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Gene Cipriano: First Time Out


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Gene Cipriano
Since 1947, reed player Gene “Cip" Cipriano has recorded on thousands of albums, singles, TV shows and movies. He's one of the most recorded session musicians in the business. Cip can be heard playing the E-flat clarinet solo on Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk in Hatari! and soloing on tenor sax for Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder's film Some Like It Hot (1959). He's on albums with Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and dozens of others. And that's just on the pop side.

In the jazz discography, he's on 175 sessions, including Johnny Mandel's soundtrack for The Sandpiper, Thelonious Monk's Monk's Blues with a big band, and jazz albums by Pete Rugolo, Anita O'Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, John Towner Wiliams, Dennis Farnon and so many others. Cip could play any woodwind instrument and in any style. 

Then in 2006, Cip finally released his first album as a leader—a two-CD set called Gene Cipriano: First Time Out. What hits you is how seasoned and pure his horn sounds. His tone is round and pristine, and he swings. Throughout Cip's career, he was most often embedded in an orchestra or ensemble. Occasionally, he had a solo.

On his 2006 leadership album, all he does is solo. Throughout the 30 tracks, he's backed by or teamed with a range of crackerjack session musicians and arrangers such as Sammy Nestio, Gary Foster, Tom Ranier, Dan Higgins and Dennis McCarthy. The result is a gorgeous set of music ranging from heartfelt ballads (Don't Take Your Love From Me and Moonglow), mid-tempo numbers (How About You) and flagwavers (Four Brothers, Just Friends and a ripping Lover Come Back to Me).

On the latter tune, Cip is joined by tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb for a terrific blowing session. On Four Brothers, conducted by Sammy Nestico, Cip teams with Dan Higgins, Joel Peskin on tenors and Sal Lozano on baritone. On Just Friends/Friends Again, Cip is contrasted with trombonist Dick Nash. 

A word about the sterling rhythm section of Tom Ranier (above) on piano, Trey Henry on bass and Ralph Humphrey on drums. They are sensational, particularly Ranier, who lays down splendid jazz piano.

What you have here is the sound of perfection unleashed. Many session musicians struggle with solos, since the job requires a certain rigidity and their skill is to read and play beautifully in time, flawlessly. In the case of Cip, he can do all of that but, as evidenced here, he also is a sultry seasoned improviser. In his 80s when this album was recorded, he's now closing in on 91. But you'd hardly know it.

A special thanks to singer Cat Conner (above) for bringing Cip's album to my attention. Cat sings often with Cip in Los Angeles. Cat's Cat Tales and Cat House albums can be found here and here. 

JazzWax clips: Here's Cip testing out Artie Shaw's Pedler clarinet mouthpiece owned by pianist Tom Ranier...

Here's My Favorite Things by the Masanori Sasaji All-Star L.A. Star Big Band with Cip on the oboe solo...

Here's Cip on his first recording session with Tony Pastor in 1947 with Pastor on lead vocal backed by the Clooney Sisters (Rosemary and Betty)...

Here's Cip in the Tex Beneke band in 1950 on Orange Colored Sky with Eydie Gorme on the vocal...

And here's Cip in 1957 with Herb Geller (as); Cip and Buddy Collette (ts); Marty Berman (bar); John Towner Williams (p,arr); Buddy Clark (b) and Jerry Williams (d) playing I've Got the World on a String. That's Cip soloing on tenor mid-recording...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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