Monday, November 28, 2016

Remembering Conrad Gozzo - 1922-1964

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“It is certainly not everyday that a justly famous jazz trumpeter, making his solo recording debut, is given the opportunity to demonstrate such a variety of attacks, techniques and ideas as is Conrad Gozzo in the proceedings here under consideration..............................“
[Goz The Great! - Conrad Gozzo and His Orchestra - RCA LPM 1124/ CD 743221611072]
- Bill Zeitung

“Symphony trumpet players are not called on to produce the sustained evening-long power of the great lead trumpet players such as the late Conrad Gozzo, or to play the high notes routinely called for by jazz arrangers, notes once considered off the top of the instrument.”
-Gene Lees, Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman

"It was wonderful. Ralph [Burns] was arranging, and Flip [Phillips] was in the saxophone section. I always liked [trombonist] Bill Harris. Things were working out. We were doing the Wild Root show. It was a great radio show. God, Woody did a hell of a job on it. That band was the most exciting thing in the world, and more so after he got Conrad Gozzo and Pete Candoli."
- Red Norvo, vibraphonist

Conrad J. Gozzo (1922–1964) was born in New Britain, Connecticut on February 6, 1922. Gozzo was a member of the NBC Hollywood staff orchestra at the time of his death on October 8, 1964. He died at the age of 42 of a heart attack.

I got to know Goz a little when we both played in a "arranger's band" that rehearsed at the Musicians Union Hall on Vine Street in Hollywood.

Goz was one of the first musicians who helped me understand that overlaying notations from the first trumpet chair on my drum part would help me more effectively set up kicks and fills in big band arrangements. He called this giving the band more “pop and pulse.”

And speaking of “pop and pulse,” you could always tell when Goz was in a trumpet section because his juicy tone fattened-up the sound of those horns. Everything sounded fuller; even the screaming notes had a depth to them. Every phrase had a punch and was somehow made to seem rounder; each note had more texture. His sound was the personification of lead trumpet in a big band.

Although I knew that Goz was highly respected by everyone in the Hollywood studio scene, I didn’t realize at the time how significant his experience in the music was dating back to the glory years of the Swing Era.

He played with Isham Jones (1938) and Red Norvo (1940), then performed and recorded with Bob Chester (1941) and Claude Thornhill (1941-2). After working with Benny Goodman (1942) he joined the navy and played in a band led by Artie Shaw (1942-4). He rejoined Goodman in 1945, then toured and recorded with Woody Herman. Goz was the featured as a soloist on Stars Fell on Alabama, one of Woody’s earliest hits and he went on to perform with Boyd Raeburn and Ted Beneke (1947). In Los Angeles he played on Bob Crosby's radio broadcasts (1947–51).

Gozzo was highly acclaimed as a lead trumpeter and was much in demand as a studio musician; he also took part in sessions with Les Brown (1949), Jerry Gray (1949–53), Ray Anthony (1951-8), Billy May (1951–64).

Gozzo, lead trumpeter on the Glen Gray, Stan Kenton, and Harry James "remakes," and in Dan Terry's 1954 Columbia sessions, recorded extensively with arrangers Van Alexander, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Ray Conniff, Jerry Fielding and Shorty Rogers, and also with performers Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Gozzo played first trumpet on all of the recordings of composer Henry Mancini. He routinely performed on many major live television shows which were broadcast on the NBC network, including the Dinah Shore Show (1955 through 1964). Gozzo also performed on motion picture soundtracks including The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Call Me Madam, Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. He also performed on the Ella Fitzgerald two-record set on Verve (Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook). Trumpeter's Prayer, was composed by Tutti Camarata for Gozzo, and Portrait of Trumpet by Sammy Nestico was written as a posthumous tribute.

Goz met Shorty Rogers when they were on Woody Herman’s band together. They became close friends. Thanks to this enduring friendship, when Shorty took over the Artists and Repertoire role for RCA’s Jazz recording on the West Coast, he gave Goz the opportunity to record an album under his own name Goz The Great! - Conrad Gozzo and His Orchestra - [RCA LPM 1124/ CD 743221611072].

Here are Bill Zeitung’s insert notes to that recording which will provide you with more insights into Goz’s special qualities as a trumpeter.

“Possessor of a pair of seemingly bottomless lungs, as well as of an embouchure which, at the least, must be fashioned of something close to cast iron, Gozzo has for a considerable period been a leading light of the West Coast, or Hollywood, school of jazz - in fact, there has hardly been a big band jazz record made in that vicinity during recent years which did not feature him on lead trumpet.

It is understandable that, with such frenzied activity, he would not have had the time -although he has always had the inclination - to record on his own. That opportunity, on the basis of these recordings, has been far too long in coming, and it now seems extremely safe to assume that in the future, in addition to Goz's sterling duties as leader of assorted brilliant brass sections, we will hear a great deal more of his stimulating work on solo horn.

Goz is by no means a newcomer to the jazz field, as a quick glance at his credentials will immediately make apparent. He spent a lengthy apprenticeship in the orchestra of Claude Thornhill and, in addition to playing with both Benny Goodman and Red Norvo, was a member of that wild Woody Herman band whose trumpet section also included Shorty Rogers, Sonny Berman, Pete Candoli and Marky Markowitz (Wow!).

And it should be remembered that in each one of these bands Goz played first horn. He is acknowledged by all and sundry to be one of the very best leads in the business but, except for a few fleeting instances, his solo capacities have never been apparent to the vast audience to which jazz has loomed larger and larger in recent years.

There is simply no parallel for Goz's bite, for his seemingly endless strength, for his zooming drive - any brass section in which he is playing is immediately recognizable, for to it he unerringly adds his own special brand of floating ease and inescapable power. In any other field of physical endeavor he would be known as a muscleman - he is certainly Goz the Great.

In the present album, Goz's horn is heard in three distinctly different settings: it is incisive and compact (and with more than a trace of Rex Stewart, especially in the plunger work) in the small band sides which feature only rhythm and an additional horn, in this instance the trombone and occasional alto of Murray McEachern; it is broad and swinging in front of the large, sixteen-piece aggregation (in one of whose selections, Remember, Goz plays all five trumpets, solo as well as section); and it is beautifully lyric in those selections to which strings have been added.

And, displaying Goz in another light, three of the small band tunes: Smooth Talker, Do That Again Daddy and Deibotch, were written by him in collaboration with Billy May, the latter of whom was also responsible for some of the arrangements.

It seems obvious, even upon first hearing, that, as Goz so readily admits, his greatest influences have been Armstrong and Berigan. Especially in the sides with strings: Black Sapphire, Come Back to Sorrento, La Rosita and In a Mellotone - there is far more than a trace of Bunny's tone and phrasing. The loose-jointed attack that characterizes Goz's work in the small and big band sides is perhaps an Armstrong heritage, but from whatever source it has been derived there is no doubt that it is now fully equipped with a personal idiom which is Goz's own.

A native of New Britain, Connecticut, and now resident in Burbank, California, Goz early began the study of the trumpet with his father - a man, by the way, who is still very much active in his profession. No doubt even his father, like the rest of us, now marvels at the inexhaustible vitality and ever-renewing strength which this trumpeter constantly demonstrates. When Goz's horn explodes it is simply because, like the principle of the steam boiler, the pressure within is entirely too great to be contained. Goz performs from what is seemingly an overflowing reservoir of force and power, but he is not content, as are others like him, merely to blow and screech - as these, his first solo records, so amply demonstrate, he also plays with enormous good taste, with a highly refined intelligence, and with a superabundance of refreshing ideas.”

Bill Zeitung

The following video montage features Goz performing the lovely ballad Black Sapphire by Earl Hagen and Herb Spencer on which the brilliance and beauty of his tone are magnificently displayed.

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