"Frank was a fantastic musician, but behind that cut-up personality was a troubled man."
Prior to his death in 1978, never a word had been spoken nor a passage written about Frank Rosolino without the mention of his unwavering sense of humor. And not just the the boys on the West Coast. All of the musicians knew about Frank's insane antics on the bandstand, the practical jokes on the bus, but especially the incredible fluidity of his playing--the way in which he was redefining the role of the jazz trombone.
Whereas Rosolino's reputation was as a "clown prince," to him the trombone was no laughing matter. Rosolino's musical reputation came from his general refusal to believe that the trombone was incapable of achieving the technical facility of any other instrument. With his initial musical experiences coming on guitar and accordion, Rosolino was introduced to the trombone in the 6th grade, devoting much of his early practice time in an attempt to imitate the virtuosi technical etudes he heard his brother playing on the violin.
Army service at the tail-end of World War II was spent as a disgruntled soldier in the Philippines until one evening, following guard duty, he wandered into a dance and asked to sit in with the band. Hopeful of making an impression but unable to read a note, his plan was to fake the big band arrangement until he had a chance to stand up and blow. Luck was with him. The band was just about to go on break, so he reluctantly was allowed to remain on stage to play a few tunes with the rhythm section.
Not surprisingly, his incredible display of technique and sheer chops was the topic of discussion among the musicians for the remainder of the evening. As was his plan, many offers followed, and he settled on a transfer to the 86th Division Band. There he was tutored daily in musical notation and upon his discharge in 1946, was proficient at sight-reading the most difficult parts.
Following his discharge, Rosolino passed through many musical organizations whose leaders preferred a variety of styles: Bob Chester from 1946 to '47,; Glen Gray during the latter half of 1947; Gene Krupa's bop-oriented band in 1948 and'49; Tony Pastor at the end of 1949; Herbie Fields' small band in 1950; Georgie Auld's quintet in 1951; then back to his native Detroit with his own group in 1952.
From 1952 through '54, Rosolino was a featured soloist with Stan Kenton's band, creating quite an impression and winning the first in a string of awards, the 1953 Downbeat critics' poll New Star Award. His soloing on the LPs New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm and Kenton Showcase in the midst of the most swinging of all Kenton aggregations garnered him near legendary status as the bop trombonist of the moment.
Following his stay with Kenton, Rosolino landed one of the most coveted, high-profile gigs on the West Coast: five days a week with bassist Howard Rumsey's All Stars at The Lighthouse, the famed club on Hermosa Beach.
Following several well-received 1950's leader dates on Dee Gee, Capitol and Bethlehem, the 1960's found him as a stable member of Steve Allen's TV show band. During the 1970s, he was an in-demand sideman, featured on albums by Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and perhaps most notable, Supersax.
It all ended at Rosolino's choosing, when he took his own life in grisly fashion. To everyone's surprise, including those who knew him, and for reasons only he was cognizant of, the man who was quickest to smile and the first with a joke had been crying inside for years.
--JAMES ROZZI, from the liner notes,
Frank Rosolino 5, 1957, VSOP.
A selected discography of Frank Rosolino albums.
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