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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.

"Over the past four years, Vince warmed the hearts of thousands of Cecil's patrons with his quick, witty perspective on jazz and life in general, Adreena and Cecil Brooks III said in a statement that called attention to Giantomasi's photographs of performers on the club's walls. He was an enthusiastic supporter of New Jersey Jazz Society; donations to his memory were welcomed by the society's president, Andrea Tyson, 110 Maywood Avenue, Piscataway, NJ 08854.


Bill Barber, 87, modern jazz tubaist and teacher.
Hornell, NY, May 21, 1920—Bronxville, NY, June 18, 2007.

The first musician to play modern jazz on the tuba, John William Barber was an alumnus of the pianist Claude Thornhill's forward-looking big band. He went on to tour and/or record with Miles Davis/Gil Evans, George Shearing, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and other modernists.

He died at 87, apparently of heart failure, June 18 in Bronxville, NY.

Like his fellow-tubaist, the late Don Butterfield, Bill Barber was a classically trained pioneer of the deep-toned, bulky horn in the modern jazz genre. Both players took their bachelor's in music at the Juilliard School; Barber later went for a master's in music education at the Manhattan School of Music.

After service in the 7th Army band, he joined the Kansas City Philharmonic. He moved to New York and worked for Thornhill in 1947-1948. With the Miles Davis Nonet for the next two years, he took part in a historic series of recordings led by the trumpeter. Birth of the Cool on LP helped usher in the period of cool jazz.

Barber moved to the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra in 1952-1954, when Pete Rugolo then hired him. His association with Davis and Evans was resumed in 1957-1962 when the two combined talents for the acclaimed big-band albums Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain, and Porgy and Bess. He also worked in 1959 with George Shearing.

Freelance assignments in Broadway shows, on TV and for the City Center Ballet helped keep the tubaist busy, but to make ends meet he earned a master's degree and taught high school music classes from 1960 on Long Island. In 1992 he toured with Gerry Mulligan. The veteran of 90 recording sessions recorded for the last time, with Mulligan, on the album Re-birth of the Cool.


Nellie Lutcher, 94, rhythm and blues singer, pianist.
Lake Charles, LA, October 15, 1915—Los Angeles, CA, June 8, 2007.

Sixty years ago, the jazz critic Leonard Feather pictured Nellie Lutcher ("Hurry on down to my house, honey / Ain't nobody home but me ) as "not pretty, or even handsome, but ... a tall, big, somehow striking person (able) to change moods and express a wide range of ideas, both musical and humorous.

Lutcher, a singer and pianist, enjoyed a spate of rhythm-and-blues hits from 1947 until 1952. Four hits on the Capitol label reached the Billboard R&B Top 10, including "He's a Real Gone Guy, "My Mother's Eyes and "Fine Brown Frame. She sang a duet with Nat 'King' Cole, "Can I Come In For A Second?

Lutcher went on performing until nearly age 80, and inspired Nina Simone and other singers. At 94 and in failing health, with pneumonia, she died June 8, in Los Angeles. "She was a fighter to the end, her nephew and manager, Gene Jackson, said. "She had told the family, I'm going to go when I'm ready to go.

Her accepted date of birth in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is October 15, 1915, into a family that eventually numbered 15 children. (Spencer Leigh, of The Independent London newspaper, wrote that she actually was born in 1912, but that Capitol changed the year to 1917 to make her seem younger.) At 11, she played piano for the renowned blues singer Ma Rainey.

The Calcasieu Museum in Lake Charles had already begun a series of events saluting Lutcher's life in music. She once penned "Lake Charles Boogie, a novelty tune about her hometown: "This little ditty / is a song about the city / where I was born.


Dave Remington, 80, pianist, trombonist, bandleader, educator.
Rochester, NY, October 10, 1926—Traverse, MI, June 8, 2007.

Musicians across the country telephoned a Michigan hospice to pay respects to Dave Remington, their teacher, whose career spanned a half-century as a freelance pianist, trombonist, bandleader and educator. A member of New Jersey Jazz Society who lived in Beulah, MI, he died June 8 of prostate cancer complications.

He was 80 and worked into May, playing "his usual Mother's Day weekend bandleader job at a Wisconsin resort, a 400-mile drive each way, said his wife, Karen. She is a freelance vocalist who graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 1981, the year her future husband took his M.A. in jazz studies.

Remington worked mainly in Illinois, New York and Wisconsin, never gaining national fame. But his legacy includes 17 recording sessions with releases mostly on smaller labels, and in Chicago-style traditional jazz groups. He recorded with groups that included, at times, the pianist Art Hodes, guitarist Marty Grosz, violinist Johnny Frigo (see obituary above) and clarinetists Bill Reinhardt and Chuck Hedges.

Live at Bourbon Street, recorded at the Chicago club in 1965 and released on Decca, had the trombonist leading the Dukes of Dixieland, with Frank Assunto on trumpet and vocals and his brother, Jac Assunto, on banjo; Jerry Fuller on clarinet; Red Brown on bass, and Barrett Deems on drums.

Born October 10, 1926, in Rochester, NY, David Wilbur Remington was the second son of Emory Remington, professor of trombone and chairman of the brass department at the Eastman School, and his wife Laura, an organist. His older sister, Janet, was principal harpist with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Enrolled in 1947 at St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, Remington and a bass-playing fellow student, Fradley Garner, formed The Laurentians, the largest dance- and Kenton-style concert band in the university's history. His older brother, Emory Jr., played drums.

Later, Dave Remington led groups in top Chicago clubs like Jazz Ltd., Pump Room, Wise Fools, and at venues in Wisconsin. He fronted his band at both inaugural balls for President Richard Nixon, in 1969 and 1973.

After heading the Rockford (Illinois) College music department in 1970-1974, he moved to New York, joining the trombone section of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band and working as a sideman for Lou Rawls and Paul Anka. He also played in pit orchestras for the Broadway musicals Annie and A Chorus Line.

He moved to Beulah, MI, and taught jazz piano and improvisation from 1999 to 2006 at Interlochen Arts Academy. Bill Cunliffe, a pianist in Los Angeles, credited Remington with sparking his jazz career. Cunliffe had taken a master's in music theory when Remington heard him playing in a practice room and talked him into switching to jazz studies. Another Interlochen student, Jesse Elder, a musician in his early twenties working six nights a week in New York, said: "I would not be here today except for Mr Remington. In a three-hour gig, 80 per cent of it is music I learned from him.


Buddy Childers, 81, trumpeter and composer.
Belleville, IL, February 12, 1926—Woodland Hills, CA, May 24, 2007.

Buddy Childers, hailed as "one of the greatest lead trumpet players in the history of big bands by a member of the Stan Kenton Alumni Band, died May 12 of cancer complications in Woodland Hills, California. He was 81.

Childers was only 16 when Kenton auditioned him for the lead trumpet chair, in 1942. "I played about eight or nine things in a row and the adrenalin was really flying, Childers told the British critic, Steve Voce.

"I had this thing in my mind that I had to join a name band at 16 or I'd never be able to make it as a musician. I was thinking of Harry James, so young with Ben Pollack and then with Benny Goodman, and Corky Corcoran who joined Sonny Dunham when he was 16 and then became Harry James's leading soloist the next year. So I made it by three weeks.

Childers said he dropped out of high school a couple of months before graduation to go on the road. He remained mainly a big band trumpeter for the rest of a career that included stints with Benny Carter, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Georgie Auld, Charlie Barnet, Frank Sinatra, and the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Orchestra.

In 1993 he left Sinatra to form his own big band, continuing to perform into this century. He finished his last, still-to-be-released CD, Haunted Ballroom, in 2005. While gradually cutting back on his own playing, Childers became an even more avid listener. "To play a good solo is a joy, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995, "but to hear one of my own arrangements played as well as these guys play is an indescribable thrill.

Thanks to Jerry Gordon, Joe Lang, Don Robertson, Mitchell Seidel and the editors of Jersey Jazz magazine for obit tips. And to Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler for The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (new ed. 2007).

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