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Tete Montoliu

Vicente Montoliu Massana, was born in Barcelona Spain in 1933.The son of a Barcelona symphony woodwinds player, he was born sightless. When he was seven, there were two events that shaped his life: he learned to read music in Braille and he heard recordings by Duke Ellington. Montoliu studied classical piano at the Barcelona Conservatory, and was known as a local piano sensation.

His early interest in jazz was further stimulated when the great saxophonist Don Byas lived for a time in the Montoliu home. By age 17, Montoliu was leading jam sessions at a Barcelona theater.He made his international debut when he was invited on a European tour by Lionel Hampton in 1955, and in 1956 he recorded with the band. The possessor of astonishing technique, Montoliu exhibited warmth, deep feeling, and humor in his playing. In the 1960s and '70s, he worked with an array of leading jazzmen including Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, Archie Shepp, and Ben Webster. By the early 1960's, he was recognized as one of Europe's top jazz musicians. He traveled around Europe, and landed the house pianist job at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen. Upon his return to Spain he began to perform and record prolifically mainly for the Steeplechase label. He garnered quite a reputation as a reliable jazz virtuoso, and his services were repeatedly called upon by visiting American jazzmen.

He recorded abundantly alone and with trios, almost always for European companies. “Lunch in L.A.,” his only album for an American label, found him in 1979 in great form playing solo on standards and originals. He created a prodigious body of work and amassed an impressive catalog of close to sixty records as a leader alone. He was also featured pianist on hundreds of European dates with scores of musicians. Montoliu was also quite comfortable covering classic Spanish boleros, the songs of Jobim, and exploring Brazilian and Cuban inspired rhythms, where he accompanied various female vocalists in these diverse genres.

He did a series of trio sessions based around the “Catalonian Nights” theme, which were recorded with Albert “Tootie” Heath and John Heard. These are available as Volumes I II and III, from Steeplechase. One of his last great recordings was a 1990 trio date with bassist George Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash, “The Man from Barcelona.” The session draws from standards and timeless jazz compositions, all played with Montoliu's inventive touch. He throws quite a few twists into his complex setting of "Stella by Starlight," shows off his chops in an intense workout of "Autumn Leaves," and pulls out all stops with the furious rendition of "A Night in Tunisia." The pianist's lyrical side is showcased in the blues and ballads offered. The album was released a few years after his death, which was 1997.

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