Frank Strazzeri (1930-2014), a gentle, bop pianist who studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and eventually settled on the West Coast in 1960 after touring with Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman, died May 9. He was 84.
Strazzeri wasn't well known to many jazz fans, perhaps because he didn't start recording steadily until he was 30, when he first appeared on a Terry Gibbs Quintet date. By then—1960—jazz was beginning to fade in popularity but Strazzeri managed to record with many West Coast artists, including Oliver Nelson and Art Pepper. In the 1970s, Strazzeri recorded as the leader of varying-sized groups for small Hollywood labels. In the 1980s, he recorded with Tal Farlow, Bill Perkins, Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino and Mike Barone and others. Perhaps his best known album from this period was Chet Baker Sings and Plays from the Film 'Let's Get Lost.'
Strazzeri could play in virtually any style, from Dixieland to stride, but he resisted bombast, preferring instead to swing softly with space-rich chord voicings and provocatively jagged improvisational lines. One of his finest albums of this genre is Relaxin', a solo date he recorded in July 1980 that's available only on vinyl. (A special thanks to Mike Barone and David Langner)
Here's Strazzeri last year backing singer Maki Maggie Inouye…
Judy! I'm not a massive Judy Garland fan—her singing style was often tainted by the visual demands of her profession, which made her delivery excessively theatric. But I do love her distressed quality. One could argue that her high-strung, all-in performances on radio and film helped create an emotional template for rock and roll artists of the '50s. One of my favorite Garland songs is The Man That Got Away. Here are two outtakes of the Skip Martin-arranged song from A Star Is Born (1954), with the film version in the final clip. Love those faux musicians on-screen and the over-acting piano player mashing his chewing the gum. I guess they needed the extra takes so the notoriously neurotic director George Cukor could figure out what Garland should wear in his first Technicolor film—and what kind of piano looked best…
The Civilized Cinema. On this Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I'd put up one of my favorite movies about World War II—The Victors (1963). This rare film was directed by Carl Foreman and stars George Peppard, Eli Wallach, Melina Mercouri, Peter Fonda and George Hamilton. The film, shot on location in Europe, looks at the stark realities of war and occupation, with a focus on a platoon's travels from Sicily to Berlin. An unvarnished plot so bleak and anti-war in tone it had to be made by a British studio.
Oddball album cover of the week.