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Joe Venuti: Joe & Zoot & More

C. Michael Bailey By

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Joe Venuti: Joe & Zoot & More

The Sad Clown as Phoenix...

Giuseppi Venuti (1903—1978) was born en route to America form Italy. He claimed Philadelphia as home, and Philadelphia claims him as a favorite son. Venuti and childhood chum Eddie Lang provided the American violin/guitar foil to European team of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. Venuti and Lang made some of the most influential violin/Guitar sides in jazz and worked right up to the unfortunately premature death of Lang during a tonsillectomy. Venuti performed regularly with big bands until a short stint in the military during the Second World War after which he was largely forgotten, left to fight his personal demons.

That, of course, was not the end of Joe Venuti. He fully reemerged in 1969 at Dick Gibson’s Aspen Jazz Party and appearing with Zoot Sims in a set that inspired Whitney Balliett’s "Ecstasy at the Onion," in the New Yorker. A few short years later, Venuti and Zoot Sims found themselves in the studio for a series of well-received recordings for the Chiaroscuro Label. Represented here are the last Venuti/Sims sides to be released along with some duet and quartet sides without Sims. The result is a compelling picture of a musical pioneer in twilight, still making necessary music well into his 70s.

One might expect this recording to sound vaguely like the Grappelli/Reinhardt pairing and vaguely it does. But these recordings, even 30 years after Grappelli/Reinhardt, lack the European-ness of that pair’s recordings. Venuti plays his fiddle like he is angry. That makes for a bit harder edge, one that refreshingly thrusts him out of the great Frenchman’s shadow.

Joe & Zoot & More has the 70-year-old violinist in burning form and the 48-year-old Sims in a simmering mood. "I found a New Baby" opens this release with violin and soprano saxophone becoming one in a swing rendition of that standard. The highlight of the Venuti—Sims Pairing is an assertive "C Jam Blues." Sims provided Venuti the necessary introspection to act as a lens for the violinist’s extroversion. Sims played tenor and soprano like no other (without so much as a trace of John Coltrane) and his ballad playing with Venuti is stunning. Of the non-Sims containing material, the most compelling are Venuti’s duets with Bucky Pizzarelli. They play a pair of Venuti originals and the Gershwins’ "Oh, Lady Be Good" that illustrates powerfully why Venuti has no peer. This recording helps to properly place Joe Venuti in his proper context within jazz.

Track Listing: I Found A New Baby; There

Personnel: Joe Venturi

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Chiaroscuro Records | Style: Dixieland/New Orleans/Swing


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