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.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.