Joe Magnarelli's Tuesday is just beginning when I arrive at his apartment at noon to listen to and chat about the music on Always There, his second Criss Cross release. He'd kicked off the leadoff set for Smalls' after-hours session at 2:30 the night before with his quartet; that evening he's performing a Jazz Vespers at Lamb's Theater with bravura trumpeters Claudio Roditi and Brian Stripling, followed by a sideman stint at Augie's; next day he's rehearsing brass section parts for a record date later in the week. That gives you a sense of the 37-year-old trumpeter's repute in the New York shark pool; the photographs of Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham and Louis Armstrong hung shrine-like on the living room wall tell you just where he's coming from.
The current document shows how far Magnarelli's come in the past few years to finding a personal voice within his influences. As on Why Not?, his Criss Cross debut (Criss 1104), he projects a golden tone at every tempo, eats up challenging chord progressions with legato elegance, swings unfailingly. His innate melodicism, lyric sensibility, and impressive musicality shine throughout this beautifully paced session.
Magnarelli began playing trumpet in the sixth grade, piano in the seventh. Piano was his main instrument and basketball his primary avocation until age 21, when he became serious about the trumpet during a semester at the Berklee School of Music with Louis Mucci. As a child he soaked up the music from the show records and commercial singer dates that were his parents' primary listening fare. "My father used to sing and I'd comp for him on piano," he remembers. "I played by ear; I never took piano lessons. When I was in sixth or seventh grade we'd play tunes like 'My Blue Heaven' and 'Old Shantytown'; I had a real love for songs like that when I was a little kid. I basically went from show records to funk records to jazz records. In college, I listened to a lot of big band records -- Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson. Then I heard a Clifford Brown compilation record that had some of the strings, some things with Sarah Vaughan and some of the tunes with Max, and that did it. After that it was jazz trumpet."
Magnarelli's penchant for show tunes has served him well with the numerous big bands he's played with. Soon after arriving in New York in 1986, he joined Lionel Hampton until 1989. He's had steady work on good money gigs with the Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller orchestras, among others, soloing on "tunes you normally wouldn't get to play in small groups. I never try to play in the style of those guys; I just play myself -- but it seems like nobody's minded." "Playing in a trumpet section is important experience," he continues. "You've got to be real strong, play the parts, blend with three other cats. Plus, when you play solos in Hamp's band, it's not like playing in a small group where you can build into it. You have to come out hot. You might have only 16 or 32 bars, the band's screaming, and you have to rise above it."
Of late, Magnarelli's continued an ongoing association with Akiyoshi- Tabackin that goes back to 1987; he's played Monday nights with both the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Vanguard Orchestra. As far as small groups, there were significant associations at the top of the '90s with Jack McDuff and Jon Hendricks. His blend of proficient reading and fluent blowing puts him on the A-list for numerous contemporary ensembles such as the Ben Wolfe Sextet, the Charles Davis Quintet, the Jim Snidero Quintet, and the Walt Weiskopf Nonet.
The recent association with sax master Davis imparts a direct link to one of the Magnarelli's primary influences, Kenny Dorham, and hence to the musical universe of Charlie Parker. "in 1989," Magnarelli recalls, "Chris Albert, another great trumpet player in the Lionel Hampton band, gave me a tape of Charlie Parker solos on 'Cherokee,' on the blues and on 'I Got Rhythm.' I still practice to Charlie Parker. I transcribe his solos and treat them as etudes. I don't do that with anybody else, but I do it with Bird because of the nature of his rhythm. It's so involved and strong, unlike any Jazz rhythm, a direct extension of Louis Armstrong. He might put the rhythm anywhere, might start a phrase where you least expect it, in an awkward place. You don't think it's awkward when you hear it, but when you try to practice it, it's a different story. I don't think I'll ever stop doing it."
One of the pleasures of Always There is Magnarelli's varied, idiomatic treatments of the three standards. Of I'm Old Fashioned [Finian's Rainbow], the set-opener, taken camelwalk tempo, Magnarelli says, "It's a beautiful song. I love the lyrics. We did it at what Kenny Washington calls the 'adult's tempo.' You have to be an adult to play at that tempo. Dennis Irwin and Kenny are two adults. Their playing throughout this date shows their extreme levels of intelligence and execution."
On the ballad I Fall In Love Too Easily the 6'3", 225 pounder takes a solo that evokes the lyric splendors of Bobby Hackett and Miles Davis. Magnarelli says, "I heard Tony Bennett sing it on Perfectly Frank, and I liked the words. It kind of fits my current status!"
Pianist Larry Goldings provides a rubato intro to set-closer Put On a Happy Face [Bye-Bye Birdie], then drops out for the remainder of a chopbusting performance at a roaring tempo by Magnarelli, baritone sax whiz Gary Smulyan, Irwin and Washington. Though Magnarelli cites the bari- trumpet pairings of Pepper Adams with Thad Jones and Donald Byrd, the relaxed, floating quality of Magnarelli's and Smulyan's improvisations evokes the sound of Gerry Mulligan's short-lived late-'50s pianoless quartet with Art Farmer. Regardless of antecedents, it's a killer. "I've worked a lot over the years at Augie's and Smalls with bands without chords," Magnarelli explains, "and I've been hearing Gary Smulyan lately when I sit in with the Vanguard Orchestra. He reminds me a lot of Pepper Adams, who's one of my favorite players. He's a great, strong player, very melodic, so I thought it would be a challenge for me to try to play up to him, to get through those changes at this tempo."
Of Goldings, whose solos and intros mark another highlight of Always There, Magnarelli comments, "There are always going to be magical moments when you hear Larry. He's a natural musician, one of my favorite people to play with."
Then there are Magnarelli's five compositions, each bearing his personal stamp. "On this record I wanted to make a statement about writing and the way I hear harmony," he asserts. "I tried to vary the colors and create different moods."
J.J.'s Busride, the second pianoless track, goes way up-tempo; Irwin- Washington have it all under control. Altoist Jim Snidero, Magnarelli's band- mate of long standing with Akiyoshi-Tabackin, joins the fray. Magnarelli comments: "It's for my little nephew, who gets in fights with bigger kids on his bus ride to school -- he doesn't back down. Smulyan's the big kid, and Snidero is J.J. I guess I'm an onlooker who gets drawn in. The head is 1 1 bars, it happens twice, then the blowing is just regular blues form." Snidero and Smulyan's exchanges are a formidable one-two punch; Magnarelli floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and more than holds his own.
Allison's Welcome, originally written as a ballad upon the birth of Magnarelli's niece, found a new identity when the baby became a bouncy toddler. "I just changed a couple of the rhythms around, which made it more of a Samba. Percussion master Danny Sadownick imparts an Afro-Bahian flavor to the rousing performance.
Waltz For Aunt Marie is "dedicated to one of my favorite relatives. I tried to write something a little deceptive; it has a lot of changes, with some diminished chords and a few key changes." Magnarelli's tone pushes your tear-duct button; Smulyan's thematically cohesive solo makes oblique references to Sonny Rollins and "Valse Hot."
Magnarelli's keening ballad Rah-Sah is inspired by his brief association with the late trumpeter Tommy Turrentine. "For about a year I'd talk with Tommy, and I'd play trumpet with him playing piano," he remembers. "Tommy taught me a lot. He dug the fact that I was coming from Bird and that I was trying to be lyrical. He taught me the importance of knowing the piano thoroughly, how to voice-lead, which is my primary study now. He inspired me to study Bach chorales, different big band scores, studying other people's tunes (Thad Jones, Wayne Shorter, etc.), learning how harmonies and changes move. That way of analyzing music stuck after I was with Tommy."
The clarion title track, Always There, performed by the full sextet with congas, "was written for Magnarelli's dog, who died a few months before this recording. It reminds me of the good times we had walking around the streets of New York City. It's a Phrygian sound, with closely voiced minor chords, the kind of sound Woody Shaw evolved out of."
Master musicians have a way of describing themselves when they talk about their favorites. So heed Magnarelli's comments about his "hero of all time," Tom Harrell. "Tom hits me in the heart," Magnarelli states. "His style is him, it's Tom, although you can hear everybody else in there. It's always in the moment, always full of fire." Magnarelli doesn't sound particularly like the fully evolved Harrell, and he hasn't xeroxed anyone else, but he's absorbed the essence of heroes like Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Louis Armstrong. Every note of Always There is stamped with Joe Magnarelli's unmistakable signature, which is all you can ask for.
WKCR-FM, NYC. New York, January 1998
Criss Cross Records, Gerry, Max, Kenny, Danny, Larry, Dennis, Gary and Jim. Also to Mitchell Borden, Harry Whitaker, Charles Davis, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ben Wolfe, Sam Yahel, Sal Amico, Frank Figaro, Walt Weiskopf, Lew Tabackin, Augie's Jazz Club.
Special thanks to God for giving me the talent and the opportunity to play the trumpet, to my mother and father, my uncle Joe and my whole family, and to Sarah Jane Cion.
This recording is dedicated to the loving memory of my dog Sandi, who
for eight years was my best friend and soul mate.
Criss Cross would like to thank Yamaha New York for providing the grand
piano for this session.