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What’s In A Name? - Dick Twardzik and Peers

Whilst chatting with a friend the other day about obscure bop musicians of the late 40s/early 50s, the name of  pianist Mike ‘Dodo’ Marmarosa (1925-2002) cropped up. 

Dodo is probably best known for his work on Charlie Parker’s Dial Sessions, and it is noteworthy, among this group of jazz musicians of this time frame well known for its early mortality rate, that he lived to the relatively grand old age of 76. Another little-known white bebop pianist of the time, Bill Triglia (1924-2011), lived even longer, in musical obscurity for almost all of his life but reaching the even grander age of 86.

Triglia played on the only session led by trumpeter Tony Fruscella (1927-69). Now, not only do these guys pretty much share the same dates of birth (1925/6/7), but they also share great ‘jazz names’ - Fruscella /Triglia/ Marmorosa: surnames that conjure up images of smoky clubs, tinkling glasses and inebriated exchanges,  “that really laid back New York junkie feel” that John Zorn described and attempted to replicate on material like “End Titles on his Filmtracks VIII. Without attempting too much to make a big deal about obscurity in itself, these were certainly angular names for a so-called angular music, but they do repay serious investigation. And as these guys recorded so little music, tracking their best work is relatively easy.

Most jazz fans will have Parker’s Dial recordings (Triaglia also played live with Bird), so Marmarosa’s contributions to tracks like “Relaxin At Camarillo” will thus be well known, even if his name isn’t. Both Fruscella and Triglia are best heard on the former’s eponymous solo offering on Atlantic, which happens to be one of my favourite mainstream jazz albums of all, recorded in 1955 and re-released on CD on the occasion of the label’s 50th anniversary. Neither of them did anything near as good again. For me, however, the most interesting ‘obscure name’ of all is Boston’s Richard Twardzik (1931-1954), only 24 when he was found overdosed in a Paris hotel, allegedly with his hypo still in his arm. He was on tour will fellow bad boy Chet Baker, which was probably his best shot at fame. It is another ‘what if?’ situation.

Twardzik demonstrated a perceptive understanding of Tatum, Powell, Tristano and Monk, in his shifting harmonies and ruptured melodies, and was apparently was a significant influence on the young Cecil Taylor, who was studying in Boston at the time. Listen to his composition “A Crutch For The Crab”, with its constantly shifting texture, which seems to abandon chord changes briefly, anticipating later developments in the music, and hear how Cecil might have been taking notes. His other compositions “Fable of Mabel” (recorded with another Boston opiate fan, Serge Chaloff) and “Albuquerque Social Swing” are further examples of his richly ingenious imagination. Sadly, little exists outside of his work with Chaloff and Baker (and Charlie Mariano). For me, there are two albums to seek: one side of an album shared with fellow pianist Russ Freeman (Twardzik is in his own trio), originally released on Pacific Jazz, and the rather mysterious and difficult-to-source, mostly solo, recording called 1954 Improvisations (half the tracks played on a untuned upright, giving it a real ‘4 in the morning’ wonky feel).

All four of these magnificently-monikered musicians deserve your attention, but Twardzik is the one to prioritise, imho.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.