Glenn Zottola: A Jazz Life – The Early Years
Glenn Zottola: A Jazz Life – The Early Years
By NICHOLAS F. MONDELLO, Published: March 19, 2015 | 3,457 views View related photos
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World-renown trumpeter, saxophonist, musical director, producer and entrepreneur. These are but a mere handful of words that describe the vast talent in Glenn Zottola’s bag of musical marvels. There are others: child prodigy, creative genius, “musical natural” and aural savant also percolate rapidly to mind. Now in his sixth decade of playing professionally as a rare and masterful “Triple Threat”—he plays and has recorded on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones—Zottola’s career when viewed in terms of both its longevity and the depth and breadth of his performing resume is simply staggering. Zottola recently released A Jazz Life (Classic Jazz Records, 2013), a compilation of his selected recordings from over 50 albums plus jazz festivals and at Carnegie Hall.
All About Jazz: Glenn, on behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for taking time to share “A Jazz Life” with us.
Glenn Zottola: Thanks, Nick. It’s my pleasure.
AAJ: Please take us back to your earliest musical memory.
GZ: My family lived at 32 Browndale Place in Port Chester, New York. I was 2 or 3 years old and I was in the crib and I remember my Dad was rehearsing a big band in the living room. My Dad, before he went into his business manufacturing and brass mouthpieces was an arranger for Claude Thornhill along with Gil Evans. In fact, my Dad arranged “Autumn Nocturne” for Claude. It was the flip side of Thornhill’s famous theme song, “Snowfall.” Conrad Gozzo was the lead trumpet player in Thornhill’s band. Dad would tell me stories about Gozzo and others in that band. Dad played lead trumpet like Goz and jazz like Louis Armstrong.
AAJ: Were there any other musicians in the family?
GZ: My older brother played trumpet and my sister sang and played piano. However, my Mother played great piano by ear—playing with great time and chord changes—stride and everything. My Mom and Dad had a steady gig playing at a country club for 16 years and they would take me on gigs when I was about seven years old. When I would come home from school, Mom would sit me on her lap and teach me hundreds of standards with her playing piano by ear. No sheet music. The Great American Songbook is in my musical DNA.
AAJ: How old were you when this early tune training started?
GZ: About four years old. I’ll tell you a side story about that. Dad had this recording machine that created thin plastic records. They recorded me playing “Carnival of Venice” at about 4 years old with my Mom on piano but not really playing it. I heard the entire piece perfectly in my head as If Herbert L. Clarke was playing it but much to my shock when I heard the recording back I did the entire piece only on one note—a middle C but with perfect rhythm as that was all the chops I had at that age.
AAJ: When did you start playing the trumpet?
GZ: Age three. The “Carnival of Venice” thing happened when I was about four.
AAJ: How did the trumpet thing come about?
GZ: Dad had trumpets hanging on hooks all over the house and he and my brother played.
AAJ: So, this was much more than a natural environment for you to musically develop.
AAJ: Absolutely. When I’d come home from school and Mom was in the kitchen cooking, she’d stop and say: “Want to play something?” We would jam nearly every day, playing “Honeysuckle Rose” and the like. Later on, Mom and Dad also operated a jazz club in Westchester where I performed with them. Many jazz artists performed there.
AAJ: What about reading music?
GZ: My Dad was just starting me on that—with Solfeggio from the Pasquale Bona book. That was the old Italian style. He studied with a teacher from La Scala in Milan in Italy. You did Solfeggio, etc. before you actually played the instrument. He was an amazing musician and conductor and when he played with the Italian concert band with those old cats, they would play games like reading music backwards from the end to the beginning.
AAJ: What about playing in school band?
GZ: Yes, however, since the band director was friends with my Dad, they would have a school bus pick me up from grammar school and take me over to play with the junior high school band. I was playing with kids much older than I was.
AAJ: What advice did you get from your Mom and Dad about playing the horn and being a musician?
GZ: Well, when I was about six, I played “Red, Red Robin” accompanied by Mom in front of the entire school in the auditorium. I got to the bridge, froze from stage fright. forgot the bridge and ran offstage crying. Mom came over and gave me a pep talk that got me back onstage. I finished the performance to a standing ovation. Dad encouraged me to play jazz by saying “Just embellish the melody like Louis.” Dad had me on the Arban’s book, but I wanted to make music that I heard in my head right away and play jazz. So, he got me a “Music Minus One” jazz recording that had Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson, Kenny Clarke and Jimmy Raney on it. In fact, I did a recreation of that exact album recorded in 1951 on my first Classic Jazz Album, after coming out of retirement four years ago. That “embellish the melody” advice was important throughout my career, because I play by ear 100 percent and it carried me through playing with Benny Goodman to Chick Corea. I know nothing about chords. I can read music, but, I don’t even know what key I’m improvising in. On a gig one time with Zoot Sims, he said he played that way, too.
AAJ: As an aside, it’s interesting that the greater majority of young players today, even with the Internet and all that, certainly don’t have the robust family-driven musical environment you had—especially to play at a young age with professional-caliber musicians.
GZ: That’s right. I was very fortunate.
AAJ: When did you first play on television and how did it come about?
AAJ: I was about eleven. I had joined a jazz orchestra in Stamford, Connecticut, playing lead and jazz trumpet. The pianist in that group was a student of Bill Evans. He got us on Chubby Jackson’s television show. Chubby, as you know, was a bassist and entertainer who played with Woody Herman and others. He hosted Our Gang films on the TV show. Chubby loved me. He hooked me up to do gigs later with Jack Teagarden and Bobby Hackett. Chubby formed a little band with me and with his drummer son, Duffy. Duffy and I then played on Garry Moore’s old I’ve Got a Secret show. Duffy was the “secret guest who had a band.” A little later I recorded my first album at Nola Penthouse at Steinway Hall. The pianist played on the same piano that Bill Evans played on for that session.
AAJ: Do tell.
GZ: That was 1964 when I was about fifteen with a quintet from the Stamford jazz group. It was the tune “Greensleeves” on a Christmas album. It’s the first track on my A Jazz Life compilation CD.
AAJ: When did you meet Miles Davis and Maynard Ferguson?
GZ: This was 1961. My Dad was making a mouthpiece for Maynard. He and Miles were on the bill together at Birdland. I was seated in the “Peanut Gallery” they had there. Miles opened for Maynard and Davis had John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on the band. I had never heard that type of playing before and was taken by it. It was a little over my head. I was just getting into Clifford Brown. I went up to the bandstand and looked at Miles’s trumpet. Miles poked his head out from offstage and asked me somewhat gruffly what I was doing. I told him I was a trumpet player and wanted to see his horn. “OK,” he said and turned away backstage.
AAJ: You mentioned getting into Clifford Brown.
GZ: That was a pivotal experience for me. One day at home, my Dad was playing a record that Clifford made with Max Roach. The cut was “What Is This Thing Called Love?” And, on it Clifford takes this solo and I was completely taken by it and him technically. After all, it was completely different than Louis Armstrong from a technical trumpeting perspective. Lights went off in my head. I had never heard a trumpet player play that way. It was a revelation.
AAJ: How did your appearance on “The Ted Mack Amateur Hour” come about?
GZ: Well, since my brother was previously on the show, my Dad knew Lloyd Marks. He was the band leader and musical director. I played “I’ve Found a New Baby” which, by the way, ended on a high G above high C. Not bad for a 13-year old, since I had a high G at 9 years old. I won on the show three times and toured for a year and then played at the finals which were held at Madison Square Garden in New York. I was even getting fan mail from the Mack show. From that appearance, I landed a lead role in a documentary film called Comeback, playing a youth with polio and acting alongside of Natalie Schaefer who later played Jim Backus’s wife on Gilligan’s Island. Maynard Ferguson saw the Ted Mack television show and, when he saw my Dad, asked him if I could tour and perform with him as his protégé. But, Dad declined since I was in school.
AAJ: And after that experience?
GZ: Well, the Stamford band I was playing with played at the Atlantic City Jazz Festival, sharing the bill with Dinah Washington, Oscar Peterson, Gerry Mulligan, Art Blakey and others. Years later, I played with a lot of them.
GZ: Yes, at the Festival itself, I was mesmerized by Dinah’s singing. I’ve always had a vocalist’s approach to the instrument singing through the horn—whether I listened to Dinah or Frank Sinatra or others. It influences me to this day. Even Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker had lyricism. That’s how I try to play. I don’t hear that lyricism in a lot of new players unfortunately but all the greatest from the “Golden Age of Jazz” had it, especially on ballads.
AAJ: You are also a terrific saxophonist. When and why did you start playing saxophone?
GZ: When I got into Clifford Brown, I really enjoyed the playing of Sonny Rollins and Harold Land on their recording with Clifford. Also, listening to Miles I was drawn to early John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. I was endorsing trumpets for Leblanc since the Ted Mack show, so I sent a letter to the president of the Leblanc, Vito Pascucci, and he sent me a tenor. I took one lesson just to learn the fingerings and taught myself the rest, applying what I could already do on trumpet as far as improvisation over to the saxophone. Everything was natural for me on sax—embouchure, etc. I played it just using my ear, hearing the music and transferring it to the horn just like trumpet.
AAJ: When did you first go out on the road professionally?
GZ: I was in my senior year in high school and I got a call to go out with Buddy DeFranco who was leading the Glenn Miller. I have no idea how it came about or who referred me. But, I did go. I left school and went out with the band. I was playing Bobby Hackett’s chair. Buddy was very nice to me, but, I didn’t like being out on the road.
AAJ: Did you have to play Bobby’s classic “String of Pearls” solo?
GZ: I got pressure to do that, but, with respect to Bobby Hackett, I didn’t like reading anyone’s written solos. Buddy said to play your own solo. He was fine with that and we became friends, as he was a real jazzer.
AAJ: How long were you out with the Miller Band?
GZ: About three months. I didn’t like it—one-nighters and hit and runs. Plus, I’m a soloist. I’m not a section guy or someone that would play in the Broadway pit even though I have done it. Just not my thing and what I was groomed for.
AAJ: And then?
GZ: Well, I went from the frying pan to the fire. I went home and got a call to immediately go out again. This time with Lionel Hampton.
All About Jazz: So, now you’re out with Lionel Hampton.
Glenn Zottola: Yes. I went from the frying pan with the Glenn Miller band immediately into the fire with Hamp. I was playing the jazz book and Hamp’s book was tough—”Flying Home” and all that. Remember, I’m a soloist not a section guy. Hampton was amazing. He was really great to me. The gig paid $50 a night and you had to pick up your own hotel. Plus, I was working my tail off—their manager was booking afternoon gigs and not paying us any extra money. It became too much. I decided to leave the band, but, it was like leaving the Lion’s Den! It took me three hours talking to the band’s manager in Hamp’s suite in New York before they’d let me go. Remember, I was a young guy. I was 17. I was scared and the manager—a real tough guy—pushed me up against the wall and said: “You can’t leave Lionel Hampton!” At the same time, Hamp was saying “Gates, I love your playing. Do you want more solos?” It was a crazy scene. I told him it was simply too much for me.
AAJ: So you came back home?
GZ: Yes. My Mom and Dad were very loose and supportive of me and my decision. It wasn’t as if they said: “We told you so.” They, being musicians, knew the business and were 1000% behind me. I knew I could get work in New York.
GZ: I started doing work with all the well-known Latin bands—Larry Harlow, Ricardo Rey, Ozzie Ramirez at the Palladium in New York. Those bands and others.
AAJ: Was that your first time playing in that genre? It can be very demanding chopwise.
GZ: Yes, it was a new experience. It was quite interesting and I learned a lot about the real Latin thing. There were a lot of jazz players out there such as Pete Yellin—a good Bebop player. I did fine, but, some Latin band members said I was “out of clave.” I had no idea—and still don’t—what they meant—perhaps they meant that their emphasis was on beats One and Three versus our Two and Four in the jazz world. Who knows? I adjusted and they loved me.
AAJ: What other work were you doing?
GZ: Near home, I was working with my own group and also went up to play in the Catskills, playing at the various hotels there behind Mel Torme, Professor Irwin Corey, Myron Cohen and all the great acts that performed at the Playboy Club, Kutscher’s and the other hotels. It was a vibrant scene. The hotel bands had great players from New York. I used to drive up there with trombonist, Jimmy Knepper.
AAJ: How did you wind up hurting your chops and going to see the great Carmine Caruso for help?
GZ: I was working in a very rough and tough place in Westchester with a great group, playing seven nights a week. Some of the bandcmembers were in the original Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers bands—Sonny Wellesley on bass from Blue Note records, Bross Townsend, Jr. on piano, Belton “Sticks” Evans on drums—he played like Bernard Purdie—a real groover. It was a great education. It was nuts. We’d play all night until 3 AM and then go to the owner’s room for another couple of hours to discuss charts for future gigs. My Dad came and got me out of the gig. It was like that scene in The Godfather. It was a heavy scene. My chops were actually cut up. So, I went to Carmine Caruso and within a year he got my chops back. He was great. It was like being around my Dad.
AAJ: Then the Broadway pits?
GZ: Yes, the “pits” for sure! I moved to Manhattan and I did the original Evita with my brother who was playing first trumpet. It was way over my head reading-wise—time changes every other bar and all that. Remember, I’m an ear player. I was playing the music perfectly by ear not even looking at the conductor. Others were struggling and my brother turns to me in surprise and says: “You’re not reading this music, right!? You are using your radar!” And, I said: “You caught me!” I also did Annie, They’re Playing Our Song, Barnum with the great Victor Paz, 42nd Street and others. Then I did the national tour of Chicago with Jerry Orbach, Chita Riviera, and Gwen Verdon, playing lead trumpet and replacing Jimmy Sedler, who did it on Broadway. I loved it because we were onstage and the music was jazzy—you know, plunger and all that. We ended the tour in Los Angeles.
AAJ: The Benny Goodman gig came next. That was a major career step for you.
GZ: The pianist, John Bunch called me one day. I had done a number of gigs with John earlier. He said: “Can you come to the Astor Hotel in New York right away? Benny Goodman needs a trumpet player in his septet.” I walked in and the band was John Bunch, Buddy Tate, Sonny Russo, Major Holley, Cal Collins, and Connie Kay. Benny doesn’t say anything when I walk in and just starts playing tunes and I just started jamming with Benny. After the first set, Goodman comes to me says: “You sound great. Can you leave tomorrow to go on tour?” I might be wrong, but, I think he had Jack Sheldon at that time. I was so taken by Goodman’s offer that I initially deferred, not wanting to take anyone’s gig away and I said to Benny “I thought you had a trumpet player?” He replied “I didn’t ask you that. Can you leave tomorrow?”
AAJ: So you accepted?
GZ: Yes. The first night out with the band, I asked Connie Kay, who was the road manager, if there were any charts. He reached into his trap case, pulled out a brown worn-torn small sheet of manuscript paper which was a riff of the last 16 bars of “Undecided”—handed it to me and said: “Here’s your charts!” I got the message quickly.
AAJ: What was Benny’s reaction?
GZ: He was very complimentary that first night, talking to the audience before my solo feature which was “I’m Confessin'” He got on the microphone and went through a list of trumpet players that worked in his band: Harry James, Cootie Williams, etc. and said: “This young man can hold his own with any one of them.” I almost couldn’t play after that intro!
AAJ: Did he ever “Ray” you?
GZ: Yes, and I “Rayed” him back—maybe I am the first one to ever do that according to the guys in the band. Remember, Dad told me always to be cocky and have a lot of confidence. He’d say: “You are the lead instrument when you play trumpet.” We were in the middle of “Lady Be Good” and Benny glared and “Rayed” the band. Everyone was wondering where to go and what to do next. So, taking Dad’s advice, I took the melody up an octave and wailed it, taking it out. Later, after the gig, Wayne Andre said to me: “You actually ‘out-Rayed’ Benny! Benny never said anything to me!”
AAJ: What did you glean best musically from Goodman?
GZ: His time. In the middle of “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” he would wave the rhythm section out and play only with the guitarist Cal Collins—just clarinet and guitar. The intensity of his playing didn’t drop one ounce, as opposed to his playing with the entire band. I couldn’t believe it. Goodman’s sense of swing was at the top. He swung his ass off.
AAJ: How long with Goodman?
GZ: Two years. It ran its course.
GZ: I came back home and got a gig working at Eddie Condon’s six nights a week with the great Vic Dickenson—a beautiful experience and education. He worked with Louis! A lot of guys would come in to hear this new kid in town during that time I just had moved to Manhattan. Roy Eldridge, who was working up the street at Jimmy Ryan’s, Papa Joe Jones, even Wild Bill Davidson, who I invited to sit in. Also, John Hammond came in to hear me and also Ahmed Ertegun. It was truly amazing. Producer Harry Lim of Keynote and Mercury records fame came in one night when I was working with John Bunch and Mousey Alexander on a Sunday when they did more modern music. He gave me my first pro jazz record date for his label, “Famous Door” for Mousey with John Bunch, Al Klink, Phil Wilson, and George Mraz. “Cotton Tail” is the second cut on my Jazz Life anthology from that album—real hot New York jazz. I ended up doing many albums of my own and for others with Harry Lim and Famous Door. Soon, I met saxophonist, Bob Wilber who was putting together a group called The Bechet Legacy. I always loved Bob’s playing. Also, the music scene was going in a direction that wasn’t attractive for me—Fusion, Rock, Electronic and so forth. So, I did a rather unusual thing; I went “back in time” revisiting and honing my Louis Armstrong roots with Bob Wilber and The Bechet Legacy. I spent five or six years with Bob traveling the world and recording many albums and doing tours for Smithsonian. We were incredibly well-received in Europe and all over the world.
AAJ: Did you tell me that you got some great advice from Count Basie?
GZ: Yes, my quintet and I were doing the warm up act for Count Basie. I come off stage and as I walked by his dressing room I heard Basie’s voice, “Young man, young man, come in here.” I go in and there is Count Basie. People don’t realize this is like meeting Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson—only better! He said: “You have been listening to Pops.” And I said: “For sure.” So, he said: “You sound great! Don’t change a thing. Just keep doing what you are doing.” I followed that great advice of his up to this day and have no regrets!
AAJ: How did you hook up with drummer, Bobby Rosengarden?
GZ: I met Bobby in Benny’s septet. We also lived near each other in Connecticut along with Gerry Mulligan. I got a call from Bobby to cover him as leader with his 10-piece band at the Rainbow Room in New York as he was going to Europe I think with Mulligan. I had never led a big band before, but, I agreed to do it and he gave me everything—his bandstands and book and I opened up with singer Johnny Desmond. It was a big hit. We played six sets a night. The place was packed with celebrities—Frank Sinatra was a regular, the Shah of Iran, or couple from Iowa on their honeymoon, all on a given night. What a place! They ran it like a stopwatch—40/20. We had to break down and set up the band every night. I rotated my band for about two years with Rosengarden, Sy Oliver’s band and Panama Francis’s and I was getting amazing reviews from John Wilson and others. It was a great experience for me and I realized I could lead a big band and was very comfortable with doing it.
AAJ: Were you also then moving into leading, music production, and music business activities?
GZ: Yes, I became the Entertainment Director of two hotels in Connecticut—the Hyatt and the Crowne Plaza. It was even more of a great experience. I also started a music production company. In a given year, with the Rainbow Room and all, I was doing over 300 gigs and I had 70 of the best musicians in New York on the payroll. It was unbelievable. I then became partners with Rosengarden and we did plenty of gigs—two telethons for Jerry Lewis in New York and Mary Tyler Moore in Los Angeles with Frank Sinatra, corporate work, jazz festivals, recordings, and many other things. I made a lot of money, but, started burning out. I learned a lot from Bobby Rosengarden. He was a great player, bandleader and businessman.
AAJ: Give me an example, please.
GZ: He was a tremendous bandleader and a terrific businessman. A very smart man—like a mentor for me as far as the music business goes and for leading a big band on television, etc. Bobby was a major mentor.
AAJ: What about your playing in the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the legendary 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert?
GZ: In 1988 I got a call from Bob Wilber. I had already left The Bechet Legacy and my production company with Bobby Rosengarden was thriving. Wilber said: “I need you for Carnegie Hall, because we are doing the 50th anniversary of the historic 1938 concert. I want you to play Harry James chair—lead and solos.” I was reluctant, as I had not played in a big band in years and I was very busy, but I accepted. The night was one of the highpoints of my career. And, two tracks are on my anthology. I found them 25 years later, having been recorded by someone who was there that 1988 night. Isaac Stern did a beautiful intermission talking about Benny and jazz and Benny’s daughter gave his clarinet to Issac for the Carnegie archives. At the 1988 performance, anyone who was there in 1938—”Bobby Soxers” at the time of the original show—was allowed to sit on stage. I could see decades drop off their faces, as they relived that historic night when “swing music” became the new national music of the country—the first and last time jazz has ever done that. We played the same program in the same order as that of 1938 to a packed house. My music was all brown as Wilber got the original arrangements from Library of Congress and there were little handwritten notes on my lead parts penciled in from Harry James like “You got this one, Ziggy.”
AAJ: And Hollywood came next?
GZ: Yes. Another major step in this life in jazz.
All About Jazz: Your move to Hollywood was a tremendous step in your career. How did that happen?
Glenn Zottola: Well, I was at a high point in my career, recording for Harry Lim. I was busier than busy; 90 hour weeks, working with everybody—Milt Hinton, Frank Wess, jazz festivals with Dick Gibson and Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Slide Hampton and Joe Pass. It was a dream come true. I’m in Europe playing with Harry “Sweets” Edison” and subbing for Clark Terry. It was a jazz musician’s dream. But, I came to a point in my life—I was one of a group of “young lions”—Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache—that played mainstream-oriented music; not fusion. Even before Wynton Marsalis came on the scene. I remember one year Wynton and I were both up for a magazine’s “Best New Jazz Artist” award.
AAJ: So, those were halcyon days for you as a performer.
GZ: Yes. But, the jazz music scene was changing; many players were getting into fusion, John Coltrane with Giant Steps,” and so forth. But, we were mainstream players. I saw icons in their 80s out on the road doing one nighters with half the chops they had in their prime and playing with lesser rhythm sections. I said to a friend: “I never want to end up that way—doing one-nighters and scuffling.” I realized that, as wonderful as things were, there would be a ceiling here—both financially and in how hard you would have to work, traveling less than first class, etc. All this got me thinking.
AAJ: And the big move to LA and Suzanne Somers?
GZ: I got a call from a friend who invited me to come down to a rehearsal in Los Angeles. It was a rehearsal for her live act and some TV performances. So, I’m sitting there watching Suzanne rehearse, singing some nice standards. I told her she sounded nice and asked her if I could sit in—a fateful move. She looked at me as if to say: “Who is this guy?” “OK,” she said. So, we played “But Beautiful” which is on my anthology. I played alto sax and she sort of melted in front of me. She then said: “I want you as my bandleader.” I can’t believe that I said to her: “I don’t back up singers anymore. I’m not a sideman I have my own jazz group and go to Europe which was all true.” She then said: “No, not backing me up; you and I on stage together as my co-performer.” I said: “I like that, let me think about it,” left and went back out on the road performing with my own group here and in Europe. But, I soon realized that this was an opportunity for me to move to an entirely different level. Suzanne hadn’t started the television show yet, having booked some gigs in Las Vegas and elsewhere and on Arsenio Hall. When I got to LA, Suzanne told me that they were going to do a TV show pilot for Universal Studios. She said that she’d get me good money. It was more money than any jazz musician could have dreamed of. So, we do the pilot and soon I’m at Universal Studios with an office next to Steven Spielberg’s, a make-up and wardrobe person, and a “runner” who would get me reeds or anything I needed. When Suzanne traveled, we traveled by private jet, limos, and we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotels. It was heaven. The perks were ridiculous, but I felt the way it should be for any jazz artist, but it wasn’t in that other world.
AAJ: What was it like musically to work with her?
GZ: A dream. I worked for her for nine years. The television show was the “cherry on the cake” of a long career; all the dues paying off and we toured Las Vegas and elsewhere during those nine years I was with her. We didn’t have one disagreement during that entire time. She loved jazz and she loved me. She never told me to do or not do anything. She would say: “Just do your Glenn thing.” And, I didn’t have one piece of music. I improvised the entire show differently every night. She was an actress first, but had natural phrasing and loved jazz. We never collided musically and had complete artistic respect for each other. It was a beautiful working relationship. And, we’re close friends to this day.
All About Jazz: And the next step?
GZ: Well, Suzanne’s television show was winding down at the time. And, there was a possibility developing at the same time with the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Branford Marsalis was leading that band at that time and was soon to leave. A manager had seen my work with Suzanne—remember, I’m a jazz musician, not a TV guy. The manager was very complimentary about my work and mentioned the “Tonight Show” opportunity to me. He wanted to set up an interview for me with the “Tonight Show’s” producer. I had to defer, telling him that I wanted to honor my obligation to Suzanne and wanted to wait until we fully closed that show. Kevin Eubanks eventually replaced Branford on Leno and the rest is history, but, I felt good about my integrity and loyalty to Suzanne.
All About Jazz: Then what did you do?
GZ: Well, after Suzanne, I couldn’t go back to being a working gigging musician I was spoiled. So, I went to Florida as I had a house there, met and hung out with the great Chick Corea for two years, jamming and recording with him. There is a track with him on my anthology from that period which was glorious. He is a monster and a very sweet guy. It was like hanging out with Mozart! I had known Chick by mail and through his great reputation, but, hadn’t yet met him. Being there in Florida and with Chick—it was the only thing anywhere comparable to what I was doing with the TV show. He’s amazing and is still my best friend to this day. No way could I go back to “business as usual” after Suzanne’s gig. I still won’t.
AAJ: What about your hooking up with Irv Kratka of “Music Minus One” fame?
GZ: I had some material already in the can from Europe and also wanted to do some recording. Irv has several jazz record labels beside Music Minus One and has recorded 6,000 albums since 1951 so I contacted him and he released that first album Jazz Titans CD with my trio. Irv is a huge fan of classic jazz and Louie so when he heard these concerts in Europe with my trio and Bob Wilber he became a big fan and friend. Soon, Irv asked me If I would like to do some MMO sides for him and I thought that might be a good vehicle to pass down what was passed down to me all these years by the jazz greats I played with. I told Irv that I used to play along with his original 1951 MMO recordings with Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, Kenny Clarke, Osie Johnson, Jimmy Raney, Mundell Lowe, Nat Pierce and Wilbur Ware when I was kid. Those records helped shape my jazz style and I would love to record some MMO sides for him. That original MMO record had a lot of influence on me and my career. So, I did two albums on tenor sax with those tracks as I wasn’t playing trumpet yet at that time. After that, Irv asked me what I wanted to do, so I told him I wanted to do a tribute to Charlie Parker and then Clifford Brown, Stan Getz, Ben Webster and a new one soon to be released -Miles DavisMiles DavisMiles Davis
1926 – 1991
trumpet —paying homage to those jazz legends that made me who I am. So, he said sure. Irv has invested $60,000 in all the records I’ve done for him, both jazz CDs and Music Minus One in production costs. That’s because he does everything top of the line with great artwork and production values. All my solos are transcribed which was a thrill. He’s done over 6,000 albums of all kinds, some with amazing big bands, orchestra and lush strings—something I wanted to do for a long time. Something that most jazz players don’t ever get the opportunity to experience.
All About Jazz: He must love your work.
GZ: He does. Irv is a great fan of Louis Armstrong and great jazz in general. He’s opened his vault to me. I’ve found recording masters there that are fantastic some not even released—even an old Nelson Riddle recording that I used and one with Jimmy Raney and Stan Getz from that famous Storyville band they had in the early 50s. His vault is gold but he also has hired his arranger to transcribe original arrangements for me like the Neil Hefti arrangements I used on the Clifford Brown tribute and the one I am working on now a re-visit of the historic 1949 Charlie Parker with Strings which was the first time any jazz player recorded with strings. Very emotional stuff.
AAJ: Your focus of late has been on recorded work as opposed to live performance.
GZ: Right. I actually haven’t performed live in ten years by choice. I turn down work all the time—here and in Europe. However, all of my recorded work has been and is ongoing. I want to pay homage to the greats of Jazz—Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster and others like them—the players who helped make me who I am.
AAJ: How many of these albums have you done to date?
GZ: About 14 albums—that is a lot of production. When I entered four albums into the Grammys this year and they found out how many I did they took a double take! Each requires a tremendous amount of production and Irv and I only do things first class.
AAJ: Your Clifford Brown with Strings album was done completely by ear, correct?
GZ: Yes, all of them with no music just like I am blowing on a jazz gig in performance that is the way I like to play. Irv has an arranger who transcribed the original Neal Hefti arrangements. I performed the Clifford Brown melodies by ear—no charts for me, but, the solos are my own with Clifford’s spirit and inflections. Remember, I had heard that classic recording as a youngster every night before bed and wore it out.
AAJ: What does the future hold?
GZ: Well, I want to give back and share my experiences. I’m thinking about taking all these albums I’ve done about the greats—Clifford, Parker, Ben Webster, Getz, Miles and the like—and doing a comprehensive multi-media live performance with narration and presentation. I’ve done that before with Bob Wilber for the Smithsonian. We actually did a tour for them playing for classical music audiences with Vladimir Horowitz. They went crazy for our jazz. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll play in universities and places like that. It’s on my bucket list!
AAJ: So, there are plenty major projects developing.
GZ: Yes. I’m not retiring, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of exciting music projects I have in mind and possibly a “Legends in Jazz” live concert based on all these records for colleges and choice venues and some multi-media video. There is talk about a possible documentary on my “Life In Jazz” which you gave me some great ideas on. Also, the companies I endorse: Music Minus One and Classic Jazz, RS Berkley Instruments and Rico Reeds also want me to go out and do clinics. I’ve kept away from that so far. However, I might just do that. I’m not an academic guy. I’m a player and leader. My college has been the bandstand. I think with my six decades of music experience, it might be fun to share some of that. I love what I’m doing. My “Life in Jazz” certainly isn’t over yet.
All About Jazz: Glenn, this entire interview has been absolutely fascinating. I can’t thank you enough.
GZ: Thank you, Nick. It’s been wonderful to be able to discuss my life in jazz with you for All About Jazz.