshiko Akiyoshi. On the other he was a restless musical explorer whose style was difficult to categorize, investigating Eastern music and learning to play the “nagasuram”, fusing Indian music with jazz, playing free improvisations with the cream of the European avant-garde, and pioneering rock fusion, most famously in his own group Osmosis and in the multinational United Jazz and Rock Ensemble.
For the most part, Mariano’s musical identities were separated by the Atlantic Ocean. He made his initial reputation as a bebop player in his native United States, before settling in Europe at the start of the 1970s and using his home in Cologne as the launching pad for his travels and exploration. However, one aspect of his work transcended physical and musical boundaries, in that Mariano was a gifted and strong-minded teacher, passing on his wealth of knowledge to students worldwide after the success of his first teaching posts at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
Born into an Italian-American family in Boston, Carmino Ugo Mariano soon had his name Anglicized to Charles Hugo, and before long, simply Charlie. Although he listened keenly to opera and jazz in roughly equal proportions at home, he did not begin to play music until he acquired his first saxophone at the age of 18. However, he soon made up for lost time, playing within months of starting the instrument in some of Boston’s roughest bars before being drafted into a military dance band.
Stationed in Los Angeles in 1945 he heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Billy Berg’s Hollywood nightclub, and was immediately inspired to learn all he could about their style, transcribing Parker’s records and learning his solos by heart.
Back in Boston in 1946 he went through the standard musical apprenticeship of the era, paying his dues in the bands of Shorty Sherock, Larry Clinton and Nat Pierce, but simultaneously studying at Schillinger House, which was expanded into the Berklee School during his time there. In 1953 he was recruited for Stan Kenton’s band on the West Coast, and after two years in this high-profile job he joined the drummer Shelly Manne for a more settled work pattern involving less touring and more time in the Los Angeles area. This produced some of his most distinctive early records, such as his contributions to Manne’s album The Gambit.
Leaving the West in 1958 to return to Boston, Mariano started teaching at Berklee, and playing with the trumpet tutor there, Herb Pomeroy. He met and was married to the Japanese pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, forming a quartet with her that first recorded in December 1960. The group (and the marriage) lasted seven years, and during that time they traveled widely, making several records in Tokyo for RCA Japan with a mixture of Japanese and American jazz musicians. Mariano also arranged for Akiyoshi’s Japanese All Stars big band.
Back at Berklee for a time in the early 1960s, Mariano also played and recorded with Charles Mingus, most famously on the album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Mariano greatly liked Mingus’ workshop methods of developing new music, using experience as much as academic theory, and formed his own jazz workshop-cum-nightclub in Boston.
Mariano’s interest in fusion started when rock music was in its infancy. Osmosis was formed in 1967, and he went on to work with the European free jazz and rock fusion band Pork Pie with the guitarist Philip Catherine and keyboard player Jasper Van’t Hof.
From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s he also traveled widely in the Far East and India, absorbing local music and instrumental techniques.
In 1975 he was invited to join the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, originally formed for a German television chat show, but soon developed by the keyboard player Wolfgang Dauner into an independent band in its own right. Mariano played reeds alongside the English saxophonist Barbara Thompson, and also in the line-up were the trumpeters Kenny Wheeler and Ian Carr (obituary, February 25, 2009), the bassist Eberhard Weber and the drummer Jon Hiseman. The group’s debut recording Live in Schützenhaus became Germany’s biggest selling jazz album of all time. The group continued to tour and record into the present century.
From the late 1980s until the present, Mariano had been an energetic freelance. He worked with the Swiss bandleader George Gruntz, in individual projects with several members of the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, and with the oud player Rabih Abu-Khalil. He also returned to his earlier American style of playing at occasional reunions of Kenton band colleagues, and in Al Porcino’s Big Band.
In 1995 Mariano was given a diagnosis of prostate cancer and warned that he might only survive another year. He threw himself into work with greater zeal than before, as well as undergoing alternative therapies, and brought his burly frame, shock of white hair and broad-toned saxophone sound to a characteristically wide range of musical projects, culminating last year in a final series of reunions with Catherine and Van’t Hof both in the recording studio and in a triumphant concert at the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart.
Charlie Mariano, jazz saxophonist, was born on November 12, 1923. He died on June 16, 2009, aged 85.
© -Richard Vacca, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.
Another overview of Charlie’s career can be found in these excerpts from Richard Vacca, The Boston Jazz Chronicles: Faces, Places, and Nightlife, 1937-1962 which Richard has graciously allowed us to use:
“In the early 1950s, Charlie Mariano was the most important musician in Boston jazz. He did not seek such recognition and probably would have disputed it, but he earned it the only way that mattered: through his playing. It was Mariano who was invited to record on the Prestige and Imperial labels, and it was Mariano who came up with the idea for the original Jazz Workshop. Between 1951 and 1953, he was the man to call.
Don't get the idea, though, that his phone was ringing off the hook. It wasn't. The jazz work he loved was not plentiful, and he took his share of work with bands like Baron Hugo's Totem Pole Orchestra. He wasn't above day jobs outside of music, either. He was working in a department store as late as 1953, doing what a guy with a young family had to do.
Born in 1923, Charlie Mariano grew up in Boston's Hyde Park district. He took up the alto saxophone in his late teens, and by 1942 he was making the rounds on Boston's buckets of blood circuit. The following year he was drafted. It was Mariano's good fortune to spend his two years in the service playing in an Army Air Corps band in California, where he heard Charlie Parker for the first time. Mariano, whose strongest influence to that point was Johnny Hodges, was deeply affected by Parker. For years he battled the label of Parker wannabe.
When he returned to Boston, Mariano enrolled at Schillinger House, where he studied with Joe Viola, whom he often credited for his sound, and he joined the Ray Borden/Nat Pierce orchestra. The Pierce band didn't work often, and Mariano had his own quartet at Eddie Levine's as early as 1948 and recordings under his own name for Motif in 1949.
In 1951, Ira Gitler at Prestige Records wanted to produce a series of recordings showcasing regional talent, and the first place he came was Boston, and the first musician he contacted was Mariano. (The second was Al Vega, then leading the house trio at the Hi-Hat.) In December, Mariano made his first recording, with ensembles ranging in size from quintet to octet. Mariano assembled some of the area's best modernists: Joe Gordon on trumpet; trombonist Sonny Truitt and baritone saxophonist George Myers from the Pierce band; Jim Clark, a tenor saxophonist from Chicago stationed at an army base near Boston; Pianist Roy Frazee, a New England Conservatory student who had worked with Tommy Reynolds; and Jack Lawlor, the bassist in Al Vega's trio. Gene Glennon and Carl Goodwin shared the drum duties. Pianist Dick Twardzik sat in on one tune, his first known recording.
The result was the LP The New Sounds from Boston. Said producer Gitler: "I hope this album has shown you that good modern music is being produced in areas other than readily acknowledged places such as New York and Chicago.”
Mariano recorded his second Prestige LP, Boston All Stars, with a quintet in January 1953. Alongside Mariano on that one were Twardzik; trumpeter Herb Pomeroy; Bernie Griggs, at the time the first-call bassist in Boston; and drummer Jimmy Weiner, who with Twardzik was previously in Serge Chaloff’s group.
In November 1953, Mariano was in the studio again, recording enough material for a pair of LPs on the Imperial label, Charlie Mariano with His Jazz Group and Modern Saxaphone (sic) Stylings of Charlie Mariano. His quintet on these sessions included Byard, Pomeroy, bassist Jack Carter, and drummer Peter Littman. Despite the mediocre sound quality, opined Down Beat in its four-star review, "This is really a remarkable illumination of Boston's jazz talent. Stan Kenton's new altoist has never sounded better on record and yet he's overshadowed by brilliant trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, who misses only in the occasional edginess of his tone."
All this recording was important because it introduced people like Byard, Pomeroy, and Twardzik, in fact the whole Boston modern jazz scene, to a wider audience. Mariano, though, wasn't done. In June 1953, he proposed to his fellow musicians that they form a "jazz workshop," a school for musicians to focus on the practical and hands-on. There were no "jazz schools" at the time. Schillinger House and the NEC's Department of Popular Music were more on the line of trade schools for commercial musicians. The workshop idea was ahead of its time, and Mariano and a core group of Pomeroy, Ray Santisi, and tenor saxophonist Varty Haroutunian started it, a tale told in Chapter 15, Stablemates.
Mariano's time at the Jazz Workshop was brief. In October 1953, he went west ro replace Lee Konitz in Stan Kemon's band, and he stayed in California for almost five years. Mariano returned to Boston in 1958, to teach at Berklee and play in Herb Pomeroy s Orchestra. At Berklee he met the sensational pianist/student, Toshiko Akiyoshi. They formed the Toshiko Mariano Quartet in 1959, married rhar November, and moved to New York. Boston was never far away, though. There were gigs at Storyville and an appearance at the Boston Jazz Festival at Pleasure Island in August 1960. It was at this time chat Mariano finally shook off the reputation as a card-carrying member of the Parker school. The release of their recording, Toshiko Mariano Quartet, on Candid in 1961 showed Mariano playing with authority and inventiveness, well beyond the shadows of Hodges and Parker. As he said in the liner notes, "For good or bad, I'm playing my own way."
"His own way" led Mariano to record his Jazz Portrait LP in 1963, serve a stint with Charles Mingus, seek out musical destinations in Japan and India, and encounter major figures in fusion and the avant-garde. He found more work abroad than he did at home and became a jazz expatriate, settling in Germany in 1977. He was living in Cologne at the time of his death from cancer in 2009.”