Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Richie Kamuca

Jazz sax star Richie Kamuca began his professional career as something of devotee of Lester Young, but long before the end of his unspeakably short life (he died in 1977 just before his 47th birthday), his playing was thoroughly grounded in bop. To further underscore his leanings in that direction, toward the latter part of his career he often switched over from his main instrument, tenor sax, to alto and led a quintet that clearly was operating as homage à Charlie Parker, with trumpeter Blue Mitchell playing Dizzy to Richie’s Bird. The group could easily have been called Birdmania.

Kamuca was born in Philadelphia in 1930 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After gigging around his home town, he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra on tenor saxophone in 1952. Two years later he linked up with Woody Herman's band, where he became a part of the Four Brothers unit, eventually settling on the west coast where he played and recorded with, among others, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Chet Baker and Stan Levey. He also recorded his first session, as a leader, for Keynote. He was a member of Shelly Manne and His Men from 1959 through 1962. Shortly after that, he moved to New York, where he worked in a small group with Roy Eldridge. He also became a member of the studio orchestra for the Merv Griffin television show and remained with the band when it relocated to Los Angeles and was still a member of the outfit when he died in '77. In his later years Kamuca recorded three memorable albums for Concord.

At the present time, I am preparing a series of previously-unreleased Kamuca recordings for release in Japan, the first of which will come out toward the end of this year. The first two CDs will find him paired with two players with whom he never previously recorded (except for one lone track).

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