The journeyman's journey of Conte Candoli

Where, oh, where would jazz be without the afterthoughts? Without those happily made musical phrases that arrive unbidden? Without the mistakes that turn into opportunities? Without the simplicities that mask complexities?

Without these, jazz would have remained a mere diversion, rather than having grown into a cultural monument. It would have been remembered as the musical equivalent of the pet rock or the velocipede.
The path of our music's history is cluttered with the remains of musicians who mistook innovation for good taste, or intellectualism for entertainment. Or who, for whatever reason, abandoned their understanding of the organic nature of the music and careened into territories as unrelated to jazz as a mulberry is to mercury.

But that same path also is defined by the journey of the rank-and-file, the great brotherhood of musicians who followed the innovators into glory. With Art Tatum leading the way, the path was set for Oscar Peterson. Coleman Hawkins' work set an example for John Coltrane. And Louis Armstrong carved out a standard built upon by Miles Davis.

There is a disturbing tendency even for dedicated jazz fans to let the buck stop there when they trace the contributions to jazz offered by countless musicians. However, there is another echelon that deserves remembering as we ponder jazz. For Tatum also was the forerunner of Denny Zeitlin. Without Hawkins, we'd not have had Joe Henderson. And Satchmo can claim musical paternity of Conte Candoli.
Candoli died December 14 in Palm Desert, California, at age 74. His career represents one of the most respectable examples of the journeyman musician who traveled from stint to stint with some of the great names of jazz, serving the music from individual performance to finished career with grace, taste and a firm sense of his debt to his musical ancestors.

Candoli was easy to overlook because he spent so much time in larger ensembles, usually in the company of more luminous musicians whose names appeared on the many recordings and performances to which he contributed. Like his older brother, Pete, Conte was a trumpet player with a reputation for swinging. So deft and nimble was he that his style moved from the ballad to hard bop with nary a stumble. And the Candoli brothers stayed in touch with their roots and with one another. They played together periodically for 30 years, beginning in the late 1950s.

Despite Pete's impressive resume both as a bandleader and as a sideman with such leaders as Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman, Conte had more than fraternal fish to fry. A key proponent of the cool West Coast jazz that exploded in the 1950s between the bop and hard-bop eras, Conte carved a name for himself alongside such signal players of that flavor as Chet Baker, Red Rodney, Art Farmer and Thad Jones.

To be sure, he followed his brother into Herman's orchestra, but Conte Candoli had a talent for sampling and the musicianship to back up his wide-ranging affection for large ensembles of widely divergent styles. Consider some of these names: Stan Kenton, Charlie Barnet, Charlie Ventura, Howard Rumsey, Terry Gibbs, Shelly Manne, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Criss and Doc Severinsen.

His trumpet also was heard in television and film music. And, with a great deal of pleasing regularity, Candoli shows up under his own name right here on SkyJazz in a variety of settings. Listen for him, and learn the truth of his playing.

If not for the likes of Conte Candoli laying down steady support with a scrupulous ear on how the tune wanted to be played, much of the work that we've come to regard as standard signposts in the evolution of jazz would have been heard to lesser effect. And -- who knows? -- perhaps those signposts would have crumbled with the passage of time.

A man with an admirable solo career, Candoli was, foremost, a journeyman's journeyman. His contribution to jazz, while often overlooked and, just as often, unsung, should not be measured in terms of record sales and the length of the neon tubing it took to spell his name on club marquees. It is much, much more valuable than that.