The 1950s are a gold mine of lost trumpeters. No matter how many times I comb discographies, I come across another solid horn player whose name is likely unfamiliar to many jazz fans. On Monday I posted about Johnny Glasel and his Brasstet. Today, I'm looking at John Plonsky and his sole leadership album, Cool Man Cool (1957).
First, a little background on Plonsky. Little is known about the tumpeter, but here's what I could piece together from a bit of online research. Plonsky seems to have begun his career on the West Coast. In 1945, at age 19, he wrote arrangements for Ray Bauduc, the drummer for the Bob Crosby Orchestra who formed a short-lived big band with saxophonist Gil Rodin rigth after World War II. In 1946, Plonsky recorded four sides with Charles Mingus in Los Angeles.
Then in 1948, Plonsky played and arranged for for Alvy West (above), an alto saxophonist and leader of a odd band that featured a trumpet, alto sax, accordion, two guitars, bass and drums. The band included Bob Caudana on accordion and Chuck Wayne on guitar. There also was a vocal group. According to Billboard in 1948, Vocal arrangements for the Larkin Sisters' vocal group are again a radical departure. The gals are blended into the ork intricacies, at times lyricizing and, at times, humming instrumental patterns."
I'm not sure what Plonsky did during the early and mid-1950s. According to the Jazz Discography, he didn't record again until March 1957, when he put together a quintet for the Golden Crest label in New York. The album was called Cool Man Cool and featured John Plonsky (tp), Carl Janelli (bar), Dominic Cortese (accord), Chet Amsterdam (b), Mel Zelnick (d) and Betty Ann Blake (vcl). Plonsky handled the arrangements.
Songs on the album composed by Plonsky are Laurel and Hardy (a fabulous arrangement), Angel Hair, Calico Shoes,Funkier Than Thou and Blonde Caboose. The rest are standards—The Lady Is a Tramp, But Not For Me, Puttin' on the Ritz, Just in Time, How About You and I'll Take Romance. The standards featured Betty Ann Blake, who had a pleasant, dry vocal style.
The music and instrumentation are terrific. The amplified accordion provides an interesting texture when combined with the trumpet and baritone saxophone, and all of the players are super on harmony. As for Plonsky, he had a lovely open tone.
Plonsky would record on two more jazz sessions—Dixieland Goes Progressive for Golden Crest in June 1957 and on Lou McGarity's album In Celebration in 1964, where he appears as John Parker. Which tells me he was under contract to another label or entity at the time.
And that's where the jazz trail ends for Plonsky. I have no idea what happened to him after that and there doesn't appear to be much information online. If I were taking a wild guess, I'd say Plonsky began writing for television in the early 1950s and never stopped. We'll just have to wait until someone who knew him writes in.
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.