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Tony Fruscella: A Night at the Open Door

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Not only did trumpeters Tony Fruscella and Chet Baker play similarly, they died as a result of drug abuse after leading tragic lives. Fruscella, who was born in a New Jersey orphanage, died in 1969, at forty-two. He’d developed his lyrical style, in which he featured the middle and lower registers, by 1948 (i.e., before Baker). With Charlie Parker in 1952, Baker had not developed the style he employed with Gerry Mulligan; he was more boppish. Not that Baker was influenced by the little known Fruscella. Their similarities were probably caused by both being influenced by Lester Young, with whom Fruscella played, and Miles Davis, and both having poor upper registers. Baker’s articulation was cleaner than Fruscella’s and his tone firmer, while Fruscella had a unique breathy timbre and improvised more daringly. Baker was based in L.A. and Fruscella in New York, but both worked with Mulligan and Stan Getz. Baker recorded far more often. Fruscella cut only a couple of studio tracks with Getz, his own Atlantic album and a 1955 live quartet piece with Hank Jones that appeared on a Coral LP, “East Coast Scene.” The rest of the material on these discs was released posthumously.

These CDs are not arranged chronologically. A Night at the Open Door contains 1953 jam session tracks by Fruscella, pianist Bill Triglia, bassist Teddy Kotick and drummer Art Mardigan. They’re joined on five tracks by tenorman Brew Moore. Pernod has studio and live tracks by Getz’s quintet with Fruscella and pianist John Williams (1955) and a 1948 group including Fruscella, altoist Chick Maures, Triglia and bassist Red Mitchell. Tony’s Blues contains the Coral track with Jones, Triglia septet selections (1952) with Fruscella, altoist Herb Geller, tenorman Phil Urso and baritonist Gene Allen, plus a 1955 high school performance with Triglia, Fruscella and altoman Phil Woods.

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