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October 2007

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George Melly, 80, jazz and blues singer, author, raconteur.
Liverpool, England, August 17, 1926—London, England, July 5, 2007.

The Oscar Wilde of jazz? George Melly, an eccentric Englishman of many careers whose singing style invoked his idol, the blues singer Bessie Smith, died in London after a stretch of emphysema and dementia. He was 80.

Melly was an exponent of the British brand of "trad jazz, a blend of Dixieland, music hall styles and blues. Clad in African robes and sitting in a wheelchair, he gave his last concert a week before his death, and finished his last album the day before he died, on July 5.

"As a surrealist, I quite enjoy having dementia, he quipped in a June interview with Time Out, London. He gave up music in 1962 to become a full-time writer, publishing, among other books, no fewer than three autobiographies. The first, Owning Up (1965) was hailed in July by the British jazz critic Steve Voce as "the most hilarious book ever written about jazz. The writing style is so good and the anecdotes so pungent that it has dated not at all.

Returning to music in 1974, Melly started performing in garish getups with a trad band called John Chilton's Feetwarmers. They played at theaters, colleges and pubs in Great Britain; their Christmas shows at Ronnie Scott's, a London jazz club, grew into a tradition. The group was featured at the 1978 Waterloo Picnic. This New Jersey offshoot of the JVC Jazz Festival evolved into Jersey JazzFest in 1995.

In a 2001 interview with the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, Melly addressed the subject of aging. "Billie Holiday sang what I feel in one verse, he said. "I ain't got no future, but Lord, Lord, what a past.


Johnny Frigo, 90, jazz violinist, bassist, lyricist and wit.
Chicago, IL, December 27, 1916—July 4, 2007.

Johnny Frigo, a superb violinist and bassist staple of the Chicago jazz scene, whose earliest recordings with Jimmy Dorsey were made from live broadcasts at Frank Dailey's Terrace Room in Newark, died July 4 in Chicago. He was 90. Both cancer and complications from a fall were cited as causes.

Frigo's legacy of some 81 recording sessions is catalogued in Lord's Jazz Discography CD-ROM 7.0. After playing with the Coast Guard band at Ellis Island during World War II, he toured as a sideman with Jimmy Dorsey. Broadcast recordings in April 1946 from the Terrace Room, with Frigo switching between bass and violin, were released on Navy V-Discs.

Frigo and two fellow musicians in the Navy band, the pianist Lou Carter and the guitarist Herb Ellis, formed the Soft Winds Trio. They are credited for writing in 1972 what became the standard tunes, "Detour Ahead and "I Told You I Love You, Now Get Out. Frigo later confided that he alone had written both the lyrics and music. "Detour Ahead was recorded by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Irene Kral, Stan Getz and Woody Herman, among others.

He was described by Jim Brown, a recording engineer friend, as "a man of great creative depth and wit. He wrote poetry, from the sublime to the whimsical. He painted, he made what might be called modern sculpture or installation art—some of it was in every recording studio in Chicago, and it was wonderful.

Never a stranger to the Garden State, Frigo played in Edison at a jazz party hosted in 2004 by New Jersey Jazz Society director Frank Nissel. He also made recordings with Jersey favorites such as Bucky and John (Jr.) Pizzarelli, Howard Alden and Bill Charlap. Statesmen of Jazz, with Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Earl May on bass and Louie Bellson, drums, was released in 2004 (SOJCD202).

He was a good friend of the Montclair jazz historian Robert Gold (A Jazz Lexicon, Knopf, 1964, and Jazz Talk, Bobbs Merrill, 1975), who told me that Frigo "goes down in my book as one of the five all-time top fiddlers—along with Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith and Svend Asmussen.


Vincent Giantomasi, 60, businessman, spare-time drummer, photographer, actor.
Newark, NJ, March 14, 1947—Parsippany, NJ, June 21, 2007.

Vincent Giantomasi, a spare-time drummer, writer, photographer and actor who played at Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange and occasionally at other venues, died at home in Parsippany following a long illness. He was 60.

A native of Newark, Giantomasi served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He earned a bachelor of business degree from William Paterson University in Wayne. For the last two decades he owned and managed Giant Productions, an audiovisual service in Parsippany.

Giantomasi acted the role of 'Wiseguy' in Witness to the Mob, a two-part miniseries about Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano of the Gambino crime family.

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