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The music on Jazz Titans, recorded in 1991 in Europe and never previously released, features consistently exciting playing by Glenn Zottola (doubling on trumpet and alto sax) and pianist Mark Shane. “Mark and I were doing a European tour with Peanuts Hucko’s sextet,” remembers Glenn, “and this recording came about right after that tour. When I was with Benny Goodman a few years earlier, I always wondered what it would have felt like to be in his famous bassless trio with Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson, but on
trumpet rather than clarinet. This band allowed me to get that experience.”
At that point in time, Glenn Zottola could look back at a career that had started 30 years earlier and included collaborations with famous musicians from swing and classic jazz. While Glenn may not have actually come out of the womb playing the trumpet, it must have seemed that way. Born and raised in Port Chester, New York, he began on the trumpet when he was just three. His father Frank Zottola was a trumpeter, an arranger for Claude Thornhill, and the maker of trumpet mouthpieces while Glenn’s brother Bob Zottola also played trumpet, so it was natural that he would take it up too. “Louis Armstrong was the first person that I heard. I remember wearing out his 78 of ‘The Saints Go Marching In’ and ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.’ That music just turned me on and I was totally sold. My mother played the piano like Count Basie so we used to jam all the time. She taught me 1,000 standards when I was three years old. I did my first public performance in school when I was in second grade.”
Considered a child prodigy, Glenn toured with the Ted Mack Show for a year (after winning Mack’s amateur contests three times), appeared often on television (including the Chubby Jackson Show), had a band with Chubby’s son drummer Duffy Jackson when he was a teenager, played at Madison Square Garden, and toured with Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden when he was just 11. “A couple of years later, my parents had a jazz club and I played each week with the house rhythm section.” The band at various times had Tommy Flanagan, Sonny Clark, Bobby Timmons or Ray Bryant on piano, Addison Farmer on bass, Al Harewood, Osie Johnson or Connie Kay on drums and Bobby Jaspar or Booker Ervin on saxophones. It was around that period that Maynard Ferguson asked Frank Zottola if he could take his son on the road with him as his protégé, but was turned down due to Glenn’s age.
It would not have been surprising if, with such an early start, Glenn Zottola had developed a swelled head and burned out early, but instead he dug in, paid his dues, and continued to grow as a jazz soloist. When he was 15 he began doubling on the saxophone. Playing both brass and reeds is supposed to be difficult, but he never found it that way. “I took one lesson to learn the fingerings and then pretty much transferred over what I knew on trumpet to the saxophone. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to do that. I never had trouble switching between brass and reed instruments. Now if you play saxophone for several hours straight, you might have difficulty with the trumpet, but as long as you are moving back and forth, it is refreshing.”
Glenn worked with the Glenn Miller Band when it was led by Buddy DeFranco and then with Lionel Hampton’s group. “The gig played $50 a night and you had to pay for your own hotel. I couldn’t afford to play with him for long!” After stints with Mel Torme and Tex Beneke, and extensive work as a freelancer and pit orchestra musician with Broadway musicals, Glenn was a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet during 1977-79. “Benny Goodman was very good to me. When I was growing up, my Dad told me that since I was playing trumpet and sometimes lead, it was very important to be cocky because that’s what it’s all about with the trumpet. That attitude worked with Benny Goodman and he never gave me any trouble. He played great all the time and swung so much that he didn’t need a rhythm section.”
After leading a mainstream quartet with pianist Harold Danko and drummer Butch Miles, Glenn became an important member of Bob Wilber’s Bechet Legacy, which put him back to his roots with Louis Armstrong. During his association with Wilber, he met pianist Mark Shane, a member of Wilber’s group for ten years.
Mark remembers, “When I was seven, my Mom got a piano and I started playing. It was a joy and I never had to be forced to practice. By the time I was 12 or 13, I was listening to both jazz and blues. I actually started out hearing more modern jazz pianists, being influenced early on by the Ahmad Jamal Trio of the late 1950s, Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan. I also listened to the blues playing of Ray Charles and Muddy Waters. I started playing professionally when I was 14, working at country clubs with older players.” At one point, Mark planned to become a dentist, getting a degree in biology. “But after one semester in dental school, I knew that I just couldn’t take it!” Fortunately by that time, he was being called often for musical jobs and he was able to become a fulltime jazz pianist. He spent a period as the house pianist at Eddie Condon’s, worked with Benny Goodman (often as his rehearsal pianist when John Bunch was out of town) and Buck Clayton’s big band. Of his many musical associations, Mark considers his years with Wilber to be the most important. “It was only after I started touring with Bob Wilber that I played much more in the swing style. Bob was a portal for me to many areas of jazz history, introducing me to so many of the greats of early jazz. In addition, when we toured England, fans would give me cassette tapes of early jazz. That is how I discovered Teddy Wilson’s recordings with Billie Holiday. That style seemed very natural to me. I learned so much during that era.”
After Bob Wilber’s Bechet Legacy ended, Glenn Zottola and Mark Shane came back together for clarinetist Peanuts Hucko’s tour of Europe in 1991. With the booking agent Mark Manaitt playing quietly supportive drums, they formed the Classic Jazz Trio, recorded the music on this CD, and toured England.
Glenn says of the pianist, “I had worked with Teddy Wilson, and for carrying forward what Teddy was all about with that left hand, Mark is the best that I’ve heard who is still alive. As both a soloist and as an accompanist, Mark is spectacular.” Of Glenn’s playing, Mark says, “Glenn has a natural ear, plays with a lot of heart and a lot of soul, has a good sense of humor, and he plays with fire. I liked his playing immediately. For this project, I gravitated towards Teddy Wilson and the great swing masters. With Glenn, the early swing music fit perfectly”.
“This was the first time that we ever got together as a trio,” remembers Glenn. “There were no written charts. We just played the music we loved; it was very spontaneous. We did a cross section of classic jazz from Louis up to Charlie Parker, and we did it our own way without using a bass. It is a culmination of what is sometimes called the golden age of jazz.”
From the spectacular trumpet break that begins the opening “Jubilee,” plenty of fireworks occur throughout “Jazz Titans”. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Jubilee,” which was introduced to the jazz world through Louis Armstrong’s recording, is given one of its most memorable treatments.
“These Foolish Things,” with Glenn on alto, is taken as a medium tempo ballad and is quite reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson small group. Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” which was certainly never recorded by an alto-piano-drums trio before, gets a unique treatment. Glenn’s playing falls between swing and bop with “Yardbird Suite” being reinvented as a swing standard. “There Is No Greater Love” is taken at a relaxed pace, with Glenn’s muted trumpet being restrained and tasteful.
One of the set’s highpoints is the heated interplay and tradeoffs by trumpet and piano on “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” showing that small group swing, when played with this much skill, knowledge and enthusiasm, is timeless.
Mark Shane takes “Whispers In The Dark” (which he first heard on a Benny Goodman broadcast from the late 1930s) as a quietly swinging piano solo. A thoughtful “Polka Dots & Moonbeams” and “2:19 Blues” (which has an expressive vocal by Mark) finds Glenn on alto. A cooking version of “After You’ve Gone” and a hotter than expected “If I Had You” precede a rare revival of Fats Waller’s obscure but rewarding “Spring Cleaning” which has Mark singing in Fats’ style. The pianist is mostly in the spotlight throughout “Soon,” which has Glenn playing muted trumpet.
“Love Nest” and a dramatic rendition of “Memories Of You” have Glenn on trumpet while he plays both trumpet and alto on a rollicking rendition of “Whispering.” The CD closes in a mellow mood with a second version of Mark Shane’s feature on “Whispers In The Dark.”
After the Classic Jazz Trio’s tour of England ended, Glenn Zottola’s musical life took a surprising turn. “A friend of mine was Suzanne Somers’ drummer and he invited me to her rehearsal. I listened to her with her trio, asked her if I could sit in, we performed ‘But Beautiful’ together, and she melted. When the song was over, she said ‘I want you as my bandleader right now.’ I told her that I had my own jazz band and that I don’t back up acts anymore. She said, ‘No, no, no, not to back me up. I want to have a band with you and I up front.’ And that is when I left the jazz world.” Suzanne Somers soon had her own television variety show, and Glenn was her musical director and bandleader for the series’ nine year run. “I played on all of the commercial breaks. When guest celebrities performed, I would rehearse with them and work out the music for whatever they wanted to do. It was eight shows a week, we were reaching tens of millions of people every time we played on stage, Universal Studios was a ten minute drive from my house, and it was more money than I ever dreamed possible. I had a big office next to Steven Spielberg. It was like going to heaven as opposed to being on the road. Suzanne Somers and I clicked and we didn’t have one fight in nine years.”
Since the Suzanne Somers Show ended in 1994, Glenn Zottola has had a lower profile. He has often played with his friend Chick Corea, he recorded with Steve Allen and drummer Hugh Barlow, has done a lot of private recording, and is currently working on an album on tenor sax. In the years since recording Jazz Titans, Mark Shane has grown steadily as a pianist. He has worked extensively with singer Terry Blaine, currently accompanies Cat Russell (Luis Russell’s daughter), has been involved with film work, performs regularly in the New York area, appears at jazz parties and festivals, and was recently featured at the Northsea Jazz Festival. “I plan to be playing until I’m 95 plus,” he says. “I’m never going to retire.”
20 years after recording Jazz Titans, a musical reunion by Glenn Zottola and Mark Shane would be a very welcome event. But even if that dream does not materialize, the “new” music that they created for Jazz Titans shows that they have lived up to the CD title’s name.
-Scott Yanow, author of ten books including Swing, Classic Jazz, Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Record 1917-76 and Jazz On Film
Released December 2011
Classic Jazz Records
by Nick Mondello
The Classic Jazz Trio – The Jazz Titans
In Greek Mythology, the “Titans” were extremely powerful divine beings surpassed in their eminence only by the Gods themselves. With this marvelously entertaining effort, multi-instrumentalist – and supremely talented – Glenn Zottola, superb pianist, Mark Shane and ever-so-tasteful drummer, Mark Manaitt – “The Classic Jazz Trio” – deliver a 16-selection mainstream jazz lightning bolt. Covering selections associated with artists on the Mt. Olympus of jazz – Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and others – Zottola and his bass-less brethren let it all fly in this hot session.
A truly gifted musician of Herculean abilities, Zottola steps up brilliantly on both trumpet and saxophone – and nails both. That’s no easy task. His melodic and improvisational stylings on the trumpet are spectacular as he shades the great Louis Armstrong. One can easily tell that Zottola is an attentive student and “ear” of the Armstrong legacy. Blowing all-to-the-wall, he soars high and low (“Jubilee,” “I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me,” “After You’ve Gone”). Simultaneously, his alto work channels both that other trumpet-sax genius, Benny Carter and Bebop great, Charlie Parker (“Yardbird Suite,” “Whispering”). Pianist Mark Shane is absolutely ideal in this wonderful Swing vein (“Whispers in the Dark,” “If I Had You”), displaying obvious salutes to Teddy Wilson, Earl “Fatha” Hines, et al. There’s elegance as well as heat here, too (“Polka Dots and Moonbeams”). Drummer Manaitt is shrewdly “there but not there” as he supports but never intrudes on the swingfest – and, festive it certainly is.
While The Classic Jazz Trio is salutes “Jazz Titans,” with this heavenly recording the appellation certainly could also apply to its very mighty performers.