Friday, July 31, 2020

Revisiting Rob Pronk and The Metropole Orchestra [Metropole Orkest]

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

This feature is a mishmash [I've always wanted to use that word in something I wrote for the blog].

It's compilation of a number of earlier blog pieces about Holland's Metropole Orchestra and those who have composed and arranged and conducted it along with some additional information about it's longest serving mentor in this regard - Rob Pronk.

Although Rob passed away in 2012 at the age of 84, the Metropole Orkest continues today but in less robust form than when it was under his tutelage from 1975-96. Not surprisingly, as a sign of the times, the orchestra performs fewer concerts and there is much less emphasis on Jazz.

Thanks to a reminder from a Jazz buddy of Rob's special place in the Metropole's pantheon of composer-arranger-conductors, I thought it appropriate to add more biographical information about Maestro Pronk to form a new introduction for a re-posting of these earlier features on the orchestra.

I've also taken the liberty to add more videos at the conclusion of this collection of writings about the orchestra featuring guest artists performing Rob's arrangements to give you a sampling of his work. 

Rob Pronk was of Indonesian origin. At the time of his birth in 1925, there was no independent country of Indonesia as the islands which form this archipelago were part of the Dutch East Indies.

His father was a railway engineer. As a child he was fascinated by jazz music when he heard Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" on the radio (Ellington also remained his role model later). He received his first piano lessons at the age of eight. 

In his early teens, Rob learned some basic arranging skills from Jerry van Rooyen, whom he had already met when he was on the road in the Dutch East Indies for troop support, but he was largely self-taught and learned through trial and error, much like the early years of one of his arranging idols - Gil Evans.

In 1947 he went to Holland with his brother Ruud (a drummer), where he studied economics in Rotterdam and earned a Bachelor's degree, largely to please his parents.

But he then decided to "follow his heart" and attend the Royal Conservatory in The Hague where he studied, trumpet, piano and music theory 

In 1949 he visited New York with the brothers Jerry and Ack van Rooyen , with whom he continued to play in a group he formed called the "Rob Pronk Boptet." 

In 1951 his boptet was temporarily fully integrated into the orchestra of Ernst van't Hoff, with whom he went on tour in Spain. 

Throughout the 1950's he worked with a number of Scandinavian and Northern European musicians, including the baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, both on trumpet and as a small group arranger. 

At the end of the 1950's, he was hired to play trumpet in the Kurt Edelhagen orchestra, where he also became one of the main arrangers (from 1958). He also arranged for Benny Carter during one of the Jazz icons European tours and also studied briefly with him. 

Beginning in the late 1960's his big break came when he was hired as an arranger with the Metropole Orchestra, for which he wrote over 1200 arrangements in over 30 years. From 1975 to 1996 he was often a guest conductor of the Metropole Orchestra. 

In addition to Duke Ellinton and Gil Evans, Rob credits his influences as Billy May, Bill Holman, Al Cohn, and Quincy Jones. 

Rob Pronk also taught arrangement and composition at the Rotterdam Conservatory for many years.

On a personal note, I came of age in the Hollywood music world when the era of resident orchestras as maintained by the movie studios was coming to an end, although a number of local municipalities sponsored bands for their summer concerts series, and there were many classical orchestras in the area, too.  But this kind of “legit” work never appealed to me [sitting around for what seemed like hours, counting 142 measures of “rest” and then picking up two huge, heavy cymbals to strike them together once before sitting down again to count more measures of rest was not my idea of playing music]. 

Sometimes, the chance to pick-up a few schimolies by riding a bus with a big band came my way, but the music was generally uninspiring and the downside was being out-of-town when the studio contractors called, thus losing your place in the hierarchy.

Imagine my surprise then when I learned that many cities in Europe kept radio orchestras on staff that were supported by various state governments. Can you picture it – being on salary with benefits and showing up for work each day to play Jazz on a regular basis – and this is your “day gig?!” Heck, they even got paid for rehearsals [and the music obviously sounded much because of this extra time to learn it].

Most of the major European countries, but especially Germany and Holland, maintained such aggregations who in turn supplied a steady stream of music for broadcast over radio and television as well as a fairly active performance schedule at some of these countries most renown concert halls.

Holland, a nation of only around sixteen million people, provides government support for two, such orchestras – The Metropole and The Concertgebouw – the former playing at concert venues throughout The Netherlands while the latter performs primarily at its namesake auditorium in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, for those of us without ready access to Holland, until the advent of concerts streamed via the internet, the music of these orchestras was not widely heard outside The Netherlands.

To compound matters, since it lost its recording contracts with the Koch and Mons record labels, commercial CDs by The Metropole Orchestra are only rarely available and the Concertgebouw Jazz Orchestra, for the most part, has underwritten the issuance of its own recordings during its comparatively briefer existence.

However , thanks to the munificence of a Dutch internet Jazz buddy, as well as, one in southern Oregon, I have been a regular “visitor” to most of the concerts performed by these orchestras over the past ten [10] years or so.

Listening to the way in which the string section of Holland’s magnificent Metropole Orchestra plays Jazz phrasing, one wishes for a time machine so that Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown could be re-make their famous “with strings” albums and benefit from a string section that knows how to play Jazz.

The reasons why The Metropole Orchestra are so adept at Jazz phrasing are explained in the following article about the orchestra, its history and evolution by the noted Jazz author, Mike Hennessey.

[Incidentally, when the string section is included, it is referred to as The Metropole Orchestra and sans strings it is The Metropole Orchestra Big Band.]

Also integrated in this piece for JazzProfiles’ readers is an overview of the orchestra and its origins and development as excerpted from the orchestra’s own website 

The High-Flying Dutchmen - Jazz Now, July 2004 issue

Mike Hennessey spotlights the unique Metropole Orchestra

© -Mike Hennessey Jazz Now, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Metropole Orchestra was founded in 1945 by the Dutch Radio Foundation. It came into being because, after the Second World War, Holland's newly re-established public radio network needed an ensemble capable of producing high quality music programmes covering every genre of light music.

Dolf van der Linden was appointed chief conductor and was given the task of recruiting musicians for the orchestra. He began by contacting top class Dutch musicians who were playing in orchestras all over Europe and inviting them to return to Holland to join the new ensemble.

The son of a music dealer who owned several musical instrument shops, van der Linden took violin and music theory lessons from his father, who was an excellent player, and later studied composition at a music academy. When he was 16, he took a job as a theatre organist and, from 1936 to 1939, he worked regularly as an arranger for various radio orchestras. It was after the war that he concentrated on conducting.

The 17-member Metropole Orchestra made its début on November 25, 1945 and has since won international acclaim as a major institution of the European music community.

There is no other ensemble like it anywhere in the world.

The orchestra today has 52 full time members, all on regular salary with full social security and pension rights. It plays an average of 40 concerts a year and spends about eight weeks a year doing studio productions. It is financed by the Dutch government and has an annual budget of 5.5 million euros.

Dolf van der Linden was chief conductor for three and a half decades, up to his retirement in 1980, and he developed the ensemble into an orchestra which included a full symphonic string section and a conventional big band line-up.

The orchestra rapidly earned a glowing reputation throughout Europe, first through radio and television productions initiated by the European Broadcasting Union, then later through live performances in various countries. To date, the Metropole Orchestra has performed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Norway, Greece and the United States.

Over the years, the orchestra has worked with a glittering array of world-class vocalists and instrumentalists from the worlds of opera, operetta, musicals, Jazz, rock and pop. But perhaps Dolf van der Linden's greatest achievement was that, in spite of playing in a multitude of musical styles and in constantly changing circumstances, particularly with regard to technical developments, the orchestra always maintained a strong identity of its own.

When van der Linden retired in 1980, he was succeeded by Rogier van Otterloo, the son of the celebrated conductor, Willem van Otterloo. He rapidly brought the orchestra up to speed with the newest developments in music and adopted a double rhythm section policy, one for Jazz and the more traditional forms of light music and one for pop and rock music.

Rogier van Otterloo's involvement with the orchestra came to an untimely end with his death in 1988 at the age of 46. It took a number of years to find a worthy successor and it was in 1991 that Dick Bakker, already a successful composer/arranger, was appointed chief conductor and artistic director.

Bakker studied music at the Hilversum Conservatory and also qualified as a professional sound technician. He has won many international awards and it was with his song, "Ding-a-Dong", that Teach-In won the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest. Since 1982 he has expanded his European activities, composing and arranging music for the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, among others.

The brilliant Dutch composer and arranger, Rob Pronk, was the Metropole's guest conductor for 21 years the current principal guest conductor is the Grammy Award-winning Vince Mendoza.

The roll call of artists who have appeared with the Metropole Orchestra over the years is staggering and richly diverse. It includes Charles Aznavour, Burt Bacharach, Kenny Barron, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Michael and Randy Brecker, Ray Brown, Joe Cocker, Natalie Cole, Pete and Conte Candoli, Eddie Daniels, Manu Dibango, CÈline Dion, George Duke, Bill Evans, Clare Fischer, Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Flanagan, Art Garfunkel,

Gloria Gaynor, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Jones, the King's Singers, Lee Konitz, Hubert Laws, Joe Lovano, Vera Lynn, Bob Malach. Andy Martin, Bob Mintzer, Mark Murphy, Peter Nero, the New York Voices, Bill Perkins, Oscar Peterson, Frank Rosolino, Zoot Sims, the Supremes, the Swingle Singers, Lew Tabackin, Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Werner, Andy Williams, Nancy Wilson and the Yellowjackets.

Arrangers and composers who have contributed scores to the Metropole's book include Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Steve Gray, Peter Herbolzheimer, Bill Holman, Chuck Israels, Jim McNeely, Vince Mendoza and Rob Pronk.

The Orchestra today has its own recording studio with the control room built by NOB Audio and the control room acoustics designed by the British company, Recording Architecture. Recordings are made and mixed using a Neve VR Legend 60-channel console and a protools mix cube. In addition, there is a hard disc editing system, the full range of state-of-the-art out-board gear and custom-made ATC monitoring facilities. The whole set-up is designed for Dolby Surround post-production and has projection systems installed for the recording and editing of film and television scores.

For live recordings the orchestra uses Audio 1, a mobile studio with separate recording and machine rooms, which is equipped with a first class SSL console, plus state-of-the-art microphones, outboard-gear and monitoring facilities.

Recordings by the Metropole Orchestra are not that easy to come by, but currently has 21 releases listed on its website, including albums featuring such guest soloists as Claudio Roditi, Swiss saxophonist George Robert, German saxophonist Peter Weniger, trombonist Andy Martin, bassist Chuck Israels, Clark Terry, Dee Daniels, Bill Perkins, Jiggs Whigham and Lew Tabackin.”

© -The Metropole Orchestra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Metropole Orchestra is the world's largest professional pop and jazz orchestra. Renowned for its wide-ranging abilities, the Metropole Orchestra performs anything from chansons to World-music, film-scores, Rock- or Pop-tunes as well as high-octane jazz. The orchestra is a regular feature at the North Sea Jazz festival and the yearly Holland Festival along with countless TV and radio programs broadcast to millions. The ever-growing Dutch film and television industry relies heavily on the Metropole Orchestra for its film scores. Since 2005 the Metropole is under the baton of its Chief, four-time Grammy Award winner Vince Mendoza, and can be seen frequenting the concert stage, in festivals and on recordings in the Netherlands as well as internationally.

A sampling of the performers who have shared the stage with the Metropole Orchestra underscores the ensemble’s quality and flexibility to cover a wide range of genres: Oleta Adams, Vicente Amigo, Antony & The Johnsons, Within Temptation, Andrea Bocelli, Joe Cocker, Elvis Costello, Eddie Daniels, Brian Eno, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones, Chaka Khan, Pat Metheny, Ivan Lins, Mike Patton, Paquito D’Rivera, John Scofield, The Swingle Singers, Jean ‘Toots’ Thielemans, Gino Vannelli, Steve Vai, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Dino Saluzzi, Trijntje Oosterhuis, the legendary Turkish singer Sezen Aksu and Fado-queen Mariza, just to name a few.

The CD recording Ivan Lins &The Metropole Orchestra with the Brasilian singer/songwriter Ivan Lins, released in August 2009, received a Latin Grammy for 'Best Brasilian Album'. 


The Metropole Orchestra was popular right from its inception in 1945 by founder Dolf van der Linden, who led the group from one success to another. When van der Linden formed the group shortly after the Second World War, his mandate was to create an ensemble with the ability to produce high level performances of pop and jazz music for public radio. He traveled extensively throughout Europe to find the right mix of musicians for his orchestra. His refreshing and challenging musical ideas spoke directly to a public starved for a new musical culture after years of war. Dolf van der Linden directed the orchestra for 35 years. Radio, and in later years television broadcasts helped spread the orchestra’s fame even further. International tours and pan-European broadcasting (EBU) brought the Metropole’s musical message to countless listeners all over the world

Perhaps the greatest compliment to the legacy of Dolf van der Linden is that the Metropole Orchestra has maintained its own unique musical personality and still continues to develop within an increasing variety of musical styles and technical innovations.


The energetic, young Rogier van Otterloo, the son of the famed classical maestro Willem van Otterloo, followed van der Linden as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor. Van Otterloo’s enthusiasm was contagious and the orchestra developed into a first-class ensemble with the flexibility to work in the newest genres in light music, from rock 'n roll onwards. The Metropole Orchestra was expanded to include a double rhythm section, one for pop-music, the other for jazz- and World-music. Van Otterloo developed into a major figure as composer and arranger. Soloists from genres ranging from American top jazz stars to Opera divas joined forces with the Metropole Orchestra. The orchestra contributed greatly to the growing European jazz scene.
1991 and beyond

Dick Bakker’s arrival to the Metropole brought a new life to the Metropole orchestra. The group made countless appearances in large-scale television productions at home and abroad and a selection of memorable performances including the Acropolis concert with George Dalaras and Mikis Theodorakis in Greece, and performances at Amsterdam’s rock temple, Paradiso. At the same time, The orchestra moved to a new, modern studio and worked steadily on recordings for radio, television, cds and film soundtracks.

In 1995 Vince Mendoza began his relationship with the orchestra primarily in the area of jazz. The relationship blossomed with the music that he wrote for the orchestra as well as the concerts and recordings featuring many of the top Jazz and Pop soloists in the world. During this time a new fleet of arrangers and composers joined the ranks to create the contemporary sound of the orchestra that you know today. In 2005 Mendoza became the chief conductor and continues to maintain the high level of performances that the public has grown to expect from the orchestra. Today the Metropole is active with more than 40 concerts a season on concert stages all over the Netherlands and internationally.

In 2013 the dynamic young British conductor Jules Buckley was appointed as the Metropole Orkest’s newest chief conductor, after having been guest conductor since 2008.

Composer, orchestrator and conductor Jules Buckley is musical pioneer who pushes the boundaries of contemporary genres. In 2004 he co-founded the Heritage Orchestra, a flexible chamber ensemble, dedicated to performing new music with a daring approach to crossing and linking musical genres. As the principal guest conductor of the Metropole Orkest in recent years, Jules has led projects with Snarky Puppy, Laura Mvula, Gregory Porter, Tori Amos, Markus Stockhausen, Michael Kiwanuka, Jonathan Jeremiah and UK house music duo Basement Jaxx.

Ever the musical agitator, Buckley’s work has led to collaborations, recordings and live projects with the likes of Massive Attack, Arctic Monkeys, John Cale, Emeli Sandé, Cinematic Orchestra, Jamie Cullum, Beardyman and Dizzy Rascal. This year, he has worked with the WDR Big Band, Jose James and the Royal Concertgebouworkest, Patrick Watson and L’Orchestre Nationale d’ile de France, and arranged and conducted Caro Emerald’s number one album “The Shocking Miss Emerald”. Other recent highlights include work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chilly Gonzales, as well as various performances of the hugely successful Urban Classic project, including a BBC Radio 3 Prom, where he conducted the BBC SO alongside some of the leading lights of the British urban music scene including Laura Mvula, Maverick Sabre, Jacob Banks, Wretch 32, N-Dubz’ Fazer and Lady Leshurr.


The Metropole Orchestra prides itself on the glittering array of great artists it has worked with. In alphabetical order, the lineup of stars: Oleta Adams, Sezen Aksu, Antony & The Johnsons, Charles Aznavour, Burt Bacharach, Victor Bailey, Kenny Barron, Shirley Bassey, Jeff Beal, Jim Beard, Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Terry Bozzio, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Ray Brown, Patrick Bruel, John Cale, Amit Chatterjee, Chico Cesar, Joe Cocker, Natalie Cole, Pete and Conte Condoli, Elvis Costello, The Creatures, Pete Christlieb, Ronnie Cuber, Eddie Daniels, Manu Dibango, Céline Dion, Eva de Dios, George Duke, Brian Eno, Sertab Erener, Peter Erskine, Bill Evans, Clare Fischer, Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Flanagan, Bruce Fowler, Art Garfunkel, Gloria Gaynor, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrel, Conrad Herwig, Roger Hodgson, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Al Jarreau, Ingrid Jensen, Hank Jones, Junkie XL, Mike Keneally, Nancy King, The King's Singers, Lee Konitz, K's Choice, Hubert Laws, Ivan Lins, Joe Lovano, Vera Lynn, Kevin Mahagony, Bob Malach, Mariza, Andy Martin, Nancy Marano, Dina Medina, Daniel Mendez, Pat Metheny, Bob Mintzer, Mark Murphy, Andy Narell, Daniel Navarro, Silje Nergaard, Peter Nero, Ed Neumeister, The New York Voices, Trijntje Oosterhuis, Alan Parsons, Mike Patton, Bill Perkins, Oscar Peterson, Fabia Rebodao, Diane Reeves, Paquito D’Rivera, Frank Rosselino, John Scofield, Zoot Sims, Sister Sledge, Mike Stern, The Supremes, The Swingle Singers, Lew Tabackin, Within Temptation, Clark Terry, Jean 'Toots' Thielemans, Tulug Tirpan, Mel Tormé, Rafael de Utrera, Steve Vai, Gino Vannelli, Sarah Vaughan, Harvey Wainapel, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Werner, Andy Williams, Nancy Wilson, The Yellowjackets and Karim Ziad.


Michael Abene, John Adams, Manny Albam, Jeff Beal, Bob Brookmeyer, Dori Caymmi, John Clayton, Michel Colombier, Bill Dobbins, Clare Fisher, Steve Gray, Tom Harrell, Peter Herbolzheimer, Bill Holman, Chuck Israels, Jim McNeely, Vince Mendoza, Bob Mintzer, Ennio Morricone, Ed Neumeister, Chuck Owen, Gunther Schuller and Maria Schneider.

The music on the following video is from an April 11, 2003 concert entitled "Traces of Brass: Traveling from Traditional to Contemporary Music." The conductor is Vince Mendoza. I do not have factual information to this effect, but I'm assuming that Vince also did the arrangements for the music in this program.

The music on the last three videos is from a 75th birthday concert which the Metropole gave for Rob. The birthday broadcast took place on June 1, 2003 at the Broadcast Music Center in Hilversum, The Netherlands. It was re-broadcast on February 11, 2008 on NPS Radio 6 [The Netherlands] as part of the program - “In Concert: The Bands.”

Bassist, composer, arranger John Clayton was flown in from the United States to direct The Metropole Orchestra as were tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and trombonist Andy Martin as principal soloists

A total of seventeen of Rob’s charts [arrangements] were performed that evening for this once-in-a-lifetime concert.

The first tune is Peace by Horace Silver which features the superb trombonist and bass trumpeter, Bart van Lier.

The second tune highlights Pete Christlieb on tenor sax performing Billy Strayhorn’s Raincheck.

The third song is a stunning arrangement of Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby with Arlia de Ruiter as the violin soloist.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

George Shearing In Performance

Balliett on Shearing

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One of the reasons I created this blog was to celebrate my Jazz Heroes both literally, in the form of original pieces about Jazz musicians and their music, and descriptively, through postings of the work of those who write about the music and its makers coherently and cogently.

Which brings me to the following brilliant essay by Whitney Balliett on George Shearing from the former’s American Singers: 27 Portraits in Writings [Oxford: 1988] which fits nicely into the second category.

There is one overwhelmingly poignant moment in this interview as it contains the only candid reference I’ve found about the cause of George’s blindness - which makes this part of his story a very sad one, indeed.

Bob’s Your Uncle - George Shearing by Whitney Balliett

“The brilliant blind pianist and singer George Shearing doesn't like his listeners to get too close. During the first part of his career — in England, where he was born, in 1919 — he hid behind the styles of other pianists. 

He was considered England's Meade Lux Lewis, England's Art Tatum, England's Teddy Wilson. In the second part of his career, which began in the late forties, just after he settled in this country, he disappeared inside his smooth, famous quintet (vibraphone, guitar, piano, bass, and drums), emerging occasionally for a solo chorus but in general restricting himself to sixteen or twenty-four bars. The disguises he has used in the third part of his career, which started in the late seventies, when he gave up his quintet, are his most refined. 

He now works in a duo with a bassist, but he is no more accessible than he ever was. He has long been thought of as a jazz pianist, but he is apt these days to play Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife" at a very slow tempo, clothing it with thick Bartok chords. Or he will play the "Moonlight" Sonata straight for sixteen or twenty bars (he is an excellent classical pianist), and then, in the same tempo and using Beethoven harmonies, slip seamlessly into Cole Porter's "Night and Day," staying with it a la Beethoven for a chorus or so before easing back into the sonata. He will play Porter's "Do I Love You" in Mozart fashion, and his own indestructible "Lullaby of Birdland" as a Bach fugue. Or he will do a sorrowing, almost chanting rendition of Jobim's "How Insensitive," and give Alec Wilder's "While We're Young" a full-scale ballad treatment, filling it with substitute chords and Art Tatum decorations. What is always present, though impishly concealed, is a superlative pianist, who can play Mozart with a feathery correctness, then improvise with swinging abandon. Shearing has a beautiful touch, which falls somewhere between the sparkle of Nat Cole and the buoyancy of Art Tatum. His jazzlike playing is colored by Teddy Wilson and Hank Jones and Erroll Garner and Bud Powell, but he does not have a style in the conventional sense. He has perfected a unique sound, a kind of handsome aural presence, made up of his airborne tone and his pleasant, slightly foggy tenor voice; his extraordinary harmonic sense; and his refusal to use pianistic cliches. Shearing talked about his playing:

"When I sit down at the piano, I make sure my stool is in front of middle C," he said. "Then I know I have three Cs on my left and four on my right. I have my seven octaves, and I know just where I am and where I can go. I've heard too many players slog the piano. I feel sorry for an instrument that is brutally treated. I love tone production — connecting my notes so that they sing, instead of coming out clump-clump-clump. When you improvise, in addition to your tone production you must have a musical atmosphere in your head — a musical climate. You must have compounds of scales and arpeggios to fit the chords you improvise on. Sometimes as I improvise I hear a horn in my head, or an alto or a tenor saxophone, or a flugelhorn. On a slow ballad, I hear Hank Jones, who is so good he should be deported. The gift of improvisation is being able to weave from one chord to another. It's a question of immediately getting what's in your mind into your fingers. If you could explain it, which I can't, all the surprise and spontaneity and unexpectedness would disappear.”

"I don't know when I first exposed an audience to my singing, but I started singing some twenty years ago. I can't help the instrument I don't have, but I love to sing, and I hope that my love for it will reach the audience. There is a happiness that goes through my mind when I sing, a joy in being able to put words and music together. I suppose my favorite lyricists are Porter and Mercer and Lorenz Hart—and certainly Charles de Forest, whom nobody seems to have heard of and who is very much alive. I have a hellbent attitude to elocute—if there is such a word—the lyrics to the best of my ability. I always hold Sinatra and Torme and Nat Cole in my head when I sing.

"I no longer wish to work all the time. My ears get tired. I want to play bridge with my wife, Ellie. I want to work on my VersaBraille computer. I want to build up my compact-disk library. I want to do more disk-jockeying. I want to ride my tandem bike. Eventually, I probably won't play in public anymore, but I'll certainly play here."

During the past eight or nine years, Shearing and his bassist have frequently joined forces with the singer-composer-instrumentalist Mel Torme and his drummer, Donny Osborne, and they have developed an effortless and engaging act. Shearing accompanies Torme's singing, Torme plays piano with Shearing, Shearing sings by himself and with Torme, Torme plays drums with Shearing. Torme has said this about Shearing:

"I call George the Master. He is a blissful, constant surprise musically. When we do two performances in an evening of songs like 'Star Dust' and 'Dream Dancing,’ each version George plays is a spontaneous and exquisite work of art. He's got a marvellous facility for inventing substitute chords in great songs. A lot of pianists use substitute chords simply to call attention to themselves, but George does it to enhance and embellish the song. Add to that the incredible warehouse in his brain of classical music and of popular songs that no one else has ever heard of. He's a lovely man, and the only time I have seen him irascible is when people around him don't do their job right. The last time we worked together, he played a solo number in which he got softer and softer, creating a hypnotic delicacy and quietude. When he was almost beneath hearing, the sound man suddenly turned up the volume, wrecking everything. George made his feelings plain after the show."

And Shearing has said this about Torme: "We practically breathe together. We're two bodies with a single musical mind. We have a mutual love for the tone-poem writer, Frederick Delius. I throw Delius quotes at Mel all the time when I accompany him, and he recognizes them straight off. If I change a note in a chord he will answer with an altered note — his ears are that finely tuned. So is his voice, which is invariable in tune. In fact, it is in as good shape at sixty as it has ever been in his life. Mel is literarily oriented, and his reading of lyrics when he sings is marvellous. I know just where a phrase is going to stop, where he's going to take a breath. We're a marriage, Mel and I."

Shearing has also worked often with Marian McPartland, his old friend and compatriot. She said the other day, "I first heard George in 1948 or 1949, at a club called the Silhouette, in Evanston, Illinois. He had his original quintet, with Denzil Best on drums and Marjorie Hyams on vibes and Chuck Wayne on guitar and John Levy on bass. It was, of course, a mixed group, and whenever George was asked about it he'd say, 'I don't know what color they are, I'm blind.' Without question, he's a genius. Every time I hear him or play with him, I rediscover how much music of all kinds he's absorbed. And he writes wonderful music — tunes like 'Lullaby of Birdland' and 'Conception,' which has a bebop melodic line as good as any Charlie Parker wrote. And there's 'Changin' with the Times,’ and 'Bop's Your Uncle,’ which is a play on old English expression 'Bob's your uncle,’ which means everything is O.K. He loves to joke around and laugh. I've played with him, and he'll put you on the spot by suddenly changing keys or going into a different style. 

And his puns are famous. It's hard to think of him as blind, because he constantly challenges himself. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be around him and hear him talk about all the things he's doing outside of music. We've confided in each other at different times. George knows things about me that no one else does, and I probably know secrets about him."

Shearing lives with his wife Ellie in a comfortable, modern apartment in the East Eighties. It has a sunken living room with yellow walls, an oatmeal wall-to-wall carpet, a fireplace, a Bosendorfer grand piano, an Eames chair, a wall of Braille books, and a marble head of Shearing by Ben Deane. Shearing's workroom, just off the foyer, contains two side-by-side upright pianos, his Braille word processor, all kinds of sound equipment, and a reclining chair that vibrates, massages your back, and plays tapes of birds singing in a ruined English abbey. Ellie Shearing is an excellent cook, and her sit-in kitchen has a six-burner electric stove and a plate warmer built into a wall. Shearing has a portable floor-to-ceiling temperature-controlled wine cellar in one corner, and in it are Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Acacia Chardonnay, Fetzer Zinfandel, and Beaulieu Vineyard's Georges de Latour Private Reserve. (Shearing still marvels at the time he invited the jazz producer and oenophile George Wein to dinner and gave him, as a test, a decanted bottle of the Georges de Latour, vintage 1970. Wein took two sips and named the vineyard, the wine, and the year.) The apartment also has a stately dining room and a bedroom. Shearing moves around a lot, and when Ellie Shearing rings the lunch bell he travels the fifty feet or so from the living room to the kitchen in about three seconds. He also likes to lie flat in his Eames chair and talk, his hands crossed on his stomach. This is what he said one afternoon:

"Blindness is more of a nuisance than a handicap. People say they forget I'm blind, and that's the best compliment they can pay me. I have no desire to live a single day in an undignified way. I was born blind, and when I was a kid in London I used to go everywhere by myself. I went on the road with my quintet for ten years with guide dogs. It was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. Maybe I'm a devout coward on the road, but I like my hotel rooms if possible to have a bathroom to the left, two chairs with a table between them, and a closet and bureau on the right. I can distinguish light and dark, and I like the window to be in front of me when I enter. An empty room is full of acoustics. In a full room, like this, sound dies. I have to snap my fingers in a full room that I don't know to find out when I'm approaching a wall or a bookcase. This is called facial vision. The movement of air is important. I can tell where people are around me simply by the way they displace the air. I think of sound as the vibration of air, and I think of color — I really don't know what color looks like — as the vibration of light. I used to travel by myself in New York taxis, but I don't much anymore, because you never know where you will end up. In general, getting around New York is wonderful, because of the grid pattern and the sharp corners. It's harder to lose your sight during your life than to be born blind. If you nurse the impairment, though, you'll be a pathetic blind man rather than a productive one. A sense of humor never hurts. Once, Ellie and I were waiting for a table in a local restaurant. It was very crowded, and a waitress carrying a huge tray of empty dishes tried to squeeze between Ellie and me. I didn't know what was happening, and I had my arm through Ellie's. The waitress said, 'Hey, what's the matter with you? Are you blind? I said, 'As a matter of fact, I am,’ Ellie said she will never forget the expression on the woman's face."

Shearing laughs a lot, and it loosens his imposing looks. He has a beaky nose, a high forehead, and grayish hair. He tilts his head up slightly when he is listening. Shearing stopped talking, sat up, stood, and, turning, went quickly up the living-room steps, across the foyer, and into his workroom. He talked as he went. "I've started writing some memoirs," he said, "and I'd like to read aloud what I've done. I've finished the first chapter and begun the second." He sat down at his VersaBraille machine and began to read, his fingers moving over a Braille tape. Here is some of what he read:

"It appears that at the age of three I made gallant but improper attempts at producing music. I used to hit the piano with a hammer. The Shillington Street School, where I went, was in Battersea, in southwest London. The area was known as the Latchmere, so called because of a well-known pub, which benefited from the same handle. This was just one of many pubs dotted around the neighborhood in case the inhabitants got thirsty. And, regrettably, they did. On numerous occasions, children would be heard crying outside pubs while adults inside were doing their level best to get to be the way I was born. It is with sadness that I relate the fact that my mother was a serious contestant. My mother, however, did her very best to keep these miseries at a minimum after I was born. Almost everything was purchased by the Y.P. method (Yours Perhaps). The installment collector was known as the tally-man. He would appear every week to collect his money. More often than not, he would be greeted with a friendly 'I'll see you next week.’ This rather unpleasant task was often foisted upon one of us kids. In which case, it would be 'Mum will see you next week.’ Purchases would be made far in excess of what would seem necessary, so that we could have collateral to borrow money to buy more, to have collateral to borrow, and so on.

"Dad was a coal man. This meant that his job was to carry as heavy a load as possible from his horse and cart to a private home or a place of business. He would leave home at about 6 a.m. and return about the same hour p.m. He worked for the same firm for three months short of fifty years and received the equivalent of twelve dollars a week. He got to retire on a handsome pension of a dollar a week. Like all working-class Englishmen, he was very proud. In my teens, when I thought of changing jobs, my dad would say, 'Why do you want to do that, son? The boss has been good to you.' I could never understand why paying me my hard-earned salary was being good to me. But through all this seeming consideration of management Dad was a strong Labour man. He used to take me to the park on Sunday afternoons to hear some guy speaking in favor of Labour and, at times, for or against Communism. When no such oratory was to be found, we would witness part of a cricket match. Of course, we were never late home for afternoon tea, which would consist of watercress sandwiches and wonderful cake made by my mother.

"Were I more adept at putting things in their proper order, I would have saved some of the sweetness of the foregoing lines to lessen the depression of some of those to come. I remember the sound of rats scampering across the linoleum floor and the sound of my dad's boot trying to hit and kill them. I remember women begging their husbands not to get in a fight outside a pub when they had had too much to drink.

"Let's take a brief glimpse at my mother's life. Dad was earning a poverty-line salary. Mother had nine kids to raise, so she took care of the family during the day and cleaned railway trains at night. It's no wonder she tried to abort me — the youngest of the family. And no wonder I became blind in the process. Although she tried drowning her sorrows in drink, I feel that she really had a guilty conscience about my position and did her very best to repent.

"To this day, I am grateful that blind children were required to spend four years in residential school between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Linden Lodge was the name of the school I attended. Although it could not be counted among the twenty most beautiful residences in England, we had wonderful grounds, with a lawn, flowers, tennis courts for the staff, football and cricket fields, and all the things a little boy from Bat-tersea didn't know existed. Cricket and football were played in the open air only by the partly sighted children. We blind kids played handball by using a football with a bell on it. Cricket was played inside by using a fair-sized balloon with a bell on it."

Shearing got up and went back into the living room and sat in his Eames chair. "That's all I've written so far," he said. He crossed his hands on his stomach. "I learned my Bach and Liszt and studied music theory at the Lodge. When I graduated, I went straight to work in a pub. A year or so later, I joined Claude Bampton's all-Blind Band. It was sponsored by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and had been put together under the aegis of the bandleader Jack Hylton. There were fifteen of us, and we played Jimmie Lunceford and Benny Carter and Duke Ellington. We carried our own rostrum, and six grand pianos for the finale. Our suits were from Hawes & Curtis, on Savile Row. None of the bands of top condition would have dreamed of surrounding themselves with such glamour. Our leader was sighted, and he used a huge baton, which went swish, swish and told us what was what. Our music had been transcribed into Braille. We played all the major theaters in England and Scotland, and the tour lasted almost a year. I had my first contact with jazz in that band. Someone would pick up the new Armstrong or Berigan or Tatum record and say, 'Here's the new sender' — a good musician being known at the time as a solid sender. 

Through the band, I met Leonard Feather, who lived in London, and he helped me get recording dates and radio broadcasts. In 1941, I married my first wife, Trixie. I'd met her in an air raid shelter where I used to play four-handed piano with the song plugger I was rooming with. Trixie and I had a daughter, Wendy, who now lives in North Hollywood. I had three or four jobs at once during the war — in theatres, supper clubs, jazz clubs. I had my own little band, and I also worked for the bandleader Ambrose. I toured a lot with Stephane Grappelli, who spent the war in London. My mother was bombed out three times. We were Cockneys, and Cockneys tell jokes all the time. I remember one: This bloke says to his wife, 'Come on, Liza, the siren just went off.' She says, 'Hold it, Alf. I'm looking for my teeth.' And he says, 'Never mind that. They're dropping bombs, not sandwiches.' 

Around this time, I heard a recording of me speaking, and that told me I should do something about my Cockney accent. One time, I came home from school and my mother asked me what I had studied and I said, 'Six pieces of suet,' Or that's what she thought I had said. When she saw the teacher next, she asked her why we had been studying suet, and the teacher said the subject was 'Seek peace and pursue it.' Ellie tells me that when we visit London I revert to my old accent, and that if we stayed long enough she wouldn't understand a word I said. And when I see Grappelli I start talking like him: 'Stephane, we go eat now.' I saved some money during the war, and in 1946 I visited New York. American musicians like Mel Powell and Glenn Miller had told me in England that I would kill them over here. I wasn't sure. Why would they want England's Teddy Wilson when they had the genuine article? But I liked New York so much I came back for good the next year.

"My first job was at the Onyx Club, on Fifty-second Street. I was the intermission pianist for Sarah Vaughan. I would be announced — 'Ladies and gentlemen, from England the new and exciting pianist George Shearing' — and somebody would yell, 'Where's Sarah?' Then I spelled Ella Fitzgerald at the Three Deuces. She had Hank Jones and Ray Brown and Charlie Smith with her. When Hank took a night off, I played for Ella. I began to be asked to sit in on the Street, and Charlie Parker took me for walks between shows. Leonard Feather had moved to New York, and he introduced me to people and arranged gigs for me. In 1948, I played the old Clique Club, at Forty-ninth Street and Broadway, with Buddy De Franco on clarinet and John Levy and Denzil Best on bass and drums. 

We broke up after the engagement, and Leonard suggested I keep Best and Levy and add Marjorie Hyams on vibraphone and Chuck Wayne on guitar. I made some arrangements. Marjorie did some. We used a unison-octave voicing, like Glenn Miller's reed section. Our first New York gig was at Cafe Society Downtown, for six hundred and ninety-five dollars a week. We did the Blue Note in Chicago, and then the Embers and Bird-land in New York — and the quintet took off. It lasted twenty-nine years, and a lot of wonderful musicians passed through — Cal Tjader and Gary Burton on vibes, Joe Pass and Toots Thielemans on guitar, Ralph Pena and Al McKibbon on bass, Charli Persip on drums. Toward the end, we travelled in a twenty-six-foot motorhome with nine airplane seats and a couch and a refrigerator. On our last big tour, in the seventies, we did fifty-six concerts in sixty-three days, and I think that's what finally did me in.’”

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Lucero (live)

Cal Tjader on vibes with Vince Guaraldi on piano, Al McKibbon, bass, Mongo Santamaria, congas and Willie Bobo, "sit down drums" and timbales.
What a band!
The tune is "Lucero" an original by Cal; IMHO one of his best recorded solos.

Don Joseph - Jazz Poet by Gordon Jack

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Don Joseph (1923-1994) merged jazz and poetry in his style. He was a cornet player of sweet sound and controlled passion, with the most delicate of timbres, a feeling for melody and an exquisite choice of notes, who was not at all compromised by any particular style. Too shy to ask for recognition, as if playing was the essential thing, it was a pity that such a gifted, sensitive player like his friend trumpeter Tony Fruscella was seemingly incapable of sustained work habits.
His imagination and cornet sound was a marriage that yielded sheer poetry.”
- Jordi Pujol, Fresh Sound Record

Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend in allowing JazzProfiles to re-publish his insightful and discerning writings on various topics about Jazz and its makers.

Gordon is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he also developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was published in the 21 July, 2020 edition of Jazz Journal. 

For more information and subscriptions please visit

© -Gordon Jack/JazzJournal, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“Don Joseph’s fleeting appearances on the post-war jazz scene certainly impressed contemporises like Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, Phil Woods, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Crow and John Williams. Historically his reputation now depends on the slimmest of discographies: three titles with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra in 1949 (one track has a trumpet solo but it is uncertain if it his), a 1952 live date with Dave Schildkraut, a1954 session with Al Cohn, recordings in 1957 with Chuck Wayne and Gerry Mulligan and a final date with Cohn again in 1984. These performances reveal a technically fluent soloist with a disarmingly fragile lyrical quality reminiscent of earlier masters like Bix Beiderbecke and Bobby Hackett. The closest in style to Don Joseph at the time was probably Don Fagerquist on the west coast.

Don Joseph was born on Staten Island on 13 April 1923. He benefited from studying with the renowned trumpet teacher Haydn Sheppard who was apparently the Carmine Caruso of his time. Michael Morreale who knew him well told me that Don would often have to demonstrate lip slurs together with exercises from the Arban trumpet method for the other students. A well trained instrumentalist, he played Bach duets with colleagues throughout his career. (Michael is a very fine trumpeter himself as can be heard on YouTube where he and Don perform Embraceable You and Ash Wednesday Blues).

In 1940 Joseph had a quintet which for a while featured Manny Albam on alto. (Later Manny switched to the baritone with Georgie Auld, Charlie Barnet, Charlie Ventura and Herbie Fields before becoming one of the finest of the New York-based arrangers in the fifties.) During World War II Don played with most of the bands appearing at the Paramount Theatre in Times Square. Toward the end of the forties he worked with Jerry Wald, Buddy Rich and Alvino Rey. In 1950 Gene Roland selected him for the twenty five piece band that rehearsed at Nola’s Studio with Charlie Parker. It became known as The Band That Never Was because it didn’t work, it just rehearsed. The ubiquitous Eddie Bert was there over four or five days of rehearsals taking photographs which can be found in Ken Vail’s excellent Bird’s Diary. The following year he was briefly with Buddy DeFranco’s big band and towards the end of 1951 Gerry Mulligan, encouraged by his girlfriend Gail Madden, started experimenting with a piano-less quartet with Don, Peter Ind and Al Levitt. The idea was to be fully realised with Chet Baker, Chico Hamilton and Bob Whitlock a few months later when Mulligan relocated to Los Angeles. He was recorded at the El Mambo club on Long Island in 1952 with Dave Schildkraut and Jackie Paris and both horns stretch out to good effect on Jackie’s Blues, Buzzy and Whooz Blues. Tom Lord claims the date to be 1961 but Fresh Sound on their Tribute to Don Joseph CD go with 1952 and my guess is that Jordi Pujol is correct.

In 1953 Robert Reisner and Dave Lambert started featuring jazz at the Open Door in Greenwich Village and for a while it became a home-from-home for Don Joseph and his friends. Tony Fruscella, Brew Moore, Ronnie Singer and Freddie Gruber formed the resident band and sitting-in was not only welcomed but encouraged. Occasionally some of the stars of the day were featured like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Roy Haynes but not too often because remuneration was probably more generous elsewhere. There is a famous photo of them performing at the Open Door to be found in Ken Vail’s book. Bill Triglia, Phil Woods, Red Mitchell, Teddy Kotick, Nick Stabulas, Al Levitt and Art Mardigan were usually to be found there along with Don who liked to perform Bach duets with Fruscella during the intervals. In Reisner’s book Bird – The Legend Of Charlie Parker bassist Ted Wald says, “The summer of 1953 was wonderful. Those of us who lived in the Village got to play with Bird almost every day either at the Open Door or at Sheri Martinelli’s pad on 3rd. Avenue and 4th Street. Don Joseph and Bird used to sound nutty together”. (Ms. Martinelli was a celebrated painter and a poet.) Parker visited Don in his room just before he died in March 1955.

In Bill Crow’s Birdland To Broadway he relates the following anecdote which sums up Don’s attitude to drummers. “Don Joseph and I were playing with Brew Moore at the Open Door. A couple of young drummers were waiting their chance to sit-in. When one of them took over and began pouring on the fire and brimstone, Don gave him a pained look and asked me, “Whatever happened to that other drummer we had all nice and tired out?” 

Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg were occasionally in attendance at the Open Door and Kerouac mentions Don and Tony Fruscella in his book Lonesome Traveler. This is what he says about Don, “Let’s go see if we can find Don Joseph… (he’s) a terrific cornet player who wanders around the Village with his little moustache and his arms hangin’ at the sides with the cornet which creaks when he plays softly, nay whispers, the greatest sweetest cornet since Bix and more. He stands at the jukebox in the bar and plays with the music for a beer. He looks like a handsome movie actor. He’s the great, super glamorous secret Bobby Hackett of the jazz world”. Another Greenwich Village venue that Don played was the Nut Club where Phil Woods held court with Jon Eardley, Teddy Kotick, Nick Stabulas and either George Syran or Gil Evans. It was a strip club and Phil once told me, “Don was a lovely player who was very close to Gerry Mulligan. He was a brilliant man, very articulate and very well-read into Hemingway, Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. He was quite an imbiber though and mad as a hatter”. I mentioned this to Bill Crow recently who said, “I wouldn’t call Don mad, just eccentric with a wicked sense of humour”.

It may surprise some readers to learn that jazz musicians like Phil Woods and Gil Evans would work in strip-clubs but they were often the first port-of-call when other work was scarce. Brew Moore played in burlesque clubs in Memphis, New Orleans and Brooklyn. He once said that he was twenty one before he saw a naked woman from the front. Zoot Sims too was no stranger to the scene and Dave Schildkraut worked in a strip club on New York’s 52nd. Street. Herb and Lorraine Geller, Joe Maini, Lawrence Marable and Philly Joe Jones all worked regularly at the notorious Duffy’s Gaiety near Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Lenny Bruce was the M.C. and his wife Hot Honey Harlow did the stripping.

Years ago John Williams vividly described both Tony Fruscella and Don Joseph to me, “During World War II when many of the good musicians were in the service, guys that could really play like Don were in great demand. He played with all the big bands that came to New York at places like the Paramount Theatre in Times Square. The joke became that the bands would change at the Paramount but Don would still be in the same chair because he was such an excellent player all the bandleaders wanted him. Unfortunately he took some sort of a downhill turn at the end of the forties possibly through drugs and he became the bad boy on the block although he could still play beautifully. He would show up at jam sessions at places like Nola’s and he would be welcome but he never had a dollar in his pocket. He always seemed to be down and out and on the take and his reputation became so bad that he couldn’t get any work with the bands. He wasn’t even allowed in our musicians’ bar Charlie’s Tavern because he had abused the privileges there so much that Charlie would have one of the bartenders throw him out if he tried to get in. He used to come to the front door and shout. ‘Hey Charlie it’s me Don Joseph. I’m banned from bars and I’m barred from bands!’

“He and Tony Fruscella were two of a kind and needless to say they were close friends. They used to hang out and play duets together and they would go to the same jam sessions. Anyway the three of us were going to play at a session in Greenwich Village so we jumped in a cab and as I was the only one who had any money and I didn’t have much, I just knew I was going to pick up the tab. What I remember most is sitting there absolutely enthralled while these two lame-brained but incredibly talented musicians sang two-part Bach fugues all the way to the Village. That was Tony Fruscella and that was Don Joseph”. Michael Morreale told me that Don had an apartment around this time near the corner of Morton Street and 7th. Avenue. Tony Fruscella helped him and his family move in although they were both in Don’s words, ‘Whacked out of our minds!’

Pianist Jack Reilly’s blog reveals the following, “Don Joseph was a rare and brilliant improviser. I had the joy of knowing and playing with him at local Staten Island clubs and jam sessions in 1954 when I was paying my ‘dues’. We played shows, lounges, weddings, dances – you name it. At Crochitos on South Beach they hired comedians, dancers, strippers and singers on week-ends. We were there for about six months and between the shows we played jazz. He had an interest in literature, especially Shakespeare and at the drop of a hat he would stand up on stage and recite long passages from memory in that deep Orson Wellsian-voice with the conviction of a seasoned Shakespearian actor. He had us spellbound and dizzy with laughter as he added his own interpretations to the Bard. He became clean and healthy in the latter days of his life and was very content to live in relative seclusion with his trumpet and books on Staten Island. Don is always with me”.

Around this time Bill Crow was rehearsing with the Jerry Wald band at Nola’s for a booking at the Embers. Don Joseph had worked with Wald back in the forties but they had parted on less than friendly terms. He came to visit with the musicians during a break and when the rehearsal re-started he moved to the door and shouted, “Hello Jerry. I just dropped by to say that I wouldn’t work for you again for three hundred dollars a week.” He left, then the door re-opened - “Make that four hundred!”

In 1954 he recorded four titles with Art Mardigan’s sextet along with some other Open Door regulars plus trombonist Milt Gold who was with Stan Kenton at the time. Joseph is inspired on a buoyant, foot-tapping session featuring Al Cohn’s heavy-duty tenor together with the rhythmic propulsion of John Williams on piano. The following year Mulligan wanted him for the sextet he was forming with Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot Sims. He didn’t turn up for the rehearsals so Idrees Sulieman was hired who was later replaced by Jon Eardley. His two recordings in 1957 reveal what might have been if only Don could have controlled those inner demons because his performances on both reveal an artist of uncommon sensitivity. In April that year Gerry Mulligan recorded Mullenium which featured some of his new big band charts. Years later when I asked him about the date he still remembered that “Don played beautifully on All The Things You Are”. The arrangement is also notable for the leader’s delicate reconstruction of the theme in the last chorus. Bill Crow told me an amusing story about the recording. Apparently Don did not have a horn at the time so Mulligan loaned him a flugelhorn that someone had given him. When the date was over Gerry forgot to ask him to give it back. About a week later he got an envelope in the mail containing a pawn ticket with a note that just said ‘Sorry’. Gerry’s reaction to Bill was, “Well that just shows Don still loves me or he would have sold the pawn ticket”. Don’s behaviour might be explained by the fact that he was apparently a hard alcoholic at the time.

Three months later he was on Chuck Wayne’s String Fever session. Wayne who was in the vanguard of post Charlie Christian guitarists had just completed a three year stint with George Shearing’s quintet. Don’s fellow Staten Islander Caesar DiMauro played some delightful Prez-inspired tenor and on some titles Gene Quill’s explosive alto is added. Don has some exquisite ballad readings on Embraceable You and Lover Man. Michael Morreale told me that Chuck Wayne might have had a similar experience to Mulligan’s regarding an unreturned instrument.

Don Joseph frequently left the jazz scene for lengthy periods because he just did not feel like playing. Larry Kart told me that he had a phobia about travelling from Staten Island to New York City either by car, over the bridge or the subway which of course made playing with his peers there difficult after his Open Door days. He did play with local Staten Island musicians at dances and lounges although his behaviour remained unconventional. Michael Morreale told me about a club date where the leader was annoyed because he had turned up in a tuxedo and brown shoes. Don’s solution was to play the gig with his shoes off. Near the end of the evening on another booking the leader was asked if the band would play over-time. “Fuck no” screamed Don. Michael often performed with him along with Turk Van lake where Don would surprise audiences as well as the band by eloquently delivering passages from Shakespeare. He was a huge admirer incidentally of Sir Laurence Olivier.

He went to AA and stopped drinking in 1969 remaining sober until the end. He had his last methadone hit in1981. He became an assistant band director at Farrell High School and sometimes he would sit outside the band-room playing bop licks on an Eb alto horn which amused all the students. Michael told me that he was, “a big fan of Eddie Sauter. He also spoke well of Artie Shaw whose attitude to the music business he may have shared. He usually liked quiet drummers but he did say once that Art Blakey was the best he played with”.  Apart from his literary interests he was also a boxing fan numbering Roberto Duran and Benny Leonard among his favourites. Eventually he became a Mormon which gave him comfort and friends who helped him. He contributed to the religion by recording readings in a deep voice rich with resonance.

His last recording took place in 1984. Bob Sunenblick of Uptown Records was impressed when he heard him at a Staten Island club called Cana in a group led by local legend Caesar DiMauro. Bob offered him $2000.00 for the date. The money was certainly attractive although he was never totally comfortable playing after he had false teeth fitted. He selected some old friends from his Open Door days for the session like Al Cohn, Bill Triglia and Red Mitchell. He played a borrowed cornet and when asked who he wanted on drums he said, “Just someone who can play quiet on brushes” so Joey Baron was hired. 

Don Joseph passed away on 12 March 1994. Two Mormon elders were with him at the end.”

As leader
One Of A Kind – Uptown Productions (UP27.23)

As Sideman
Lucky Millinder And His Orchestra (Classics (F) 1173 CD
Gene Roland Orchestra – The Band That Never Was (Philology W845 – 2 CD.
Buddy DeFranco (Classics 1445 CD)
Gerry Mulligan – Mullenium (Columbia/Legacy CK 65678)
Chuck Wayne – String Fever (Euphoria 180)
A Tribute To The Jazz Poetry Of Don Joseph – Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 919) 
The Fresh Sound CD includes three titles with Dave Schildkraut.