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Glenn Zottola: Reflections of Charlie Parker

Geannine Reid By

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Glenn Zottola: Glenn Zottola: Reflections of Charlie Parker After nearly four decades Glenn Zottola has become one of the most respected, versatile and in-demand trumpet players—and saxophonists—in the world. Born and raised in Port Chester, New York, Zottola started playing trumpet at age three. By virtue of his musical household, this seemed almost as natural as learning to speak. His big brother, Bob, was also a gifted trumpeter who went on to play with the bands of Charlie Barnet and Maynard Ferguson. His mother, Marie, played piano, and his sister was a gifted singer. However, Zottola credits his father Frank as his primary influence and teacher. "He was a great trumpet player in the Louis Armstrong and Conrad Gozzo style," says Glenn. "As a child, he was taught by a music professor in the strict style of La Scala, Milan, and he was required to study theory, harmony and solfeggio before he was allowed to even touch the trumpet." "Dad also has an impeccable hand at writing music notation, and music publishers used his manuscripts to make their printing plates." When the score for Stravinsky's Petrouchka was smuggled into the U.S., it was Frank who prepared the autograph, or printer's manuscript. The multitalented Frank Zottola eventually became a maker of world class trumpet mouthpieces.

Zottola's playing on both the trumpet and saxophones have a strong affinity for the swing-era sensibility with bebop's complex harmonic concepts. "I came home from school and heard Bob [Glenn's brother] playing a record by [bebop trumpeter] Clifford Brown and I knew my life would never be the same!" At 17, Zottola's first 'road gig' was as a trumpeter with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, under the direction of clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. "That job really gave me my first taste of real life, of what it was like to be a working musician, traveling on the bus and playing one-nighters. And it was inspiring to hear Buddy play clarinet every night." From the Miller band, he joined Lionel Hampton's big band, and then spent the next few years backing a string of big name stars like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Patti Page and Mel Torme.

In 1977, Zottola moved to New York and quickly became an in demand freelancer and pit-orchestra musician. Zottola also founded a production company that employed 70 musicians at its peak. "Financially, it was a very successful venture," states Glenn. "I was booking more than 300 gigs per year, including six nights a week with my own big band at the Rainbow Room in New York." But the success had its downside. "I was working 60 hours a week. I didn't even have time to buy a reed for my saxophone." Sensing career burnout approaching, Zottola sought counseling from Scientology, the religious philosophy to which he subscribes and attributes much of his success.

Zottola soon found himself leading his own groups (including his own big band), recording 30 albums both as a leader and with many jazz legends, and touring nationally and internationally with all-star groups. The list of musicians he has played or recorded with reads like a who's who of jazz: Gerry Mulligan, Chick Corea, Milt Hinton, Bob Wilber, Count Basie,Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett—and the list goes on.

The fact that Zottola is a world-class trumpet player and an equal talent on the saxophone is very unusual and adds to Zottola's value and versatility as a performer. "When I was about 13," explains Zottola, "I found an old alto lying around the house, and I began fooling with it." With no formal training, it wasn't long before Zottola started feeling almost as at-home on the saxophone as on the trumpet. Aside from the obvious disparities, such as fingering and embouchure, Zottola notes that the main difference between the two lies in the mood each instrument can capture. "There are certain emotions I can express better on the sax than on the trumpet. The trumpet has a beautiful, majestic sound, but on something like a ballad, I might want that romantic, gentle, sensual feeling that I can get more easily on the saxophone. It requires a different frame of mind." A typical Zottola CD presents the listener with a mixture of jazz styles. One track might find Zottola on muted trumpet emulating the moody hues of Miles Davis, while the next track he plays the alto saxophone à la Charlie Parker. "I'm proud of my versatility," says Zottola. "It's very much a part of who I am musically." Versatility, however, is considered a marketing challenge by many record producers and concert promoters. "They tell me, 'Man, if you played just trumpet or just saxophone, one or the other, it would be a lot easier to market you.' But what am I supposed to do—give up something I love in order to sell more records? That's just not going to happen."

Today, Zottola is as hard to classify as ever. He continues to lead his own band, a "little big band" that comprises six horns and a rhythm section. The band performs its blend of styles regularly at international festivals and at gigs stateside, with the leader playing trumpet and saxophone. Zottola moved to Los Angeles to become the band leader on the Suzanne Somers TV show out of universal studios.

Zottola hasn't recorded as a leader in a number of years, but true to his individuality and self-determination, Zottola has returned to recording with a new approach for his CD project, adding a different twist. "I feel I'm ready to enter another stage of my career. I tried to do something a little more ambitious, with an orchestra, including strings and full horn section." Zottola's Reflections of Charlie Parker is the result of that goal and this tribute does a fine job of capturing the essence of Charlie Parker's feeling in the music (mainly in the style of the 1949 recording, Charlie Parker with Strings, on the Clef label). Zottola creates an intimate setting with arrangements that will give the listener another angle of exploration of these well love selections.

Five of the ten standards on Reflections of Charlie Parker are orchestrated with a full string and horn section in lush, lyrical, graceful arrangements and are the perfect backdrop to Zottola's creative bop disciplined blowing. Bird recorded his project with a full string section and an oboe, Zottola has a full horn section and a full string section, yielding a fresh full sound. A live recording at the Apollo Theater, New York City in 1951 of Bird covering "What Is This Thing Called Love?" with a string and horn backing and Bird also recorded "I'm In The Mood For Love" in the studio with strings. Both of these tracks are on Reflections of Charlie Parker and listening to Bird's approach to playing the songs and then Zottola's version, one can really hear that Zottola has captured the inner essence of the feeling that Parker was able to create, which is not an easy accomplishment! The intimate nature of the setting allows Zottola to express a romantic sensibility and fresh perspective, while still maintaining a sophisticated bebop approach to the American Popular Songbook.

On "Moonlight in Vermont," Zottola's warm alto captures the spirit of Bird's unique rhythmic and harmonic lines without cliché imitation or 'licks.' Zottola's playing is full of fresh angles to the bebop language; lagging slightly behind the beat for some phrases, high accented notes are derived from the melody with complex melodic lines underneath, a rhythmic feeling that falls into double time and a high use of chromatic embellishments all without ever losing the sense of swing and melodic continuity. The orchestration is full and supportive of Zottola's melodic explorations through the harmonies while the backing lines have multiple layers and counterpoints; they never distract the listener from Zottola. Zottola explains, "This album is not a re-creation of anything Charlie Parker did which would be pretentious and silly on my part. Bob Wilber once told me Charlie Parker was the last great swing player and true enough if you listen to his early recordings with Jay McShann, you will hear he is straight out of the Lester Young school. I did many festivals with Jay and spoke to him about Charlie Parker who was in his teens when he played in Jay's band. Actually there is a Charlie Parker solo where he quotes the entire intro to Louis Armstrong's ground breaking "West End Blues" from the 1920s, so his roots go back for sure and Charlie Parker was one of the great improvisers of the 20th century along with Louis Armstrong in my opinion. What I would like to pay tribute to is how he "culled together" everything before him, making it work in whatever setting he was in, putting a glorious final stamp on what was the Golden Age of Jazz that started with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s and ended with Parker in 1950 which was the great Renaissance in Jazz that sadly America has still not acknowledged. Most important to me is "Bird's" aesthetic and beauty in everything he played whether it was fast or slow and that comes from the soul which is so evident in his string album. Just listen to his ground breaking intro on "Just Friends" on his string album, total aesthetic beauty."

Reflections of Charlie Parker is not just slow ballads, Zottola has wisely placed a few mid-tempo swingers in to add tempo variety; "Oh, Lady Be Good!," "I May Be Wrong," "What is This Thing Called Love" and "Three Little Words" and he has also chosen to scale down the ensemble to just a quintet. "Oh, Lady Be Good!," "Embraceable You," "I May Be Wrong" and "Three Little Words" are presented in a quintet format with Don Abney on piano, Jimmy Raney on guitar, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. "What is This Thing Called Love" has Nat Peirce on piano, Barry Galbraith on guitar, Milt Hinton on bass and Osie Johnson on drums. "What is This Thing Called Love" has a wonderful chorus of Zottola and Hinton trading fours and Raney's guitar solo on "Three Little Words" is a treat to hear (ending the CD on a mid-up tempo swinger). Zottola's soloing on each track is deeply steeped in the bebop tradition, but highly melodic and always swinging. Zottola speaks further about his thoughts about Parker, "Also, Charlie Parker in many ways took Jazz from the dance hall to the concert hall. The two major influences for me in creating my own jazz style was Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, the alpha and omega in jazz in my opinion. Miles Davis summarized jazz in two names Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. If you just listen and get the concept of how Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker approached music as improvisers in a 'general sense' it will organically seep into your own style and that is all I did. Basically with this tribute I just wanted to acknowledge Charlie Parker in my own way for pointing the way for all of us." Reflections of Charlie Parker is highly recommended, you won't be disappointed on this one!


Track Listing: Moonlight in Vermont; Oh Lady Be Good!; It Might As Well Be Spring; In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning; What Is This Thing Called Love?; I'm In The Mood For Love; Embraceable You; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful!); Three Little Words.

Personnel: Glenn Zottola: trumpet, saxophones; Don Abney: piano; Jimmy Raney: guitar; Oscar Pettiford: bass; Kenny Clarke: drums; Nat Pierce: piano; Barry Galbraith: guitar; Milt Hinton: bass; Osie Johnson: drums.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Classic Jazz Records


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