Torrie Zito (1933-2009), a jazz pianist, arranger and conductor whose creative intensity and sensitivity made him a talent of choice for James Moody, Tony Bennett, Morgana King, John Lennon and others, died on December 3d in New York. He was 76.
Torrie was married to singer Helen Merrill, and since 1980 the two recorded frequently together in both small-group and large-ensemble settings. In many ways, Helen and Torrie were made for each other, with Torrie intuitively providing a rich, supportive background to Helen's yearning, penetrating voice.
When I interviewed Helen back in February, I spoke briefly to Torrie on the phone about my fondness for his masterful and embracing arrangements. He was as gracious and as warm as can be. And Helen's deep love for Torrie was evident.
Said Helen at the time about Torrie:
"I cannot stand when a piano player starts running lines behind me while I’m singing. What am I supposed to do over that? With a sensitive pianist and arranger like my husband Torrie Zito, he’s always with you. With you, not behind you. There's a big difference."
While Torrie could write for large orchestras of up to 45 musicians, he was most at home arranging string sections, building romantic tidal sweeps and sympathetic interludes behind a singer that captured the ear and were as engaging as the vocalist's phrasing.
Here are my favorite Torrie Zito-arranged albums and tracks:
Tony Bennett—For Once in My Life, from the album of the same name (Columbia), 1967. It's available on many different Bennett compilations.
Helen Merrill—Casa Forte (Mosaic), 1980. This is a must-own album. The symmetry between Helen and Torrie is exceptional. It's available here at Mosaic Records.
Helen Merrill—Christmas Song Book (Merrill Music), 1991. It's available here as a download.
Here's a clip of Helen singing Falling in Love with Love backed by Torrie on piano...
Announcing the "Sammys." I don't get to hear many new jazz albums. It's not that I'm blacklisted by the record companies. I'm just stingy with my time and typically fend off record company offers. As a result, when the Grammy Award nominations were announced last week, I knew only a few of the jazz entries.
To provide you with Grammy guidance, I gave each of the nominees a listen—at iTunes. That's right, just the samples, which is how I judge most albums before requesting them. Come to think of it, that's how you judge albums, too, before you invest in them.
So without further ado, here are my first annual jazz Sammy Awards. The Sammy is bestowed on my favorite Grammy nominees based on iTunes samples. (Get it? Grammy + samples = Sammy?) Naturally, the Sammy Award is a "play" button icon. A jazz Sammy goes to...
Best Jazz Vocal Album: Tide—Luciana Souza (Verve)
Best Improvised Jazz Solo: Villa Palmeras—Miguel Zenón, soloist. Track from: Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)
Best Large Jazz Ensemble: Fun Time—Sammy Nestico and the SWR Big Band (Hänssler Classic)
Best Album Notes: The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935–1946), Dan Morgenstern, album notes writer (Mosaic)
Dave Pell and Med Flory. Both of these West Coast reed giants are still playing in Southern California as though it's 1956. Next Wednesday (December 9th), Dave and Med along with John Campbell (piano), Chuck Berghofer (bass) and Kendall Kay (drums) will be performing at Spazio Jazz Supper Club in Sherman Oaks, CA (818-728-8400).
Pops is tops. Among the many emails I received from readers of my five-part interview with Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, this one from Greg Lee was too good not to share:
This morning, Terry Teachout sent along an email noting that Armstrong said this after the death of Doc Pugh, his valet.
Jazz musicians v. clubs. In response to my "Waxing & Musings" editorial last week on the current dispute brewing in New York between jazz musicians and clubs over a repealed tax and a pension fund, Mike Milner of Orillia, Ontario, sent along the following:
"Enjoyed your column. Regarding the club scene, it's very tough because clubs only make money on liquor sales, and people just don't drink as much as they used to. Add in the emphasis on enforcing drinking and driving laws, which has also impacted liquor sales, and you can see the amount of money coming into the club owners is reduced. By the way, I'm not a club owner or promoter. I'm just a bassist with a day job to make ends meet who is always trying to find work for his trio, but it's tough.
CD discovery of the week. When legendary vibraphonist Teddy Charles was in Leiden, the Netherlands, last November, he recorded Teddy Charles & Walter Wolff Trio Live. Teddy is accompanied by Walter Wolff (piano), Francesco Angiuli (bass) and Adreas Fryland (drums).
This is a very hip album that keeps growing on you. The more you listen to it, the more it reminds you that jazz albums used to create moods and that those moods were worked steadily until you were caught up in the groove.
Teddy plays on five of the eight tracks, with the Walter Wolff Trio performing alone on Archipelago, All the Things You Are and I Hardly Think About You. Back in the early 1950s, Teddy pioneered modal jazz and free jazz, and his recordings on the West Coast for Prestige and his Tentet recordings remain standouts. If you download just one tune, make it What Is This Thing Called Love.
You'll find Teddy Charles & Walter Wolff Trio Live at iTunes.
Oddball album cover of the week. This Dennis Farnon album from 1956 is actually quite good. It included Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist, Jimmy Rowles, Howard Roberts and other L.A. studio greats of the period. Given that the LP was released by cash-rich RCA, it's hard to figure why the label used a grainy black-and-white image of a carpenter playing the clarinet with a color photo of arranger Farnon pasted on top. Or why Farnon looks peeved. In fact, his expression seems to be having the last word: "Stupid, right?"