Saturday, April 6, 2013

Scrapple for Tony Zano

By Chet Williamson

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome. Thank you.


It was like a twist of lime in a glass of fate.

In writing my features Worcester songwriters, I would often head down the blue highways and backroads of New England, searching for published sheet music of their work. See: www.worcestersongs.blogspot.com

One fall rainy day, I traveled west on route 9. Winding through the towns of Leicester, Spencer, and the Brookfields, I kept a fish-eye peeled for an antique shop, flea market, consignment corner, music nook, or bookstore, in hopes of finding an original score.  

This particular trip was less than fruitful, but I kept driving further west, all the way to the town of Palmer. A little tired and largely hungry, I stopped at the town diner for a dry meatloaf sandwich and a mug of joe poured into a porcelain-chipped cup.

On my return trip, between raindrops, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a junk shop. It was not quite a Salvation Army and hardly even a Goodwill center.

Approaching the counter where a middle-aged local Palmeranian was being tutored on the ways of Ebay by his son. I asked, “Do you have any sheet music?” The man barked, “Yup. There's some in the back. By the records.”

The place was stuffed to the rafters with the usual bric-a-brac of discarded articles from former family life. It had that musty-dusty smell of yesteryear and about as much going for it.

The records were piled on top of one another and most without jackets. There was a box of sheet music, but nothing I wanted. However, on a rickety card-table was a collection of old scrapbooks, some had family photos, two others had nothing by birthday cards -- one had only valentines.



Inexplicably, another was filled with newspaper clippings about Worcester pianist Tony Zano.

Huh? 

Here? 

Why Palmer?

What’s particularly unusual is that only a couple of months before I had been asked by the WPI Jazz History Database to write a biography of Zano for the site. 

See: http://jazzhistorydatabase.com/content/musicians/zano_tony/bio.php

For those unfamiliar with Zano, he is one of the more unsung figures in a town of many. He was born Anthony Joseph Ferrazzano. His father was an itinerant saxophonist who barnstormed the country in a busload of big bands.



Young Tony grew-up on the east side, mostly off Shrewsbury Street. He was a child prodigy interested in classical music. As a teen, he played in his uncle Tony (Ferrazano) Ferris' Big Band, worked general business, and with other local groups. He was so young that his uncle recalled drawing a mustache on Tony trying to fool the club owners into thinking the pianist was older. 




Composer Anthony Ferrazano












After graduating from Commerce High School in Worcester, Zano attended New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Boston University and Forest Conservatory at Sussex University, Sussex, England. He studied composition. See: The Boston Composers Project for a list of his work.

The scrapbook did not cover Zano's academic career. Instead, it was a compendium of his jazz itinerary. Identify the names of those who appear in the scrapbook and you begin to get an idea just how well regarded he was as a pianist. Here are only a few: Hal McKusick, Toots Thielemans, Pepper Adams, Ted Brown, Lee Konitz, Teddy Kotick, Bob Haggart. There are many more.  

The book is torn in half. It’s one of those old manila-papered jobs into which you paste content. There was only one cover, the back.

The first feature dates at 1979. The headline reads: "Jazz Concert Set at Parrish." It is essentially an announcement of a show at the Concert Hall of the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton. The group that performed was a quartet led by saxophonist Hal McKusick with pianist Zano, bassist Charlie LaChapelle, and drummer Joe Hunt.



The next page is a New York Times feature on Zano. The headline states: He "Squeezes Nuances Out of Jazz Tunes." Zano, was 42 years-old at the time. Writer Procter Lippincott said that Zano was influenced by such jazz pianists as Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano and Jaki Byard. 

Zano is quoted saying, “But when I’m playing, I try to disregard my influences and stretch out as much as I can on my own.”

Flipping through the pages, you definitely get a sense of how respected he was among fellow artists, yet even the hippest of jazz locals would be hard pressed to say they have heard him play.

One of my favorite items in the scrapbook is the handwritten flyer announcing an appearance of Toots Theilemans, the “International Jazz Harmonica [player] & guitarist,” playing a benefit concert for the Eastern Suffolk School of Music with Tony Zano on piano, Ron Gruberg on bass and Jim Chapin on drums. The show features “cocktails and food available at moderate prices.” The venue was the Garden of Eden in East Hampton, New York

For a time in early 1980s, Zano was Theilemans favorite east coast pianist and listing in the scrapbook reflects this: Articles and items through the book catalog their many shows. Another broadside touts a Toots gig in Albany.




On the very next page is an announcement of the Hungry Lion Lounge in Lunenberg that proudly presents the music of Rick Stepton with pianist Zano. 

The opposite page has an item of Zano working with bassist Teddy Kotick at the Chambers in downtown Albany.

Zano played the upstate New York City venue often. There’s a list of Chambers dates including a write-up in the Knickerbocker News, the Albany daily.  
As many Worcester jazz fans know – having recorded with Monica Hatch and Juliette Willoughby -- Zano was a favorite accompanist for a cast of singers, including those whose names appear in the book. 

They include: Eti Deane, Mary Connolly, Nina Sheldon, and Vance Gilbert.

For a number of years, Zano was in residency at The Chambers in downtown Albany. There he would also accompany visiting artists. A partial list finds him supporting the likes of J.R. Montrose, Nick Brignola, and Pepper Adams.


Another nice item among the pages is from Sounds, the newsletter of the Worcester Local #143 Musician’s Union. An unidentified author traced Zano career, stating, “Currently starring at Barrister’s in South Hampton, NY, and very active in the recording industry, Tony divides his time between New York and Boston, with an occasional visit to Worcester to say hello to family in friends.”



The piece offers some insight into Zano playing style. “Tony tends to favor unusual, jazz tunes written by himself and others that are built on rapidly changing harmonic foundations but he is equally adept at infusing oft-requested popular tunes and movie themes with surprising flights of improvisation, unexpected rhythmic shifts and catch-your-breath endings.”    




Fittingly, the last page of entries features Zano's appearance at Carnegie Hall. The esteemed New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson reviewed the show. The piece is dated at October 17, 1985, three days after the concert. "As a performer, Mr. Zano is essentially a romantic, a pointed stressed in one of his compositions, 'Romantic Inclinations.' In this mood, which came out most strongly in his development of pop standards, Mr. Zano was a suave and polished colorist with a happy faculty for keep just on the edge of the obvious."






























Zano lived and played for another 15 years. It's time to ride the backroads of New England once again in search of a scrapbook that documents part II of his illustrious career. 

Anthony J. Ferrazzano, AKA Tony Zano

DOB:
Worcester, June 4, 1937
DOD: North Redding, 
January 11, 2001 

He is buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Worcester.






2 comments:

  1. Great article about Tony's very colorful career! It would be great to get hold of some of his recordings. I have one that I did with him at Boston University as a special project that I will be happy to give a copy to anyone who is interested in having a copy. He was one of the most extraordinary musician's I've ever had the good fortune to know and work with, not to mention what a great guy! If anyone is interested in getting a copy of the recording that I mentioned please contact me via email brandyorganist@gmail.com.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article about Tony's very colorful career! It would be great to get hold of some of his recordings. I have one that I did with him at Boston University as a special project that I will be happy to give a copy to anyone who is interested in having a copy. He was one of the most extraordinary musician's I've ever had the good fortune to know and work with, not to mention what a great guy! If anyone is interested in getting a copy of the recording that I mentioned please contact me via email brandyorganist@gmail.com.

    ReplyDelete