by Anne Carlini
| Title – ‘For the Record’
Artist – Vinnie Riccitelli Octet
For those not in the know, Vinnie Riccitelli could be regarded as one of the best-kept secrets in Jazz.
Born in 1926, Riccitelli was raised in Yonkers, New York. He began playing alto saxophone at the age of 11. At the age of 15, Riccitelli started to play professionally, taking a summer job with his brother Joe on accordion, performing in the Catskills in upstate New York.
Before such bygone things in America, like labor laws and minors working in venues serving alcohol. Imagine something like that happening today! Riccitelli continued to play club dates throughout his four years of high school.
At the age of 18, during World War II, Riccitelli enlisted in the navy. Upon completing his service to his country, Riccitelli was accepted by the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan, becoming one of the first of three students ever to be accepted as an alto saxophone major at Juilliard School.
He studied there for five semesters, under the auspices of the GI bill, while continuing to perform professionally. Upon leaving Juilliard, he became a full-time gigging musician. That career would be the only one he would ever know in his long and storied life.
The year 1956 would be turn out to be a seminal year for him, as he both married the love of his life, his loving wife of 60 years, Jean Krupa, and wrote, arranged, and recorded his first album, entitled Unique Jazz, The Westchester Workshop.
That recording – Jazz from the Westchester, Workshop [RKO Unique, Records, 1956] – comprised eight beautifully sculpted original tracks, played by his octet. “Music was what I did for a living,” Vinnie explains. “This recording was mainly an experiment, an opportunity for me to ply my compositional and arranging skills while giving me the chance to give something back to the guys I admired, respected, and performed with.”
All in all, Riccitelli’s professional career spanned a remarkable 77 years, from 1941 to 2018. He decided to stop performing publicly and professionally in 2018, although he remains actively engaged with his music at home for enjoyment and recreation.
Serendipitously, since retiring from performing on alto sax professionally, Riccitelli rediscovered his love for playing piano and became inspired to revisit some of his unrecorded compositions and arrangements from his earlier career.
All these years later, and For the Record, this latest album released some sixty plus years after the first, features those songs and arrangements, and was recorded between November 2019 and January 2020 (with this timeline explaining his absence from this recording).
Vinnie, of course, was present for all the recording sessions and remained intimately involved with all facets of its production. This most recent project again provided him the chance to work with and reward some of his longtime friends, including a former student of his from the late 1940s, tenor saxophonist Joe Stelluti (Duke Ellington, Harry James, Jimmie Dorsey, Larry Elgardt, Ray Charles), alongside his talented son Chris, on baritone sax, and Joe’s brother Lou on bass, making their contribution to the project a true family affair.
1. ‘Minor Seventh Heaven’ (3:31)
This simply stunning, vibrantly magnificent new album opens with Vinnie’s first original, ‘Minor Seventh Heaven,’ a chart that pays homage to the beauty of minor seventh chords, and that’s backed by the fun play of Jerome Kern’s ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ (which features a beautifully melodic solo from tenor man Joe Stelluti), and then we get treated to Tadd Dameron’s lazy hazy ‘If You Could See Me Now,’ the sterner horn work of some rhythmic changes found within Leroy Anderson’s ‘Serenata,’ and then Edgar Sampsson’s stand up bass-led ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy.’
Next up is the free flowing majesty of Gene De Paul and Don Raye’s ‘Star Eyes’ (here injected with a humorous 5/4 meter now melded into the arrangement, enabling the tune to modulate three times), and then we get one of my own personal favorites, the Henry Mancini-conceived ‘Mr. Lucky’ (which features the fantastic Eddie Monteiro on accordion, which is itself backed by the layered smoothness of the second original, ‘Blues Dominant’ – which was written in Mixolydian mode, and utilizes 13th chords, not just predominantly but exclusively.
Another stand out track is the horn-led ‘Maids of Cadiz,’ a composition by Leo Delibes, with an arrangement now provided by Tommy Newsom, and that’s followed by Benny Golson’s ‘Along Came Betty,’ where Vinnie’s arrangement now features an improvised and harmonized jazz chorus, before we relish in the low slung warmth of ‘Darn That Dream, which features the fine musical craftsmanship of trombonist Bruce Bonvissuto.
Up next is Herbie Hancock’s brilliant ‘Dolphin Dance,’ which allows saxophonist Nathan Childers (Buddy Rich, Jimmie and Tommy Dorsey, Aretha Franklin, Deep Purple, Birdland Big Band) to truly shine on the arrangement and that’s backed by the third original, the mid-tempo delight entitled ‘Flugelsville.’
An arrangement initially written as an improvisational vehicle for the flugelhorn of the late Joe Shepley from his Westchester Workshop days, this new recording’s rendition features the exquisite playing of Glenn Drewes (Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones /Mel Lewis Big Band, Dizzy Gillespie), a dear friend of Riccitelli’s and one of New York’s premier musicians for the past forty years.
Then we get yet another stand out cut, the delightful ‘Flying Down To Rio’ (composed by Vincent Youmans, Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu), and that in turn is followed by the late ’60s cinematic emotions of ‘Jordu’ (composed by Duke Jordan), with the album rounding out on Thelonius Monk’s renowned tune, ‘Round Midnight’ (which utilizes half time and double time sections to spice up the arrangement), closing on the album’s fourth and final original, entitled ‘Little Boy Blew’ – an uptempo bebop blues, which creatively and refreshingly avoids conventional blues changes.
This recording’s brilliance and spirit might make it hard for one to think of Vinnie Riccitelli as a 90+ year-old musician. His ability to write and arrange inventive, swinging charts demonstrates a musician with both a mature and serious talent, combined with an uncommonly fresh youthfulness.
Throughout the recording, there is a consistent degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony, and rhythm. The pieces feature not just tightly arranged compositions, but also skillful improvisation, exploration, and the individual voice of each player is given ample chance to be heard.
On balance, the entire project stands firmly in the idiom and tradition. These arrangements provide and reward the listener with a glimpse of the freshness and modernity of the period of mid-fifties jazz music.
All involved with the project are grateful and proud to be involved with the documentation of this marvelous gift to the jazz community. Riccitelli’s family and friends were delighted to see the joy and passion it provided for its creator.
In summary, it truly all comes together naturally, with passion, authenticity, and a wide range of emotions.
For the Record is an album that effectively captures the essence of a significant period in jazz history, and more importantly, the talent, brilliance, and creativity of a great musician, composer, and arranger.