Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, January 5, 2013

1950's Trumpets #4: Tony Fruscella

There's an ongoing discussion in jazz about the playing vectors represented by Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke and how these manifested through succeeding generations of trumpet players. How does a player use techniques like range, articulation and dynamics to favor melody and cool like Bix, or power and heat, like Louis?

The differences between schools are often exaggerated. After all, Pops knew melody and Bix did not lack fire, which makes placing most players squarely in one school or another difficult. Tony Fruscella, on the other hand, was clearly a child of Bix.
A brief recap shows that, in the Swing era, most players came from the Armstrong power vector-Roy Eldridge, Harry James, Charlie Shavers, Bunny Berigan, Rex Stewart... At the same time, though, there were players who, often choosing the cornet, stayed closer to Bix-Bobby Hackett, Wingy Manone, Billy Butterfield, Wild Bill Davison...

Bop trumpet players came more from power and technique-Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee, Red Rodney, Sonny Berman. Miles Davis had technique, but edged more toward the Bix side of the ledger. The lineage of the "West Coast" players really comes from Bix and Miles. Of these, Chet Baker became the most well known.

Chet had very good chops, although he didn't have the top register that's associated with the Armstrong vector. However, his playing (more true in his earlier days) was strong and well articulated throughout his range.

If Bix, Miles and Baker diminished the importance of power over melody, Fruscella disregarded it almost completely.


Tony Fruscelli was a New York guy, whose marginal lifestyle fell into the post-Parker pattern as led by a fair number of jazz musicians in the late 40's-50's (although anyone who could get the great singer Morgana King to marry him had to have some shit together). I won't go into his fairly sordid bio, but John Dunton covers it pretty well here

 Fruscella played in an Army band as a late teenager, came back to NYC and started jamming around and first recorded in 1948. Even in this early recording, Fruscella's style was already established. Here's "Out of Nowhere," from that session.

That's surely about as "cool" a vibe as was recorded at that time. Fruscella's playing is a little sloppy, but his intent seems clear-to make each note fit in a melodic pattern, while avoiding "licks" as much as possible.

We know of no recordings from 1948 until 1952, when Tony did a private recording at Rudy Van Gelder's studio (I don't know if that's available) and a recording at a house in Brooklyn.

Then, in 1953, Fruscella was recorded live at the Open Door in NYC, with Brew Moore (ts), Tony Fruscella (t), Bill Triglia (p), Teddy Kotick (b), Art Mardigan (d)

Here he plays the ballad "Imagination."

Record audio or upload mp3 >>

Tony's performance is languorous and pretty straightforward, with few of the extended sixteenth note elaborations that we were hearing in Clifford Brown's ballad playing at that time. 
Fruscella did a fair amount of in-studio, live and informal recording in '53 and '54 and in 1955, worked with Stan Getz, with whom he recorded "Dear Old Stockholm," a radio air check from Birdland. The rhythm section was Johnny Williams (p), Bill Anthony (b), Frank Isola (d). 

Audio recording >>

You may have heard him sneak in a quote from Rite of Spring. In any case, long spaces, sudden onslaughts of notes, twists and turns-the Fruscella lingua franca-was well-established by this point.

Later in 1955, Tony returned with a familiar cast of characters: Allen Eager (ts), Bill Triglia (p), Bill Anthony (b), Will Bradley, Jr. (d). He's the sole horn soloist on this track, "I'll Be Seeing You."

As always, Tony stays in the middle and lower registers. He alternates short, swift runs with sparse lines that tell us something useful about the chords. It's damn pretty.

There is no record of Fruscella recording after 1955 until 1959, the year he may have recorded Lover Man as a duet with guitarist Bill Keck. His other, and final recording, was made at Ridgewood NJ High School in November, with a nice band: Phil Woods (as), Bill Triglia (p), Paul Chambers (b), Roy Hall (d). Here's "Tony's Blues."

Audio recording >>

Fruscella's style and sound leaves me alternately with a sense of wholeness and with a sense of lost opportunity. Sometimes Fruscella's technique is a perfect vehicle for his conception of melody, rhythmic displacement and silence. Other times, he seems to lose focus and just trail off. You have to wonder if such lapses would have happened if his energy not been sapped by dope.


Anonymous said...

Fresh Sound released "The Tony Fruscella & Brew Moore Quintet: The 1954 Unissued Atlantic Session", recorded March 22, 1954, which includes the session with Stan Getz on Verve, recorded January 31, 1955. That includes "Blue Bells" and "Round-Up Time" After listening to the unreleased Atlantic session, you understand why Atlantic sat on it.

Neither Fruscella nor Brew Moore were ready for "Prime Time" for that session and the only number where they actually get into it is on "Bill Triglia's Original." Triglia is on piano, Teddy Kotick on bass and Bill Heine is on drums.

It may have been a poor choice to record Fruscella with Brew, as you never really knew what you were going to get out of either one. In this case, they appear to be in separate sessions, or in separate worlds, which was probably the case!

There are six originals and six out takes, none of which are particularly inspiring. As both a Tony Fruscella and a Brew Moore nut, I was disappointed, but not surprised. I believe that Frucella was heavily influenced by who was accompanying him and comparing this material to the Stan Getz session, which as been available both on LP and CD, there is no comparison. John Williams is on piano, Bill Anthony is on bass and Frank Isola is on drums. Getz gets (no pun intended) the best out of Tony on that session, as does Allen Eager does on the Atlantic "Tony Frsucella" session in 1955. I believe that by the mid to late 1950s, Fruscella relied on a strong counterpart for inspiration. Unfortunately, there isn't enough material to hear and clearly make the case. Tom C

Steve Provizer said...

Tom, Thanks for the info and for your incisive critique. There was a lot of talent there that just kind of vaporized.