Frank Cunimondo is a Pittsburgh piano treasure still active today. Cunimondo, born in 1934, began studying piano at age six. It didn't hurt he later attended Westinghouse High School, the jazz incubator that would produce Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal and Billy Strayhorn. Playing jazz professionally as early as age 13, he eventually worked at clubs around the country as well as at Pittsburgh's legendary Crawford Grill, Hurricane and other celebrated clubs.
He spent time working in Manhattan but eventually returned to Pittsburgh, where he teaches both privately and at Pitt, and formerly taught at Duqusene and authored two books on jazz.
A long-unseen video from the summer of 1963 recently unearthed (it was in Cunimondo's mother's closet) chronicles his his guest appearnce on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from New York. At the time Carson was in his first year hosting the show. It's worth noting no kinescopes or videos of the earliest 1962 Carson shows exist, only still photos from his premiere program exist.
He's given a buildup by Tonight bandleader Skitch Henderson (Doc Severinsen's predecessor), who'd led the band on the original Tonight Show starring Steve Allen. Carson himself was no slouch when it came to jazz, being an amateur drummer. It's worth noting Frank's absolute command of the keyboard, stunning, but to Pittsburghers in the know, hardly a surprise.
Cunimondo's latest album, Epilogue, is due next Friday (August 24) from MCG Jazz.
1963: "Stella By Starlight" from The Tonight Show.
1969: "Gentle One" from his LP Communication with Spider Rondinelli, drums; Ron Fudoli, bass;
1971: "Feelin' Good" with Lynn Marino, vocal. From The Frank Cunimondo Trio introducing Lynn Marino. Mike Taylor, bass; Roger Humphries, drums.
1975: "Sambanova" from his LP Sagittarius. Lenny Rogers, drums; Ray Russell, bass;
1975: "Eleanor Rigby" in the fusion groove he embraced in later years, from the album A Top Shelf Collection.
March 18, 2012: Live at a Pittsburgh Jazz Society concert, introduced by Tony Mowod, Pat Crossley, bass.
July 2018: "Peace" (a Horace Silver tone) at The Omni William Penn with Pat Crossley, bass
Credit: Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
The late jazz drummer-promoter-bandleader Spider Rondinelli, who died Monday at 82, was a low-keyed musician with a dazzling talent. His very well-done obituary is here.
This is a 2007 profile by the PG's Nate Guidry that delves into his life even deeper. The PG photo above shows Spider with saxophonist Kenny Blake, performing in Jefferson Hills.
Having written scores of musicians' obits myself, the one thing no obit will get across: the man and the music, in settings from the 50's to two years ago.