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Joe Castro: Lush Life: A Musical Journey

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Up until now, historians considered pianist Joe Castro (1927-2009) noteworthy for two reasons: He was the first Mexican-American jazz bandleader to achieve any great fame, and he was the consort of tobacco heiress Doris Duke, the wealthiest woman in the world during her lifetime-worth approximately $1.3 billion when she died in 1993. It turns out, however, that Castro was also an important chronicler of the ’50s and ’60s West Coast jazz scene, a fact that has only come to light with the release of this six-CD set, assembled from his tape library.

In 1953, all that cigarette money helped Duke buy a Beverly Hills mansion formerly owned by actor Rudolph Valentino and equip it with a rehearsal and recording studio for Castro. Loose jam sessions recorded there and at Duke’s Somerville, N.J., farm make up the bulk of this box. The first disc, recorded in 1954 and featuring Buddy Collette on flute and clarinet and Chico Hamilton on drums, is the biggest revelation: three long, episodic pieces that seem completely improvised, although one suspects Castro had some back-pocket motifs ready whenever inspiration flagged. Intriguing as this early taste of the freeform is, it’s hampered by poor audio quality.

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