Monday, June 25, 2018

A Word or Two About Conte Candoli

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

“Born in Mishawaka, Indiana, Candoli toured with several big bands from the late 1940s onwards and moved to California in 1954, where he became a fixture in the West Coast scene. He basically worked there until his death, maintaining long associations with Shorty Rogers' groups, the Doc Severinsen Orchestra, Super-sax and a small group he co-led with his brother Pete (born 1923), another trumpeter.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton assert in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th ed.

Those of you familiar with Conte Candoli’s given name - “Secondo” - will get the attempt at a bad pun that forms the title of this piece.

Because I was encamped on the West Coast for most of my “Jazz life” with easy access to Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area, I got to hear trumpeter Conte Candoli perform frequently in a variety of contexts.

Whether as a member of bassist Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, drummer Shelly Manne’s Men [quintet] or the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Conte was known to me, as Richard Cook and Brian Morton assert in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th ed., “... as one of the great West Coast brassmen. Often as content to be a foot soldier as a leader, he seldom helmed his own dates, but he always played with a unassumingly likeable style.”

Whenever I listen to Conte it's always a particular delight to hear him have a go at a bebop chestnut - Ah-Leu-Cha, Groovin’ High, Allen’s Alley -  and shine them into something special. The pleasure he takes in his own playing shows how much Conte enjoyed his work.

His exciting phrasing, often done with a deliberate nod toward his hero, Dizzy Gillespie, and the hefty, gorgeously clear sound he gets, are both complimented by the lovely way he paces himself through his solos.

As Richard Cook and Brian Morton conclude in their review of Conte’s CDs:
“A voice from a glittering age of jazz improvising, which was sadly stilled at the end of 2001.”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember Secondo Candoli on these pages in gratitude for the many pleasurable hours of Jazz we enjoyed in his presence with three excerpts from writings about him by Tom Stewart, Joseph F. Laredo and Ted Gioia, respectively.

Conte Candoli: Groovin’ Higher [Bethlehem BCP-30], original LP liner notes by Tom Stewart.

“In previous years Stan Kenton's trumpet section included two players who stand out most in my mind. One was Buddy Childers, the other Conte Candoli. Both men could lead the five-man powerhouse trumpet section, blow the "Screechers" above it and still come forward and play pretty middle and low-register solos. Of the two, perhaps, Conte is more closely associated with the jazz idiom. Born and schooled in South Bend, Indiana, Conte took up the horn at the age of thirteen under the supervision of his older brother Pete, who was soon to join the professional ranks. Today both brothers are successful musicians. Conte has played with the bands of Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Kenton, and the small groups of Chubby Jackson and Charlie Ventura, to name two. His European tour in 1947 with Chubby Jackson's group resulted in four sides done in Sweden (Lemon Drop, Dee Dee's Dance, Boomsie and Crown Pilots) which were big items at the time of their release in this country.

In addition to the aforementioned, Conte has many fine solos on record, several of them with the Charlie Ventura unit of the latter forties and many with the Kenton orchestra. His earlier work most closely approximated Dizzy's style and more recently he has assimilated some of the characteristics of Fats and Miles (particularly the frequent staccato articulation and half-valve inflections of the latter).

But Conte's playing has always had a distinct individual quality about it. He has always played his horn with the kind of aggressiveness and confidence which are necessary to produce good jazz. His style is characterized by a firm knowledge of harmonics, good taste and a command of execution which is almost faultless.”

Conte Candoli: Powerhouse Trumpet [Groovin’ Higher Bethlehem LP as a CD reissue on Avenue Jazz R2 75826] insert notes by Joseph Laredo.

“Although he has long been respected as a first-rate trumpet man who executes his musical ideas with propulsive drive and impeccable command, Conte Candoli has been granted surprisingly few opportunities to record as a leader over the course of his prolific career. A welcome exception was this quintet date recorded for Bethlehem in July of 1955. Candoli had just recently moved to California after leading a group in Chicago. He was soon a vital part of the thriving West Coast jazz scene, playing with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars, freelancing as a sideman on hundreds of albums, and quickly becoming, along with his older brother Pete, one of the most in-demand studio musicians in Hollywood.

Powerhouse Trumpet (aka Groovin' Higher) is a mainstream bop effort that finds Conte and company in sterling form. The Candoli original "Full Count" is arguably the best illustration among the seven tracks of the energy and subtle use of dynamics that characterize his aggressive approach, but his playing is imaginative and bracing throughout. Fellow veterans Bill Holman and Lou Levy each have a number of outstanding solos, particularly on the opening track, "Toots Sweet." The original liner notes describe Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable as "newcomers" to recorded jazz (although Marable had already recorded with pianist Hampton Hawes, among others).

Both of these largely self-taught musicians would have notable careers. In 1956, Vinnegar played bass on Shelly Manne's Contemporary album of songs from My Fair Lady, one of the best-selling jazz releases of the decade.
In the 1970s, Larry Marable, Lou Levy, and Candoli all performed with Supersax, a five saxophone nonet that re-created, in harmonized form, some of Charlie Parker's most celebrated solos. Candoli's Dizzy Gillespie-influenced horn fit in perfectly with this ensemble.

Long sojourns in film and television studios, including a lengthy stay in the "Tonight Show" band led by Doc Severinsen, have occupied much of Candoli's time in more recent years. He is also a sought after teacher, but continues to perform frequently, often with his brother, and remains a unique and readily identifiable voice on his instrument.”

Ted Gioia, in his seminal West Coast Jazz: Jazz in California 1945-1960, offers his usual pertinent and informative insights into Conte style of playing:

Conte Candoli, Rosolino's companion in the Lighthouse All-Stars front line, shared his sympathy for a more aggressive, hard bop approach. An exuberant trumpeter, with none of the pensive moodiness of a Chet Baker or Jack Sheldon, Candoli was best at uninhibited blowing in a jam session setting. In fact Candoli, when he was paired up with East Coasters Kenny Dorham and Al Cohn for a mid-1950s tour and recording, came across as much more of a bombastic bebopper than his more subdued East Coast counterparts. An unaware listener would likely pick out Dorham and Cohn, on that date, as the ones with the West Coast sound.

Like Carl Perkins, Leroy Vinnegar, and Buddy Montgomery, Candoli was a West Coast musician by way of Indiana. He was born Secondo Candoli in Mishawaka on July 12,1927. As his true name suggests, Conte was the second son in this highly musical family. During much of his career, Conte has collaborated with his older brother, trumpeter Pete [Primo] Candoli, born June 28, 1923. At age twelve Conte began his musical studies, in emulation of his brother's playing. By his mid-teens he had developed enough proficiency to join the Woody Herman band—an engagement that was interrupted when the younger trumpeter was forced by his mother to return home to finish high school. In January 1945, diploma in hand, Conte embarked on a full-time career as a professional musician.

After leaving Herman, he worked with Chubby Jackson, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Ventura before finally leading his own group in Chicago in 1954. Later that year he settled in California, where he soon signed on as a regular member of the Lighthouse band.

Brother Pete had a more flamboyant stage presence. … Conte's extroversion, in contrast, comes out more in his playing than in his personal demeanor. His trumpet stylings, though less rooted in the upper register than his brother's, possess a devil-may-care verve that is quite appealing.

Shortly after his arrival on the coast, Conte undertook a date as leader for Bethlehem Records, released as Groovin' Higher, in which he was joined by Bill Holman on tenor sax and a rhythm section comprised of Leroy Vinnegar, Lawrence Marable, and Lou Levy. Here the basic elements of Candoli's style are evident.

He first and foremost shows a knack for constructing long phrases with a variety of rhythmic twists and turns; unlike most players, who strive to play complex phrases with an appearance of ease, Candoli seems to aim for the opposite effect — his playing, particularly on fast numbers, sounds as though it is running at full steam and perhaps in danger of overheating. Also contributing to this effect is Conte's strong sense of dynamics.

While Pete might build up to a musical climax by working his way into the highest register of the horn, Conte achieves the same effect through shifting dynamics, not only between phrases but often within a specific phrase. Conte's music is like a caldron on the boil, with individual notes and groups of notes bubbling above the surface.

Like so many of [his] contemporaries,... [Conte established himself] as a first-call Hollywood player somewhat at the cost of [his] reputation in the jazz world. Yet … [his] occasional forays into straight-ahead jazz still find … [him] playing at peak form.”