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CJ 16 Glenn Zottola “Too Marvelous for Words” by Nick Mondello
Going back to the Ancients, those who wrote – or verbally passed on – about Man were wise to have their subjects appear, act and react greater than life. Whether describing Gods or Heroes, the sagacious story-tellers knew that amplifying mortals was a way of garnering interest and inspiring listeners.
When it is Glenn Zottola, this writer has no need for amplification or exaggeration. The guy is indescribably talented at a level that astonishes and leaves heads shaking 180. Not only is Zottola an ace trumpeter, having performed worldwide with Benny Goodman, Bob Wilber, and other jazz Pantheon residents, not only is he a superior sax man (as demonstrated here), the guy, completely self-taught, does it primarily by ear, brain and most of all – heart. He’s off the planet talent-wise.
With “Too Marvelous for Words” Zottola grabs his tenor and sets off to superbly cover 10 great american songbook sides (performing with previously recorded rhythm section backing) that are absolutely beautiful, swinging, and as tasteful as anyone, be it Getz, Hamilton, Webster could deliver. He’s that good.
Zottola’s sax sound is classic – restrained, baby-butt smooth and reeking of lyric love. I don’t know if he sings, but, the guy certainly “vocalizes” his melodies (and his solos, for that matter). It’s almost magnetic, especially if a listener would already know the lyrics. Are those words flowing from his axe? It’s a grand “Grand Illusion,” for sure. Furthermore, performing across already recorded material, an artist can be easily constrained to accommodate that which cannot accommodate him. Shrewdly, Zottola, ever the “ear-man,” is so in synch with the three different All-Star rhythm sections that, unless the liners indicated it, you’d never know it.
In his career,Glenn Zottola has been best known as a brilliant and swinging trumpeter who occasionally doubled quite effectively on alto. But on this special project, he is heard as a talented tenor-saxophonist who draws on the sounds and styles of Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, finding his own voice somewhere in between. Glenn sounds quite at home playing with the vintage rhythm sections yet gives the music his own twist and never tries to just merely copy or recreate the past.
Relatively few jazz musicians have been equally comfortable on both brass and reed instruments. Benny Carter, Ira Sullivan and Scott Robinson come to mind along with just a handful of others. Glenn was never told that it was difficult to play both brass and reeds, so he developed his own musical conceptions, giving one the impression that it is effortless. But that is consistent with his career for he has often made the difficult seem natural.
Although he has loved playing tenor since he picked up his first saxophone when he was 13, Glenn Zottola
had never recorded a full set on that instrument. Making this CD even more unique is that Glenn is heard playing along with some of the earliest performances recorded for the acclaimed Classic Jazz series. Dating from 1952, the rhythm sections feature such notables as pianists Nat Pierce and Don Abney, and guitarists Mundell Lowe and Jimmy Raney taking short solos while bassist Milt Hinton, Oscar Pettiford and Wilbur Ware, and drummers Osie Johnson, Kenny Clarke and Bobby Donaldson give quiet and steady support. Because Glenn has a timeless and very flexible style, he adapts his playing on this unique set, sounding a bit like a cousin of Lester Young and Stan Getz. His style, hinting at swing, bop and cool jazz, fits the era perfectly.
Performing 10 standards including “Too Marvelous For Words,” “Body And Soul,” “Three Little Words” and “Fine And Dandy,” Glenn Zottola plays creatively within the style of 1952 cool swing without sacrificing his own individuality. If given a blindfold test, few listeners would guess that Glenn’s playing took place nearly 60 years after that of the rhythm sections and some might speculate that this was a long lost session recorded at the Lighthouse.
In any case, this is timeless music and quite fun to hear.
–Scott Yanow, author of ten books including Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76