Who remembers Joe Marsala (1917-78)?
He was a clarinet player (doubling alto), Chicago-born, who made his reputation in the middle Thirties to the late Forties, usually in small improvising groups.
He had splendid intuitive taste in the musicians he associated with — Wingy Manone, Joe Thomas, his brother Marty Marsala, Pee Wee Erwin, Max Kaminsky, Bill Coleman, Bobby Hackett, and an upstart named Dizzy Gillespie; Eddie Condon, Dave Tough, Dave Bowman, Carmen Mastren, Eddie Miller, Ray Bauduc, Buddy Rich (a kid given his first professional jazz job on Fifty-Second Street by Joe), harpist Adele Girard (who became Joe’s wife) and others.
Billie Holiday told a story of being broke and hungry and coming into the Hickory House and having Marsala buy her a big steak dinner . . . obviously a man whose soul was generous as well.
To my ears, what distinguishes Marsala from the crop of wonderful clarinetists playing in that period is his combination of tone, phrasing, and the undefinable thing called “soul.”
and this, from the same 1940 date:
And another surprise V-Disc effort which suggests that Marsala was deeply aware of the “new jazz” of 1945, even more than simply hiring Dizzy Gillespie for a record date. (In writing this, I do not raise Marsala above his fellow “Condonites” because he was “hip” enough to listen to Bird and Dizzy — my world is not restricted to bebop. But I find it intriguing that he made friends across the soon-to-be divided jazz landscape.)
At first hearing, some might think this performance an unabsorbing piece of early Forties pop. But wait for Joe’s brief interlude, his warm tone, his delicate phrasing:
And a rare record from the collection of another gifted clarinetist Norman Field:
To learn more about Joe Marsala and his wife — jazz harpist Adele Girard, heard above — visit this site, which contains a lovely extended interview with Adele done by Phil Atteberry, a treasure:
Bobby Gordon, who studied with Joe, keeps his spirit alive. But perhaps you’d never heard of Joe, so I hope this blog will act as a little gift: there are more wonderful musicians out there, uncelebrated, than you know in your philosophy, Horatio.
Musicians who play so beautifully need to be celebrated in a world that seems to have forgotten them.
HONOR OUR LIVING JAZZ HEROES. CLICK HERE: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!