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Jerry Vivino Walkin' with the Wazmo

SOURCE: Published:
Jerry Vivino
Walkin' with the Wazmo
Zoho Music 200607
Street Date: June 13, 2006

In the great tradition of the three Louies--Armstrong, Prima and Jordan--Jerry Vivino is a jazz musician at heart with an eye on the entertainment factor. “My live show is pretty much Louis Prima meets Sonny Rollins meets Louis Jordan," says the tenor sax and flute doubler. “I try to make people leave the gig feeling happy. I get a great feeling of accomplishment when people listen because they're digging the tunes. And I hope that people feel that they're having a good time when they're listening to my records."

Walkin' with the Wazmo is definitely a good time. From the jivey title track (which would've been a natural for Louis Prima) to his inventive, second-line interpretation of Sonny Rollins' “Pent Up House" and his Latin flavored take on Herbie Hancock's “Dolphin Dance" to his vocal cover of Louis Jordan's “Knock Me A Kiss," it entertains in upbeat fashion as it swings. Add in the slamming B-3 fueled funk of “The Fried Piper," the boppish romp “Cats 'R' Us," the Latin son groove on “Dorado Beach" and the alluring samba of “Bellissima" and you've got Vivino cutting a wide swath stylistically while having a ball in the process.

“I play all different styles of music and respect all of them," says the busy New York City session player who has also been a fixture on the Conan O'Brien show for the past 13 years as a member of the Max Weinberg 7. “I wear many hats and I do many different things musically. I play everything from Dixieland clarinet to King Curtis styled rhythm 'n' blues. I've played with Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Bette Midler and Bon Jovi, but I've also played with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett and Dr John. I've done Latin dates with Ruben Blades and Marc Anthony, and I toured with Frankie Valli and Buster Poindexter. I love many types of music, and it all tends to come out in my playing."

On tenor sax, Vivino flaunts a big, robust tone in the tradition of his honking heroes Sam Butera, Red Prysock and Willis “Gatortail" Jackson. “I admire so many different tenor players, but those are the three who really hit home with me and helped mold my style," says the New Jersey native.

One of Jerry's ongoing gigs for the past six years has been with singer Keely Smith, the former partner of Louis Prima from their wild heyday together in the mid '50s with Sam Butera & The Witnesses. “Keely is in her seventies, but she is completely at the top of her game," says Vivino. “I met her when she came on the Conan show. Sometimes the acts come on and they'll use either the whole band or just a couple of us. And she wanted a saxophone player so her manager called me and said, 'You know who Sam Butera is? Well, just try to sound like him.' We really hit it off on the show and I've been working with her ever since. Whenever I can get out on the road with her, I do."

Vivino is joined on this diverse collection of eight originals and three cover tunes by a flexible crew of fellow NYC session cats, including including trumpeters Lew Soloff and Michael Morreale, valve trombonist Mike Fahn and pianist Brian Charette. The session is grounded by the solid rhythm section work of drummers Shawn Pelton (a regular in the “Saturday Night Live" house band), James Wormworth (Max Weinberg's sub in the Max Weinberg 7), and Ray Marchica. These great drummers work in tandem with bassists Mike Merritt (Vivino's longtime bandmate on the Conan O'Brien show) and Kermit Driscoll (a former member of Bill Frisell's quartet). Jerry's guitar playing brother Jimmy Vivino (also a regular and assistant musical director on Conan's TV show) contributes some stinging licks on the title track.

“Every one of these musicians knows my show, so I can call them on a moment's notice and they can step up and know what we're doing and where we're going on the gig. Being able to call on so many different players who had played with me over the years, I was able to treat each track individually on this project rather than just assemble a single band to play the whole album. I wanted to get the right guys for the right track. All of these guys are so versatile and I'm happy to have them on the record."

Soloff ignites the boppish “Cats 'R' Us" with his signature high note trumpet playing while pianist Charette pushes the harmonic envelope with some adventurous McCoy Tyner-ish flurries on “Pent Up House." Vivino provides some accomplished flute work on the soothing “Dorado Beach" then blends nicely with alto flute and Mike Fahn's valve trombone on the hauntingly beautiful 6/4 ballad “Montelena Circle." Jerry blows some urgent tenor lines over the modal vamp of “Red Moon" while Soloff adds some animated plunger work on trumpet, a la Bubber Miley. On flute Vivino deftly navigates the tricky head of “The Fried Piper," a tune that is seriously grounded by Mike Merritt's funky Fender basslines in combination with James Wormworth's slamming backbeats, Fred Walcott's percussion and Charette's Jimmy Smith styled B-3 work.

One special treat here is Jerry's relaxed crooning on the charming ballad “I'm Mad About You," an original number co-written by Ken Levinsky that has the feel of a classic Swing Era chestnut. “While I am primarily known as an instrumentalist, I also love to sing. When I was young and learning, I listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong. They've all influenced my singing. I'm still a little self-conscious about it, but I'm having fun doing it."

Fun is the key with Vivino. “I am striving for accessibility and an easy, direct communication with my audience. The music's gotta swing and groove, and it should be appropriate to the genre of music I'm playing. If I'm gonna play a rhythm 'n' blues date, I can't use jazz licks, and vice versa. You can't play popcorn tenor on a swinging tune!"

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