Michael Dodo" Marmarosa was a fascinating jazz pianist. Among the first pianists to master bebop in the mid-1940s, he had an accomplished, plush touch. As I wrote back in 2008, Dodo was less aggressive than Bud Powell
and more expressive and complex than Al Haig
. He preferred a punctuating, full keyboard approach, developing ideas in the middle and widening out to express them."
Marmarosa also was much in demand early on. He was skilled enough to play piano for many of the biggest bands of the 1940s—including Charlie Barnett, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Boyd Raeburn and George Handy—while also recording with Lester Young on Aladdin Records and Charlie Parker on Dial Records. The reason he is so little known now is that few pianists today would dare take on his music.
Now Craig Davis has done just that on his new album, Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa
. Like Marmarosa, Craig is from Pittsburgh
. Backed by John Clayton
on bass and Jeff Hamilton
on drums, Craig is exceptional in both feel and technique. You don't record a tribute album to Marmarosa unless you can bring it and swing it. And Craig can do both, with a tender feel for Marmarosa's songwriting and fluid skill.
Marmarosa's nickname wasn't a result of his pronounced nose and large head. His family insisted the moniker came after he said do do" instead of da da" as a baby. Formal piano lessons began at age 9, followed by round-the-clock training for five years while in high school. Influenced by Erroll Garner, Marmarosa said he also was smitten with Johnny Gaurnieri's left hand. I suspect he also was captivated by pianist Milt Buckner's block chords.
As for Craig, he attended Berklee College of Music's summer program in Boston, which led to a full scholarship to the school. After a year, he transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. Following his graduation in 2000, Craig headed back to Pittsburgh, where he began gigging and recording. Awarded a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music, Craig graduated with a Masters in music. He joined the Artie Shaw band during its last years of touring before Shaw's death in 2004 and reveled in playing the original Shaw piano parts that had Marmarosa's name written on top. Today, Craig is a celebrated mainstay of the Pittsburgh jazz scene and an educator.
The new album's songs feature 10 of Marmarosa's compositions and one original by Craig—A Ditty for Dodo
. The other songs are Mellow Mood, Dodo's Bounce, Dodo's Blues, Escape, Opus No. 5, Compadoo, Dary Departs, Tone Paintings, Battle of the Balcony Jive
and Dodo's Lament
. Craig is terrific throughout and did jazz a great service by re-surfacing Marmarosa's piano compositions.
I'll have a terrific Dodo Marmarosa album for you later this week as a Backgrounder. For now, I'll leave you with Buddy DeFranco's 2009 recollections of Marmarosa that emerged during one of our many phone conversations.
JazzWax clips: Here's Mellow Mood
And here's Dodo's Bounce