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Glenn Zottola: A Jazz Life - On the Road and In Demand

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: So, now you're out with Lionel Hampton.

Glenn Zottola: Yes. I went from the frying pan with the Glenn Miller band immediately into the fire with Hamp. I was playing the jazz book and Hamp's book was tough—"Flying Home" and all that. Remember, I'm a soloist not a section guy. Hampton was amazing. He was really great to me. The gig paid $50 a night and you had to pick up your own hotel. Plus, I was working my tail off—their manager was booking afternoon gigs and not paying us any extra money. It became too much. I decided to leave the band, but, it was like leaving the Lion's Den! It took me three hours talking to the band's manager in Hamp's suite in New York before they'd let me go. Remember, I was a young guy. I was 17. I was scared and the manager—a real tough guy—pushed me up against the wall and said: "You can't leave Lionel Hampton!" At the same time, Hamp was saying "Gates, I love your playing. Do you want more solos?" It was a crazy scene. I told him it was simply too much for me.

AAJ: So you came back home?

GZ: Yes. My Mom and Dad were very loose and supportive of me and my decision. It wasn't as if they said: "We told you so." They, being musicians, knew the business and were 1000% behind me. I knew I could get work in New York.

AAJ: From?

GZ: I started doing work with all the well-known Latin bands—Larry Harlow, Ricardo Rey, Ozzie Ramirez at the Palladium in New York. Those bands and others.

AAJ: Was that your first time playing in that genre? It can be very demanding chopwise.

GZ: Yes, it was a new experience. It was quite interesting and I learned a lot about the real Latin thing. There were a lot of jazz players out there such as Pete Yellin—a good Bebop player. I did fine, but, some Latin band members said I was "out of clave." I had no idea—and still don't—what they meant—perhaps they meant that their emphasis was on beats One and Three versus our Two and Four in the jazz world. Who knows? I adjusted and they loved me.

AAJ: What other work were you doing?

GZ: Near home, I was working with my own group and also went up to play in the Catskills, playing at the various hotels there behind Mel Torme, Professor Irwin Corey, Myron Cohen and all the great acts that performed at the Playboy Club, Kutscher's and the other hotels. It was a vibrant scene. The hotel bands had great players from New York. I used to drive up there with trombonist, Jimmy Knepper.

AAJ: How did you wind up hurting your chops and going to see the great Carmine Caruso for help?

GZ: I was working in a very rough and tough place in Westchester with a great group, playing seven nights a week. Some of the bandcmembers were in the original Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers bands—Sonny Wellesley on bass from Blue Note records, Bross Townsend, Jr. on piano, Belton "Sticks" Evans on drums—he played like Bernard Purdie—a real groover. It was a great education. It was nuts. We'd play all night until 3 AM and then go to the owner's room for another couple of hours to discuss charts for future gigs. My Dad came and got me out of the gig. It was like that scene in The Godfather. It was a heavy scene. My chops were actually cut up. So, I went to Carmine Caruso and within a year he got my chops back. He was great. It was like being around my Dad.

AAJ: Then the Broadway pits?

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