When it rains all day after a heavy snow and fog settles in, there's only one thing to do: reach for a bit of what used to be called easy listening." But in fairness, to call Tony Mottola easy listening is a bit unfair. The superlative guitarist recorded hundreds of albums as a soloist, accompanist and as a member of jazz and pop big and small.
What made Mottola special was his taste, technique and style. As far back as his small-group recordings with pianist Johnny Guarnieri backing Frank Sinatra at Columbia in Oct. 1947 (My Cousin Louella, We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye and S'posin'), Mottola was impeccable. Throughout the late '40s, he slipped back and forth between jazz and pop. He's on guitar on Sarah Vaughan's Musicraft sessions of 1947 and her Columbia dates in '49, and he's with Billie Holiday in '49. Mottola also was with Toots Thielemans in '55.
In the mid-'50s, with the advent of the 12-inch LP, Mottola appeared on steady parade of jazz and pop dates recorded in New York with Benny Goodman, Will Bradley and many others. In 1959, in addition to his already heavy recording and advertisement session work, Mottola began a long series of leadership dates for the Command and Project 3 labels—with his signature surge when starting a line, hushing it down and then dragging and bending notes.
Fortunately, many of these recordings are available as downloads. Easy listening as a category has been maligned for too long. Though the category certainly has its thick share of artless junk, not all easy listening albums were vacuous and worthless. Arranger-bandleader Paul Weston, guitarist Johnny Smith and cornetist Bobby Hacket all made superb easy listening albums. So did Mottola.
If it's raining where you are today, go to Amazon, set the dropdown to mp3" and type in Tony Mottola." You'll find quite a few albums available—and you'll feel better in seconds. [Photo above of Tony Mottola, left, with John and Bucky Pizzarelli, courtesy of Tony Mottola Jr.]
JazzWax tracks: If you're unfamiliar with Tony Mottola, two albums that offer a terrific introduction are The Amazing Sound Of Toots Thielemans (Fresh Sound) here and The Very Best of Tony Mottola (Stardust) here tracks for $8.99.
Here's a clip of Tony Mottola backing Perry Como singing The Shadow of Your Smile...
And here are three fine guitarists in the early '60s borrowing" Mottola's concept on the same song (though they must have recorded it earlier and are synching here, since their instruments aren't wired)...