Pittsburgh Jazz Legends 12: Dodo Marmarosa

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 06:46 AM Written by 

Dodo Marmarosa (1926-2002) died here in his hometown, at Pittsburgh's VA Hospital, ten years ago yesterday.  He'd played a bit of organ shortly before he died. Widely admired for his years working with Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Charlie Parker and Tommy Dorsey, he'd returned to Pittsburgh in the 50's and after a couple more recordings, faded from view and spent his final years out of the spotlight before entering the VA Hospital, where he occasionally played for fellow residents.

At that time, the PG's Nate Guidry did an excellent obituary that serves as a mini-bio.  You can read it here Unfortunately, Nate's outstanding, indepth Dodo profile from April 5, 1998 PG isn't available online or trust me,  the link to it would be here.

Nicknamed for his prominent nose and large head, Dodo stories abound.  Friends recalled him as both a musical genius and genuine eccentric,  who while living in California painted the inside of his bathtub green so he could imagine it was the ocean.  At some time earlier than that, in 1943-44, when he worked for bandleader Charlie Barnet, Dodo once pushed a piano off a third-floor balcony window "to see what chord it would make" when it hit the ground. 

It wasn't all amusing. During his days with the Gene Krupa Orchestra he and some other band members were assaulted by a group of hostile sailors.  Dodo was kicked in the head and was in a coma for a time before recovering.  Drafted in 1954, he proved so unsuited to restrictive military life he suffered psychological problems and underwent electroshock therapy (then common, now largely discredited) that left him greatly withdrawn by the time of his discharge.

Since Nate tells the story, let's get right to some selected video.


Featured soloist on "The Moose" with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra

Written for him by arranger Ralph Burns, this was his s first great recorded piano moment, clearly pointing toward bebop. Backing him is Barnet's swinging, Duke Ellington-inspired Barnet band.


"The Gentle Grifter" with Artie Shaw's Grammercy Five.

Shaw, clarinet, fellow Burgh jazz icon Roy Eldridge, trumpet, Lou Fromm, drums, Barney Kessel, guitar; Morris Rayman, bass.


"Boyd Meets Stravinsky" with Boyd Raeburn & His Orchestra.

Dodo had the distinction of working with this short-lived, but forward-looking band. The video identifies the the soloists in order.  He'd later record with two other Raeburn bandmates: drummer Jackie Mills and bassist Harry Babasin.

Dodo's Trio featuring tenor sax great Lucky Thompson on "How High The Moon."

Accompanying them: Pittsburgh jazz legend Ray Brown, bass and drummer Jackie Mills. Released on trombonist Lyle Griffin's short-lived Atomic label in 1946.

Prepare to hear those chord changes again, in a mini-lesson in bebop.

"Ornithology " (the classic original) with Charlie Parker (Miles Davis, trumpet)

Parker, alto;  Lucky Thompson, tenor sax; Miles Davis, trumpet; guitarist Arvin Garrison; bassist Vic McMillan and drummer Roy Porter.  One of Bird's seminal recording issued by the Dial label.

Note the chords are identical to "How High The Moon." This was a fundamental of bebop: creating different compositions on the changes of established tunes. This was one of the first things Dodo played on I ever heard. I sought out everything I could find after that.


"Dodo's Dance" with Harry Babasin, bass and Jackie Mills, drums

Released on Dial Records.


"My Foolish Heart," a stately arrangement with his own trio

Recorded here in town in July, released by Savoy Records. Accompanying him: bassist Thomas Mandrus and drummer Joe Wallace.


"Dodo's Blues,"  with Danny Conn, trumpet,  from "Jazz Scene," WQED

Introduced by onetime KDKA radio/TV personality, clarinetist and jazz fan Sterling Yates, this appeared on a gem of a CD, out of print, worth tracking down: Pittsburgh, 1958, a collection of live material recorded at various venues including Pitt and the Midway Lounge.  The other personnel: Jimmy DeJulio, bass; drummer Chuck Spatifore; Carlo "Chaz" Galluzzo, tenor sax.

Joe Negri once told me a Dodo story he'd heard from this program. Prior to the live telecast, producers interviewed the pianist about his career and he delivered highly animated comments. But when Yates began talking to him on-camera, live, he froze.  It may (or may not) have been residual problems from the electroshock.

An ad from the PG for a 1957 Dodo gig at the Midway

Deuces Wild was a well-regarded local band that at various times, included pianist Bobby Negri, trombonist Tommy Turk and drummer Spider Rondinelli.


"Mellow Mood," from his Argo Album Dodo's Back! 

Recorded in Chicago with bassist Richard Evans and drummer Marshall Thompson.

His last studio album came in 1962: a pairing with tenor man Gene "Jug" Ammons on the album Jug & Dodo for Prestige Records.  He gradually fell into obscurity.  Nate's profile included comments from Artie Shaw, who remembered that side of Dodo. "He was gentle and fragile. He never learned to deal with the world of a musician."

Perhaps not. Nonetheless, Dodo Marmarosa, like Garner, Hines, Eldridge, Strayhorn, Eckstine, Mary Lou Williams and so many other Pittsburgh Jazz greats,  was there when history was made and left a mark only truly appreciated long after the fact.  The music above is just part of the proof.


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