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Glenn Zottola: A Jazz Life - The Early Years

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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World-renown trumpeter, saxophonist, musical director, producer and entrepreneur. These are but a mere handful of words that describe the vast talent in Glenn Zottola's bag of musical marvels. There are others: child prodigy, creative genius, "musical natural" and aural savant also percolate rapidly to mind. Now in his sixth decade of playing professionally as a rare and masterful "Triple Threat"—he plays and has recorded on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones—Zottola's career when viewed in terms of both its longevity and the depth and breadth of his performing resume is simply staggering. Zottola recently released A Jazz Life (Classic Jazz Records, 2013), a compilation of his selected recordings from over 50 albums plus jazz festivals and at Carnegie Hall.

All About Jazz: Glenn, on behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for taking time to share "A Jazz Life" with us.

Glenn Zottola: Thanks, Nick. It's my pleasure.

AAJ: Please take us back to your earliest musical memory.

GZ: My family lived at 32 Browndale Place in Port Chester, New York. I was 2 or 3 years old and I was in the crib and I remember my Dad was rehearsing a big band in the living room. My Dad, before he went into his business manufacturing and brass mouthpieces was an arranger for Claude Thornhill along with Gil Evans. In fact, my Dad arranged "Autumn Nocturne" for Claude. It was the flip side of Thornhill's famous theme song, "Snowfall." Conrad Gozzo was the lead trumpet player in Thornhill's band. Dad would tell me stories about Gozzo and others in that band. Dad played lead trumpet like Goz and jazz like Louis Armstrong.

AAJ: Were there any other musicians in the family?

GZ: My older brother played trumpet and my sister sang and played piano. However, my Mother played great piano by ear—playing with great time and chord changes—stride and everything. My Mom and Dad had a steady gig playing at a country club for 16 years and they would take me on gigs when I was about seven years old. When I would come home from school, Mom would sit me on her lap and teach me hundreds of standards with her playing piano by ear. No sheet music. The Great American Songbook is in my musical DNA.

AAJ: How old were you when this early tune training started?

GZ: About four years old. I'll tell you a side story about that. Dad had this recording machine that created thin plastic records. They recorded me playing "Carnival of Venice" at about 4 years old with my Mom on piano but not really playing it. I heard the entire piece perfectly in my head as If Herbert L. Clarke was playing it but much to my shock when I heard the recording back I did the entire piece only on one note—a middle C but with perfect rhythm as that was all the chops I had at that age.

AAJ: When did you start playing the trumpet?

GZ: Age three. The "Carnival of Venice" thing happened when I was about four.

AAJ: How did the trumpet thing come about?

GZ: Dad had trumpets hanging on hooks all over the house and he and my brother played.

AAJ: So, this was much more than a natural environment for you to musically develop.

AAJ: Absolutely. When I'd come home from school and Mom was in the kitchen cooking, she'd stop and say: "Want to play something?" We would jam nearly every day, playing "Honeysuckle Rose" and the like. Later on, Mom and Dad also operated a jazz club in Westchester where I performed with them. Many jazz artists performed there.

AAJ: What about reading music?

GZ: My Dad was just starting me on that—with Solfeggio from the Pasquale Bona book. That was the old Italian style. He studied with a teacher from La Scala in Milan in Italy. You did Solfeggio, etc. before you actually played the instrument. He was an amazing musician and conductor and when he played with the Italian concert band with those old cats, they would play games like reading music backwards from the end to the beginning.

AAJ: What about playing in school band?

GZ: Yes, however, since the band director was friends with my Dad, they would have a school bus pick me up from grammar school and take me over to play with the junior high school band. I was playing with kids much older than I was.

AAJ: What advice did you get from your Mom and Dad about playing the horn and being a musician?

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