A Few Magical Days in the Life of a Jazz Writer

Nick Catalano By

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I'm working on a new book, some contents of which involve my music writing during the past twenty years or so. Readers often ask me to describe the day to day activity of a music journalist here in Gotham and several chapters in this forthcoming book address these requests. What follows is a sampling of typical events during a few weeks in the life of yours truly...

On one glorious evening recently I dined at the home of Tony Monte (a New York musical fixture with myriad identities) and spent some time with famed composer/arranger/pianist Torrie Zito and legendary jazz songstress Helen Merrill. A long time admirer of Zito's brilliant creative efforts (for those out of the loop, he wrote those gorgeous arrangements for Tony Bennett during the Columbia years and hundreds of others for performers to numerous to include here) I was brimming with questions about his early years, his background etc. During the evening I was awestruck at the eclectism of this humble musical mastermind. Hailing from Utica New York, Zito's only formal training came at the hands of one or two early teachers and about a year and a half at the Manhattan School of Music. Most of his life has been spent simply analyzing the writing of the masters the way an avid fan might spend time analyzing N.Y. Yankee baseball hitters. Zito's accounts of his experiences with Stravinsky's "wild time signatures , Rachmaninoff's harmonics and Debussy's colors are incredibly complex but he relates them with anecdotal informality and deliciously hip humor. His admiration at colleague Lee Musiker's success performing Scriabin's impossibly difficult "Etude in D# Minor" is absolutely hilarious.

Helen Merrill's tale of her visit to Miles Davis's parents' home in East St. Louis is wonderfully intriguing. Her recording sessions with Clifford Brown include descriptions which are invaluable as are her many show business stories.

I could probably fill an entire chapter in my book with tales from this fantastic New York couple and, who knows, maybe I will...

A few nights later I wandered into a new jazz venue-Enzo's Jazz at The Jolly Hotel Madison Towers. The owner/impresario—a veteran Italian jazz writer—is one of the producers of the Umbria jazz festival. The festival, one of Europe's largest, is naturally the repository of many important Italian musicians many of whom will be introduced to New York audiences via Enzo's delightful new room located in the Whaler bar of this 38th St. hotel. This windfall of Italian musicians is a symbol of Gotham's remarkable musical internationalism-another topic contained in my book. The night I went to Enzo's, bassist Bill Moring was celebrating the release of his new CD. His quartet, with Jack Walrath on trumpet, executes some interesting abstract sounds with impressive resonance...

As I sorted through the plethora of CDs that arrive each month, I listened to Lords of Morphine featuring bassist (and world class barefoot water-skier) Mike Frankenbush. The sounds and lyrics of this outing should provide ample food for thought to aspiring young musicians seeking that rarest of performance achievements-a distinctive sound. Info on this group is available at www.LordsofMorphine.com.

The following day I listened to Arturo Sandoval's new CD/DVD on the Half Note label. Dubbed Arturo-Live At the Blue Note (how many recordings through the years have used this title?) it is Sandoval's first live release in a meteoric career that has included 40 CDs. I usually listen to a new CD if it is released in conjunction with a live CD release appearance; naturally, I often compare the recording to the live performance.

In jazz, it is often impossible to achieve the dynamics of a live performance on a studio recording, hence Sandoval's decision to record live. It certainly was a prescient one. His personality, his humor and his entire showy package cannot possibly be communicated on a CD. At his Blue Note opening the following evening, the intensity and excitement were further testimony to the wisdom of his choice. Arturo-Live At the Blue Note should be one of the best received jazz CDs of the year...

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