Saxophonist Vito Price is virtually unknown today. In fact, he was virtually unknown back in January 1958, when he recorded Swinging the Loop for Chicago's Argo label. At the time, Price was 28 and a veteran of a handful of road bands led by Bob Chester, Art Mooney, Tony Pastor and Chubby Jackson. He had moved to Chicago from New York in the summer of '55 to join the staff orchestra of TV station WGN.
Swingin' the Loop is only one of two leadership recordings by Price that were separated by 45 years. It seems that sometime in late '57, Price came to the attention of Argo, probably through the insistence of bassist and bandleader Chubby Jackson. Price had recorded on Jackson's Chubby's Back and I'm Entitled to You in November of that year. Told by Argo he could record whatever he wished and with whomever he wished, Price began preparing for two scheduled sessions, on January 20 and 25, 1958.
Fortunately for Price, Ella Fitzgerald was in town, so he was able to persuade her trio—Lou Levy (p), Max Bennett (b) and Gus Johnson (d)—to back him. Count Basie must have been in Chicago at the time as well, since guitarist Freddie Green also came along. [Photo above of pianist Lou Levy]
The first session, on January 20, featured Time After Time, Eye Strain, Beautiful Love, Credo and As Long As I Live. Price was backed by the quartet mentioned above. The second session, on the 25th, was brassier, with Price adding several of his TV orchestra band-mates: John Howell and Bill Hanley (tp); Paul Crumbaugh (tb); Barrett O'Hara (b-tb) and Bill Calkins (bar). According to the liner notes, Gus Johnson was ill and Freddie Green couldn't make the date, so the rhythm section was comprised of Lou Levy (p); Remo Biondi (g); Max Bennett (b) and Marty Clausen (d). Bill McRae (arr) wrote the arrangements. The songs here included Swinging the Loop, Mousey's Tune, Why Was I Born?, Duddy and In a Mellow Tone. [Photo above of Gus Johnson]
Price played tenor saxophone on all tracks except on In a Mellow Tone, where he played alto. His originals on the album were Swinging the Loop, Duddy, Eye Strain, Mousey's Tune and Credo. Based on the credits, the first three were written for the session while the last two were originals published under his birth name, Vito Pizzo. [Photo above of Freddie Green]
As we can hear on this album, Price was a smooth exceptional swinger with a jumping sound, sweet improvisational lines and a passion for Lester Young and Zoot Sims. Later in 1958, he recorded on James Moody's Last Train From Overbrook (Argo). His only other leadership date was 'S Wonderful in 2003 for a label called Scantalia Productions. For that album, he recorded as Vito Pizzo. I wonder if Price is still around.
JazzWax clip: Here's As Long as I Live...
A special thanks to Bruce Klauber and David Perrine.